While we tend to queue at the bench press stations or machines for adductors and abductors. Other training equipment, on the other hand, must be regularly dusted off, this includes the squat rack in particular. Admittedly, this is a somewhat exaggerated depiction of reality on the training floor, but that shouldn't hide the fact that the squat isn't a popular exercise for most. This is by no means due to the effectiveness of this exercise, because the squat is not called THE king exercise in weight training for nothing.

But why are squat exercises so unpopular? The reasons are obvious because the squat is exhausting, uncomfortable and challenging at the same time. But as so often in life, hard work is rewarded, which is why this exercise is for those who strive for maximum training results! In this guide, you will find a lot of practical information about squats training.

Which muscles are engaged when doing squats?

Although the squat is classified primarily as a leg exercise, a variety of muscles from both the upper and lower body are involved in performing the exercise. A distinction must be made between muscle groups that are significantly involved in the execution of the exercise and those that act as stabilizers. 

The muscles primarily involved are:

  • Quadriceps femoris muscle (leg extensor)
  • Musculus biceps femoris (hamstrings)
  • Gluteus maximus muscle (gluteus maximus)

Some experts also mention the soleus muscle (clod muscle), gastrocnemius muscle (calf muscle), semitendinosus muscle (semitendon muscle) and semimembranosus muscle (flat tendon muscle) when asked about the muscle groups involved in the squat.

The following muscle groups are primarily involved as stabilizing muscles:

Musculus erector spinae (back extensor)
Musculus adductor (three-headed adductor)
Especially with regard to the muscles that ensure the necessary body stability during the squat, the abdominal muscles must also be mentioned. In general, stability in the core area plays an important role in the correct execution of squats.

Why are squats so effective?

Squats are one of the basic exercises in weight training. Compound exercises are exercises that stimulate a large number of muscles at the same time. Basic exercises are considered to be particularly effective for building strength and muscle mass. In addition to squats, the category of basic exercises also includes bench presses, deadlifts and shoulder presses.

Experts recommend that compound exercises should be the foundation of any training plan designed to maximize strength and muscle. In addition to the advantage of stimulating many muscle groups at once, the squat offers other benefits for maximizing training results. An essential aspect lies in the hormone release that can be caused by squats. For example, one study found that performing free squats resulted in a greater release of anabolic hormones than performing leg presses. (1) This is particularly interesting as anabolic hormones (e.g. testosterone, growth hormone) are important for muscle building.

But the squat is not ideal for building muscle, but also for optimizing performance values. As an example, study results should be mentioned here that lead to the conclusion that heavy squats can increase both the jumping power and the sprinting skills of soccer players. (2) Another study of American football players supports the link between squat performance and sprint performance. (3)

Are squat exercises for you?

In the previous section, it became clear that squats are not only interesting for bodybuilders to optimize optical muscle development, but also for athletes in other sports to increase performance (e.g. jumping power and sprinting ability). Squats should therefore definitely be found in every training plan of an ambitious athlete.

The movement pattern of the squat is considered to be very complex. As a result, beginners may have difficulty performing the exercise correctly. Since the right training technique is essential for the success of the training and for avoiding injuries, the exercise should be learned under competent supervision. Only when squats can be performed safely and correctly should performance considerations come into play. A sloppy training technique increases the risk of serious injuries or can lead to significant joint wear in the long term. In addition, squats are only effective if the muscles involved are optimally loaded, which is only possible with a clean training technique.

Thanks to a variety of exercise variations, squats are suitable for many healthy and flexible athletes. Inexperienced people can start with the squat without additional weight. This is a classic bodyweight exercise. If the performance increases, additional weights can be used (e.g. barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.). Extra caution is advised for overweight people and people who have suffered knee injuries in the past. If you have a history of a knee injury, you should always consult your doctor or orthopedist before including squats in your training plan.



What is the correct way to do squats?

Squats are often incorrectly labelled as a joint-damaging exercise. Provided that the exercise is performed cleanly and correctly. There are numerous half-truths and myths about the correct execution of the squat that could fill entire books. At this point, it would therefore go beyond the scope to go into all aspects that are heatedly discussed in practice by experts and athletes.

However, one point that is particularly frequently discussed should not remain unappreciated. In addition to different views regarding the foot position, the correct full range of motion (full ROM) is also discussed again and again. In weight training, full ROM means training over the entire range of motion.

