How to Squat
What is a squat?
Squats are a great exercise if you're looking to improve your general fitness, tone your lower body, or build strength. Performing the squat requires using multiple muscle groups at the same time, making it an effective muscle-building compound movement to include into your workout routine. The main muscles groups used when doing a squat are the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.
Although the squat is widely acknowledged as the ‘king of leg exercises’, other muscles groups are also involved, such as your core and even arms depending on the variation, so incorporating this exercise can help to tone your whole body.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or a pro, this is a staple exercise to include into your gym routine. The squat can easily be adapted to suit your fitness level and abilities.
For beginners, the body weight squat, which is the most widely-known exercise would be a good one to start with. As you get more comfortable with the basic squat and your legs get stronger, you can make the squat more challenging by adding a variation that includes weights such as the barbell squat which used in Olympic weightlifting.
Check out different squat exercise variations below and our top tips when performing the exercise.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ON SQUATS
Squats target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core so this exercise can play a role to make your butt bigger when performed consistently over time with progressive overload. It’s a great lower body movement to include into your fitness routine in general. However, if your main goal is to increase the size of your glutes, we suggest combining this exercise with other exercises that target the glutes, such as hip thrusts, glute bridge, lunges, and hip abduction. Due to differences in anatomy, there is no one size fits all for the best glute exercise. You can experiment with different exercises and find out which exercises are most suited to you.
How many squats you should do a day will depend on your needs and goal. There’s no magic number that works for everyone. If your main goal is to improve leg strength or build leg muscle, a general rule of thumb would be workout the muscle group 2-3 times a week, with a day's rest between working the same muscle group twice. If you’re a beginner, we suggest starting out with bodyweight squats, also known as air squats, then progressing to a weighted variation once you’re comfortable and ready, and then looking to increase the weight gradually as you get stronger to see results.
Squats can help to tone your legs and make them stronger. However, it takes a lot of time and hard work to visibly make any body part bigger through weightlifting, including your thighs! You will need to provide enough training stimulus, for example by using heavier more challenging weights, consistently and for a period, and make sure you are eating enough food and protein to notice any big changes.
The quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core are worked when performing squats. Doing this exercise regularly can help to improve lower body strength and tone your legs.
- Keep your core tight when you perform the movement to help keep your body in a stable braced position.
- Try to maintain a tall spine throughout the exercise to avoid rounding your back.
- When you perform the squat, imagine as if you are trying to rip the floor apart with your feet. This will help from your knees collapsing inwards.
- When performing the squat, try to keep your weight on your heels to avoid leaning too far forward.
How to do a Bodyweight squat
Equipment: no equipment required
- Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart, feet slightly turned out.
- Roll your shoulders and down away from the ears. This will help you to maintain a straight spine.
- Look straight ahead and take a deep breathe in and tighten your ab muscles. Then bend your knees and sink your hips back while lowering your hips towards the floor until it sinks just below the knees. Try to keep a straight spine and tight core throughout the whole movement.
- Stay in this position briefly, before straightening your legs and exploding back up to standing position, and then exhale.
- Repeat as many repetitions required.
For more bodyweight exercise like this, check out our blog on different bodyweight exercises.
How to do a goblet squat
Equipment required: A kettlebell, a dumbbell or weights plate.
You can use a kettlebell, dumbbell or medicine ball with this exercise. We suggest doing this exercise with lighter weight first to begin with, and then increase the weight once you are comfortable with performing the movement or if you are finding it too easy.
- First, grab a weight you are comfortable with. Hold the weight with both hands towards your chest, with elbows tucked in towards your stomach.
- Same as with a body weight squat, stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip-width distance apart, feet slightly turned out.
- Straighten your back and brace your abs. Sink your hips back and down towards the floor. As you do this movement, allow your elbows to drop between your legs, and inside your knees. Make sure that your knees don’t go over your toes while doing this movement by keeping the weight in your heels.
- When your hip sinks just below the knees, stay in this position for a brief pause, and then drive your hips back up towards the ceiling to return to standing position.
How to Squat jump
Equipment required: you can perform this exercise without any equipment or you can make it more challenging my holding a pair of dumbbells, a barbell or weighted plate.
- Stand with feet hip-width distance apart, feet slightly turned out.
- Perform a normal bodyweight squat, maintaining a tall spine and braced core.
- As soon as your hip sinks just below the knees, push your heels off the floor by jumping as high as you can, and land softly on your feet.
How to Broad jump
No equipment required.
