Squat Muscles Worked: Everything You Need To Know 

A vector image of a man doing a sumo squat - it is the main image to the article "hack squat reverse"

The search query squat muscles worked is quite popular considering how many people actually squat on a regular basis, and there is a good reason why. 

The squat is king of all exercises, and the more we know and the more informed we are, the better we can implement it into our training programs. 

Let’s dive right into it and take a look at squat muscles worked.  

What Is A Squat? 

A squat is a fundamental exercise that involves bending at the knees and hips to lower your body toward the ground and then standing back up.

It is a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups and is often considered the king of lower body exercises. 

The Barbell Back Squat 

One of the most popular variations of the squat is the barbell back squat. In this exercise, a loaded barbell is positioned across your upper back and shoulders. It requires good technique, stability, and strength to perform effectively. 

Squat Muscles Worked: 

Quadriceps: The quadriceps muscles at the front of your thighs are the primary movers in the squat. They work to extend your knees as you rise from the bottom position. 

Hamstrings: The muscles at the back of your thighs, specifically the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus, assist in knee flexion and hip extension during the squat. 

Glutes: When it comes to the question of what muscles do squats work the most, the glutes are the right answer. The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus muscles in your buttocks play a significant role in hip extension and contribute to the upward phase of the squat. 

Calves: The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in your calves help provide stability and assist in extending the ankle joint. 

Core Muscles: Your core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae, work isometrically to stabilize your spine and maintain proper posture throughout the squat. 

How To Do a Squat: 

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward. 
  1. Engage your core and keep your chest up, maintaining a neutral spine. 
  1. Lower your body by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Aim to lower until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below. 
  1. Pause briefly at the bottom, then push through your heels to extend your knees and hips, returning to the starting position. 

Low Bar Vs High Bar Back Squat 

The barbell back squat can be performed with the bar placed in two different positions: the low bar position and the high bar position. 

Low Bar Back Squat: The bar is positioned lower on your upper back, resting on the rear deltoids and upper back muscles. This variation tends to emphasize the posterior chain, including the glutes and hamstrings. 

High Bar Back Squat: The bar is positioned higher on your upper back, resting on the traps and upper back muscles. This variation places more emphasis on the quadriceps and can be beneficial for individuals with limited ankle mobility. 

Squat Right Vs Wrong Cues 

To ensure proper form and technique during squats, it’s important to focus on the following cues: 

Right Cues: 

  • Maintain a neutral spine and keep your chest up. 
  • Push your knees out, aligning them with your toes. 
  • Engage your core and breathe throughout the movement. 
  • Push through your heels as you stand up. 

Wrong Cues to Avoid: 

  • Allowing your knees to cave inward. 
  • Rounding your lower back or looking down. 
  • Shifting the weight onto your toes. 
  • Not reaching sufficient depth or going too low. 

Squat Tips: 

Prioritize Form: Focus on maintaining proper form and technique throughout the squat movement. This includes keeping a neutral spine, maintaining good balance, and using a full range of motion. 

Warm-up Adequately: Perform a dynamic warm-up routine before squats to prepare your muscles and joints for the exercise. This can include exercises such as leg swings, hip rotations, and bodyweight squats. 

Start with Bodyweight: If you’re new to squats or returning from a break, begin with bodyweight squats to develop proper technique and build a foundation of strength. 

Gradually Increase Load: As you become more comfortable and proficient with squats, gradually add resistance by using dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. Progressively increase the weight as your strength improves. 

Incorporate Mobility Exercises: Include exercises that improve mobility and flexibility in your hips, ankles, and thoracic spine. This can help optimize your squat technique and prevent limitations in your range of motion. 

Squat Progression Plan – How To Work Up To The Back Squat: 

If you’re new to squats or want to progress gradually, consider the following progression plan: 

  1. Bodyweight Squats: Begin by mastering the bodyweight squat with proper form and technique. Focus on building stability and mobility in your lower body. 
  1. Goblet Squats: Progress to goblet squats by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest. This variation helps improve your squat mechanics and strengthens your core. 
  1. Front Squats: Once comfortable with goblet squats, progress to front squats. This variation places the barbell across the front of your shoulders, challenging your core stability and upper body mobility. 
  1. High Bar Back Squats: Finally, work your way up to performing high bar back squats. Ensure you have proper technique and sufficient strength before attempting this more advanced variation. 

Benefits Of Squats: 

Strength and Muscle Development: One of the main squats benefits is their muscle building properties. Squats are a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups, promoting overall lower body strength and muscle development. 

Improved Functional Performance: Squats mimic everyday movements like sitting down, standing up, and lifting objects, making them highly functional and beneficial for daily activities. 

Increased Bone Density: Squats are a weight-bearing exercise that places stress on your bones, stimulating bone growth and helping to prevent osteoporosis. 

Enhanced Joint Stability: Squats strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around your knees, hips, and ankles, improving joint stability and reducing the risk of injuries. 

Hormonal Response: Squats, particularly when performed with higher intensity, can stimulate the release of growth hormone and testosterone, promoting muscle growth and fat burning. 

Benefits of Squats Sexually: 

In addition to the physical benefits, squats can also have positive effects on your sexual health. Some potential benefits include: 

  1. Increased Testosterone Production: Squats, especially when performed with heavy weights, can help stimulate testosterone production, which plays a crucial role in sexual health and libido. 
  1. Enhanced Blood Circulation: Squats promote better blood circulation throughout the body, including the pelvic region, which can positively impact sexual function. 
  1. Improved Core Strength and Stability: Squats strengthen the core muscles, including the pelvic floor muscles, which can enhance sexual performance and pleasure. 

Best Sets, Reps & Load For Squats: 

The optimal sets, reps, and load for squats depend on your goals, fitness level, and training program. Here are some general guidelines: 

Strength and Power: To build strength and power, perform fewer repetitions (3-6) per set with a heavier load, typically at 80-85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM). Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets. 

Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth): For muscle growth, aim for moderate repetitions (8-12) per set with a load of around 65-75% of your 1RM. Rest for 60-90 seconds between sets. 

Endurance and Toning: If your goal is muscular endurance and toning, perform higher repetitions (15 or more) per set with a lighter load, usually around 50-60% of your 1RM. Shorter rest periods of 30-60 seconds between sets can be used. 

Training Variables: 

It’s important to vary your training variables to continue progressing and avoid plateaus. Consider manipulating the following variables: 

  1. Load: Adjust the weight or resistance used for squats based on your goals and capabilities. 
  1. Repetitions: Alter the number of repetitions per set to target different aspects of strength, endurance, or hypertrophy. 
  1. Sets: Adjust the number of sets performed to increase or decrease training volume. 
  1. Tempo: Modify the speed of your squat movement by emphasizing the eccentric (lowering) or concentric (rising) phase. 
  1. Rest Periods: Control the rest intervals between sets to influence fatigue levels and training stimulus. 

15 Squat Variations 

1. Barbell Back Squat 
2. Front Squat 
3. Sumo Squat 
4. Zercher Squat 
5. Hack Squat 
6. Jefferson Squat 
7. Split Squat 
8. Box Squats 
9. Kneeling Squat 
10. Overhead Squat 
11. Goblet Squats 
12. Dumbbell Squats 
13. Landmine Squat 
14. Cossack Squat 
15. Bodyweight Squats 

Should You Do Squats? 

Squats are a highly beneficial exercise for most individuals, but certain factors should be considered: 

Medical Conditions: If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, such as joint issues or back problems, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or qualified trainer before starting or modifying your squat routine. 

Mobility Limitations: If you have limited mobility in your hips, ankles, or thoracic spine, you may need to work on improving flexibility and mobility before attempting squats. 

Personal Preferences and Goals: Consider your personal preferences and fitness goals. If you have specific objectives that can be better addressed with alternative exercises, you may choose to incorporate a variety of movements into your training routine. 

How Often Should You Squat? 

The frequency of squatting depends on your training program and individual recovery capacity. As a general guideline: 

Beginners: If you’re new to squats, start with 2-3 sessions per week to allow for proper adaptation and recovery. 

Intermediate and Advanced Lifters: Intermediate and advanced lifters can typically handle squatting 2-4 times per week, depending on their training split and volume. 

Recovery and Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s response to squatting and ensure you have adequate recovery between sessions. Adjust the frequency based on how your body feels and performs. 

How Heavy Should You Squat? 

Determining how heavy you should squat depends on your strength, experience, and goals. Here are some general guidelines: 

Technique First: Prioritize proper technique and form over weight. Start with a weight that allows you to maintain good form throughout the movement. 

Progressive Overload: Gradually increase the load as you become more comfortable and proficient with the movement. Add weight incrementally to continue challenging your muscles and promoting progress. 

Individual Capacity: The weight you squat should be challenging but still manageable for the prescribed sets and repetitions. It’s crucial to listen to your body and avoid sacrificing form for the sake of adding more weight. 