The problem in connection with the squat: This range of motion is defined differently. While proponents of "Ass to the grass" advocate performing the squat as deep as possible, critics of this variant see considerable dangers for the health of the knees and the cruciate ligaments. However, studies have shown that the load on the cruciate ligaments in the knee is even reduced when squats are performed particularly deep. (4)

Incidentally, the gravitational forces on the anterior cruciate ligament are greatest in the first part of the downward movement, when flexion occurs in the range of 0 – 30°. An important finding, because experts think that the deep squat promises a better training effect because the muscle activity of the buttocks and leg extensions increases significantly and reaches its peak, especially in the lower range of the movement (90 - 135°). However, the deep squat requires a special degree of mobility, which is why the variant "Ass to the grass" is not suitable for everyone without restrictions.

In general, you should pay particular attention to the following points when doing the classic squat:

  1. Stable and about hip-width stance with slightly bent knees in the starting position. (Avoid straightening the knee joints!)
  2. During the downward and upward movements, it is essential to ensure that your back is straight. (Avoid a hunched back!) A slight hollow back is sometimes recommended.In hale on the downward movement and exhale on the upward movement.
  3. The feet must have constant, secure contact with the ground. (proper footwear!)

Important note: Due to the complex movement, it is advisable to learn the exercise under supervision. A competent trainer is the right contact person here. In general, it is advisable to pay sufficient attention to the subject of training techniques right from the start. Once a wrong training technique has crept in, it is difficult to successfully internalize necessary corrections.

Especially with squats that are performed with a high training weight, the pressure in the neck caused by the barbell can be felt to be very uncomfortable. Not only bruises or bruises can be the result, but also the concentration in training suffers. To prevent this, a neck pad that can be quickly and easily attached to the barbell is ideal.

What are the differences between variants of the squat?

Squats can be performed in many different ways, as there are numerous exercise variations. In classic strength training, for example, front squats should be mentioned. While in the classic squat the barbell is positioned in the neck or on the rear shoulder girdle, in the front squat the barbell rests on the front shoulder head. It is known from sports science studies that there are no significant differences in terms of muscle strain between the two variants. However, front squats, as front squats are also known, may be better suited for people who are struggling or have had knee problems. (5)

Incidentally, there is a significant difference between squatting with free weights and being guided by machines. Studies show that the muscular load of free squats is greater than squats performed in the multi-press. (6) At this point it should be pointed out again that the execution of free squats is very likely to result in a stronger release of anabolic hormones. (1)

In the age of the functional fitness movement, there are also numerous other modifications or variants of the squat. These include, for example, jump squat, pistol squat or goblet squat. These exercises are based on the regular squat, but at the same time include other movement patterns to train functional fitness particularly effectively.



Why are squats so effective?

Squats work a variety of muscle groups. First and foremost, the exercise is suitable for more strength and muscle mass in the lower body. This is especially true for the deep squat (ass to the grass), in which the buttocks and leg extensions are particularly stressed. Another important aspect: the release of hormones (e.g. testosterone), which is associated with intensive squats, can have a positive effect on muscle growth.

Are Deep Squats Harmful?

There is study material that shows that the particularly low execution of the squat does not put more strain on the cruciate ligaments. In fact, according to this study material, the opposite appears to be the case, with the heaviest loading occurring at the beginning of the descent and the loading decreasing at the bottom of the movement.

Are free squats more effective than multi-press squats?

According to study results, free squats require significantly higher muscle activity of the muscle groups involved, which is why the free squat is classified as the more effective variant. Coordination skills are also better trained.



(1) Shaner AA, Vingren JL, Hatfield DL, Budnar RG Jr, Duplanty AA, Hill DW., NCBI, "https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24276305", at: https:/ /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24276305 (accessed on 05.11.2019)

(2) Wisløff U, Castagna C, Helgerud J, Jones R, Hoff J., NCBI, "Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players.", at: https://www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15155427 (accessed 05.11.2019)

(3) McBride JM, Blow D, Kirby TJ, Haines TL, Dayne AM, Triplett NT., NCBI, "Relationship between maximal squat strength and five, ten, and forty yard sprint times.", at: https://www .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19675504 (accessed 05.11.2019)

(4) Sakane M, Fox RJ, Woo SL, Livesay GA, Li G, Fu FH, NCBI, "In situ forces in the anterior cruciate ligament and its bundles in response to anterior tibial loads.", at: https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9167633 (accessed 05.11.2019)

(5) Gullett JC, Tillman MD, Gutierrez GM, Chow JW. NCBI, "A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained individuals.", at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/19002072 (accessed 11/05/2019)

(6) Schwanbeck S, Chilibeck PD, Binsted G NCBI, "A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography.", at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19855308 (last access on 05.11.2019)

May 16, 2022 — Ty du Preez

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