Master This Move: The Squat

No workout routine is complete without the infamous Leg Day, and no Leg Day is complete without the almighty Squat: a compound movement that engages muscles throughout your legs, as well as your core and lower back.

What the Squat Works

Your quadriceps and gluteus maximus will put in the bulk of the work, but several other muscles play important roles, including your core, lower back, and hamstrings.

The Squat is considered a “Big Three” movement in bodybuilding—alongside the Deadlift and Benchpress—and is also a major component of powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and CrossFit.  This full-body, lower-dominant exercise is recommended as part of virtually any training regime. Regardless of ability level, sport, or goal, there is sound reason to include the Squat in your program.

How to Squat

Before loading any weight, ensure you have proper form first.

  1. Start with feet roughly hip width apart, toes pointed forward or slightly outward (never inward). Set your chest proud, back upright, and shoulders down and back. Brace the core.
  2. Lower your butt until your upper leg becomes parallel to the floor, keeping your chest, back, and shoulders proper. Pause at the bottom for one second.
  3. Push up with your legs, driving through the floor at mid-foot. Your hips should be pressing forward, your glutes should be squeezed, and your knees should follow the path of your toes (push outward as opposed to letting them cave in). Avoid completely locking out the knees at the top, particularly under heavy load. Pause for one second, then repeat.

Squat Variations

Bodyweight Squat:The bodyweight squat is a classic exercise that requires no equipment and can be performed anywhere. Simply perform the squat as you are, controlling your entire body throughout. Try 10 to 20 reps per set with less than a minute rest in between.

Jumping Squat:You can make bodyweight squats more effective by adding a jump: push up explosively from bottom position so that you leave the ground at the top of the movement off your toes. Absorb impact by dropping back down into the bottom position upon landing, then jump up again; repeat this pattern nonstop for as many reps as you can in 20 to 30 seconds, then rest for twice as long. Repeat 5 times. 

Plyometric Squat: Pause for one second at the bottom of your squat, then jump as high as you can on each rep, generating maximal force. Aiming for 5 to 10 consecutive reps, then rest 1-2 minutes. Repeat 5 times. For an additional challenge, add a light load to the movement.

Goblet Squat:Add light-to-moderate weight to the bodyweight squat with a dumbbell or kettlebell by performing goblet squats. Hold the weight in both hands, keeping your elbows tucked beneath the weight, and the weight against your chest. This simple variation challenges the whole body and encourages an upright posture throughout the full range of motion Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

Barbell Squat:Add heavy weight with barbell squats: front, high bar, and low bar squats are all viable options depending on your preference. Do not lift heavy without sufficient core strength. And be sure to warm up properly first! This is an advanced technique. Aim for 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps.