How To Squat Properly: Squat variations, tips and benefits

How To Squat Properly: Squat variations, tips and benefits

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Not sure how to squat? Or want to improve your squat technique?

Understanding how to squat properly will help you build a foundation for heavier and more complex exercises in the future while reducing the chance of injury in the gym, and your day-to-day life.

We've put together the ultimate guide on how to squat correctly and the benefits of including squats in your regular training programme, so you can take your lifting to the next level.

With numerous squat variations on display across social media and the internet, it may seem a little unclear on where to begin. We've focused on the five main types of squats, giving you everything you need to progress with your squat technique and own that next leg day workout.

What Are The Benefits Of Squats?

Learning how to squat has numerous benefits, from physical conditioning and coordination to mental wellbeing and an all-round increased quality of life. We've listed five of the main benefits of including squats in your workout:

  1. Increased lower body strength and athletic performance
  2. Positively impacts mental health
  3. Burns calories
  4. Reduces the risk of injury
  5. Works your core muscles

1. Increased Lower Body Strength and Athletic Performance

Performing strength based exercises forces a muscular adaptation. Learning how to squat, and progressing in training volume over time will lead to an increase in squat strength and muscle density in the trained muscles.

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed a strong correlation of maximal squat strength, increased sprint performance and jump height amongst elite soccer players.

2. Positively Impacts Mental Health

We often focus on the physical benefits of strength training; however, a study in 2010 by the American Journal Of Lifestyle found that strength training has several mental health benefits, including:

  • Reduction in anxiety
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Improved sleep quality

3. Burns Calories

Strength training has been proven numerous amounts of times in its efficiently to burn calories and decrease body-fat. Squats are no different, and in-fact they recruit almost every muscle in the body, resulting in a high energy expenditure when completing the exercise.

Involving compound strength exercises such as the squat in your workouts can help utilise stored energy and improve basal metabolic rate (BMR), through the increase of muscle mass.

4. Reduces The Risk Of Injury

The squat can help reduce injury, in both our upper and lower body. 

Regularly strength training can help increase muscular conditioning and general physical resilience. Not only will our muscles increase in strength, density and elasticity, but our ligaments, tendons and bones all reap rewards from performing strength based movements such as the squat.

A stronger body and mind reduces the chance of injury and increases the bodies ability to recover efficiently from each session.

5. Works Your Core Muscles

Move over abs exercises. We've got some news...

A recent study published by the NIH/NLM compared the core muscle activation when performing a prone plank vs back squat. The study discovered that both exercises activated the majority of muscles to a similar degree, however the back squat excelled in activating the muscles that support the spine (erector spinae).

So, hit those squats hard and it won't just be your legs that feel it!

What Are The Main Squat Variations?

There are many types of squats, and implementing different squat variations into your training routine can help challenge your muscles; targeting them in unique ways and forcing adaptation, both in your muscle development and movement patterns.

  • Bodyweight Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Box Squat
  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat

The different types of squats all follow a similar movement pattern, and typically focus on the same groups of muscles. However, there are benefits of utilising each squat variation, and learning how to squat in different ways will help with your training and all-round conditioning.

What Muscles Do Squats Work?

Squats are a compound exercise, meaning the exercise involves multiple joint movements, alongside recruiting large muscle groups. Learning how to squat develops the mind muscle connection between the muscles, developing strength and coordination across the major lower-body muscle groups.

Regularly squatting will result in noticeable strength, power and muscular development, including muscle growth and density throughout the main muscles worked.

The main muscles that squats work include:

  • Quadriceps (front of the thigh)
  • Gluteus Maximus (the booty)
  • Gluteus Medius (more booty)
  • Hamstrings (back of the thighs)
  • Abdominals (stomach)
  • Adductors (inner thigh)
  • Erector Spinae (muscles around the spine)

How To Bodyweight Squat

For those learning how to squat for the first time, avoiding weights and focusing on the bodyweight squat is the best place to start.

This allows for the movement and technique of the squat to be perfected, while increasing basic strength and building confidence, without the increased risk of injury from loaded barbells or weights.