Leg Stretches For Squats: 

  1. Deep Squat Hold: Assume a deep squat position and hold it for 30-60 seconds. This stretch helps improve mobility in the ankles, hips, and groin. 
  1. Hip Flexor Stretch: Kneel down on one knee with the opposite leg forward in a lunge position. Lean forward, keeping your torso upright, until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold for 30-60 seconds on each side. 
  1. Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the ground with one leg extended and the other bent. Reach forward, hinging at the hips, and try to touch your toes. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds on each leg. 
  1. Calf Stretch: Stand facing a wall, placing one foot forward and the other foot back. Lean against the wall, keeping the back leg straight and the heel on the ground, until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold for 30-60 seconds on each side. 

How To Incorporate Squats Into Your Routine: 

Squat Programme 

Squats can be incorporated into your routine in various ways, depending on your goals and preferences. Here’s a suggestion for incorporating squats into your training program: 

Day 1: 

  • Back Squats: 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions 
  • Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per leg 
  • Leg Press: 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 

Day 2: 

  • Front Squats: 4 sets of 6-8 repetitions 
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions 
  • Box Jumps: 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions 

Day 3: 

  • Goblet Squats: 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 
  • Walking Lunges: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per leg 
  • Glute Bridges: 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 

Progression On The Squat Programme 

  1. Increase Resistance: Gradually increase the weight used for each exercise as your strength improves. 
  1. Adjust Repetitions and Sets: Once you can comfortably perform the prescribed repetitions and sets, progress by increasing the volume. Add an extra set or aim for a higher number of repetitions. 
  1. Vary Intensity: Incorporate intensity techniques such as drop sets, supersets, or tempo variations to challenge your muscles and stimulate further progress. 

Looking For A Full Body Bodybuilding Programme? 

If you’re interested in a full-body bodybuilding program that includes squats, it’s recommended to consult with a certified personal trainer or strength coach who can design a tailored program based on your specific goals, experience level, and available equipment. 

Alternatives for Squat – 2 Exercises You Should Try 

Hack Squats 

Hack squats target the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. This machine-based exercise provides a different stimulus to the muscles involved in squats. 

Hack Squat Muscles Worked 

  • Quadriceps 
  • Glutes 
  • Hamstrings 

Split Squat 

Split squats, also known as static lunges, focus on one leg at a time, allowing for better stability and unilateral leg development. 

Split Squat Muscles Worked 

  • Quadriceps 
  • Glutes 
  • Hamstrings 

Squat Muscles Worked – FAQs 


Why Is The Squat The King Of All Exercises? 

The squat is king of all exercises because it recruits the most muscle and builds the most muscle. 

This even includes muscles that you wouldn’t expect, such as the lower back or abs.  

Do Squats Build The Most Muscle? 

There are many types of squats and their benefits, but the one that builds the most muscle is the traditional barbell squat.  

This type of squat allows you to lift the most weight.  

Do Squats Burn Belly Fat? 

Yes, squats do burn belly fat. 

However, weighted squats are primarily used to build muscle, not to lose fat. 

There are much more efficient ways to lose weight than doing weighted squats.  

How Much Squat Weight?  

Pick a squat weight that you can perform for around 8-10 repetitions with good form.  

This ensures that you get maximum muscle growth without risking injury.  

How Many Squats Should I Do?  

For general muscle and strength, you should perform around 8-10 reps of squats per set.  

If you are a powerlifter or are focused solely on strength, then you might want to reduce this to 15 reps per set.   

How Often Should I Do Squats?  

You should squat at least twice a week, leaving at least 48 hours between squat sessions for maximum growth.  

Are Squats Muscular Endurance Or Muscular Strength?  

One of the most noticeable benefits of squats for men is the ability to stack on tremendous amounts of muscle. 

While squats may build muscular endurance slightly, they are mainly a muscular strength building exercise.  

Do Squats Without Weights Build Muscle?  

Yes, doing squats without weights will build muscle providing you are incorporating progressive overload.  

This is the process of making the exercise more difficult or performing more reps as you gain strength.  

Do Squats Work Abs?  

Yes, squats do work abs. 

Working abs is one of the main 10 benefits of squats. 

Do Squats Work Hamstrings? 

Yes, squats do work hamstrings, although not very effectively.  

For hamstrings, you’d be better off with a different exercise, like deadlifts. 

Hamstrings are one of the main deadlift muscles worked. 

We hope we have been able to help you! 

Now that you know the answer to “squat muscles worked”, you should be able to incorporate squats into your training program more efficiently.  

Or perhaps it just gives you more motivation knowing what you are working – whatever floats your boat. 

For more fitness advice, feel free to check out our other content at MovingForwards.