- Make sure there is plenty of space in front of you.
- Stand with feet hip-distance apart, feet slightly pointed out.
- Swing your arms back behind you to help you gain momentum as you perform the squat movement.
- As soon as your hips lower between a quarter to a half squat, swing both of your arms forward as you jump as far in front of you.
- Try landing lightly with both feet at shoulder-distance apart. If you put your weight towards the front your feet as you land this can help you maintain balance.
How to Barbell front squat
Equipment required: Barbell, with weighted plates.
- Set up the squat rack or Olympic lifting platform so the barbell is rested at the right level for you based on your height. If you need add more weight, add plates to each side of the barbell at which you are comfortable with. If you’re new to this exercise, we suggest getting comfortable with performing a squat first before adding extra weight.
- Once you are happy with your set up, bring your arms up to the bar with an underhand grip, whilst keeping the elbows high and pointing forwards. The bar should be able to rest on either sides of your shoulders in this position.
- Looking straight ahead of you, take a few steps away from the rack whilst keeping your arms locked in that same position.
- Position your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, with toes slightly pointed out. Breathe in and lock your abs.
- Lower your body into a squat position whilst keeping your head up and chest proud at all times.
- Straighten your knees and extend your hips back up to starting position. Maintain a tall spine and tight core throughout the whole movement.
- Exhale out and repeat however many repetitions, then take a few steps forward to rest the bar on the rack.
HOW TO DO A BACK SQUAT
Level: Beginners to Advanced
Equipment required: Barbell with weighted plate and clips. You may wish to use alternative equipment such as a kettlebells or dumbbells.
The back squat is a great exercise to improve lower body strength. To perform this exercise:
- Place the bar on the rack just below shoulder level, before stepping under with the bar resting it on your back.
- Gripping with both hands either side, lift the bar off the rack by pushing towards the ceiling with your legs and straightening up your body.
- Step back from the power rack and position your legs roughly shoulder width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards.
- From standing position, lower the bar by squatting down until roughly parallel before pushing through the floor with your heels, straightening your legs to return to starting position. Focus on controlling the movement on your way down and up.
- Repeat for however many reps required.
HOW TO DO A SUMO SQUAT
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment required: Barbell with weighted plates and clips. You can also use a kettlebell or a dumbbell.
This squat variation targets the inner thighs and glutes, and is performed with a wider stand than a regular back squat, which targets the quads more.
- Unrack the bar from the squat rack
- Set up a wider stance than you would typically with a squat, with feet wider than hip-width apart and feet slightly pointing outwards.
- Take a big breathe in and lock your abs and shoulders down and back and hold your breathe, then lower your hips towards the floor - pause - then extend your legs back to standing position.
- Exhale after when you get to standing and repeat for however many reps.
How to do hack squats on the hack squat machine
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Equipment required: Hack squat machine and weighted plates if you want to make it more challenging.
The hack squat can be an alternative exercise to the back squat.
- Load the machine with a desired weight using weighted plates on either side of the machine. If you're not sure, we suggest you start without any weights and gradually adjusting the weight to a desired level.
- Position your shoulders back against the mat and feet around hip-width apart, and release the safety handles.
- Slowly lower into a squat position by bending your knees until your thighs are approximately at a 90 degree angle.
- Extend your legs by driving your hips back to starting position.
- Repeat for however many reps intended.
How to do the split squat
Level: Intermediate to advanced
Equipment required: Barbell, weighted plates and clips. You can use alternative weights for this exercise as well.
- From standing position, take a long step back as if doing a reverse lunge.
- Lift the back heel off the floor.
- Keeping your torso upright, lower your back knee till it almost touches the floor, then push back up.
- Complete however many reps required on one leg and then do the same with the other leg.
How To Do Bulgarian Split Squats
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment: Bench, step, or plyo box
The Bulgarian split squat is an advanced progression of the split squat. Elevating your rear foot places an even greater emphasis on the front leg.
- Stand in front of a bench, step, or plyo box. Raise your left leg back and rest your toes on the platform.
- Engage your core, stand tall, and place your weight evenly in your right foot. You can hold your arms in front for balance, or at your sides. You can also add dumbbells, kettlebells, or even a barbell to this exercise.
- Slowly lower your hips down by bending your front leg, stopping when your knee is at a 90 degree angle. Keep your torso upright throughout.
- Pause before returning to standing by driving up through your right foot, extending your knee, and pushing your hips forward.
- Repeat for desired reps then switch sides.
If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.