Here's how to bodyweight squat with proper form:

  1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled outwards slightly.
  2. To squat down: take a deep breath in, move your hips back while pushing your knees out to the side, lowering your bum until your hips are just below parallel with your knees. Maintain a neutral spine throughout.
  3. To come back up: Push the ground away from you, keeping your chest high, and knees pushed outwards, squeezing your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  4. Exhale at the top of the movement, before starting your next rep.

How To Goblet Squat

Goblet squats offer a great middle-ground between bodyweight squats and barbell squats, they're also very popular in functional training and conditioning circuits.

Having a lighter weight, such as a dumbbell or kettlebell in the front rack position challenges the muscles groups involved with performing a squat, allowing for strength to be increased without the need for squat racks or barbells.

Implement goblet squats into your functional training workouts, or use them to help build up strength and confidence before trying barbell front squats.

Here's how to goblet squat with proper form:

  1. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest, with your elbows pointing slightly forwards, secured in place with your hands.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled outwards slightly.
  3. To Squat down: Take a deep breath in, moving your hips back and pushing your knees out to the side, maintaining a straight torso until your hips are just below parallel with your knees. Keep your elbows narrower than your knees.
  4. To come back up: Push the ground away from you, keeping your chest high, and knees pushed outwards, squeezing your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  5. Exhale at the top of the movement, before starting your next rep.

TIP: As the weight gets heavier, it may be more comfortable to rest the weight against the top of your chest.

Click here to learn how to deadlift


How To Box Squat

The box squat is an excellent progression from free weight squat exercises, such as the goblet squat; helping to build confidence when learning how to squat with a bar, before advancing on to full barbell back/front squats.

Don't let its simplicity fool you; many high-performance athletes and conditioning coaches utilise box squats. Removing the ability to 'bounce' at the bottom of the box squat requires your muscles to work harder to lift the weight.

Here's how to box squat with proper form:

Learning how to box squat can help improve strength, confidence and power.

  1. Start with the barbell resting on your shoulders, under your chin, secured in place with your hands (you can use a clean grip or cross-armed grip).
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled outwards slightly, one step away from the box.
  3. To squat down: take a deep breath in, move your hips back while pushing your knees out to the side Maintain a neutral spine throughout.
  4. Lower your hips until your bum touches the box at a parallel, or slightly below parallel depth.
  5. To come back up: Push the ground away from you, keeping your chest high, and knees pushed outwards, squeezing your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  6. Exhale at the top of the movement, before starting your next rep.

TIP: For strength training, come straight back up as your bum touches the box. For power and speed, sit on the box for 1 second before performing an explosive movement back up to the top of the squat.


How To Back Squat

The back squat is one of the most well-known gym exercises, and even if you haven't performed a squat before, you'll most likely know what the movement looks like.

One of the three main powerlifting exercises, the back squat allows for huge amounts of weight to be placed on the upper portion of the back, offering a true test of strength.

While you're learning how to back squat, we advise starting with a light barbell/weight until you nail the technique.

Here's how to barbell back squat with proper form:


  1. Start with the barbell resting on your upper-back/traps, secured in place with your hands.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled outwards slightly.
  3. To squat down: take a deep breath in, move your hips back while pushing your knees out to the side, lowering your bum until your hips are just below parallel with your knees. Maintain a neutral spine throughout.
  4. To come back up: Push the ground away from you, keeping your chest high, and knees pushed outwards, squeezing your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  5. Exhale at the top of the movement, before starting your next rep.

How To Front Squat

The front squat has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and rightly so. Similar to the back squat, learning how to front squat with a barbell will target your entire body, placing key emphasis on the gluteus maximus and quadriceps.

The front squat moves the position of the barbell to the front of your body, resting the weight on your shoulders and changing your centre of gravity, requiring your core to keep things in check.

biomechanical comparison study between the front and back squat found that front squats recruit the same amount of muscle fibres, while reducing the stress on knee joints.

This makes the front squat a great alternative to the back squat when considering long term joint health and recurring knee issues.

Here's how to barbell front squat with proper form:

  1. Start with the barbell resting on your shoulders, under your chin, secured in place with your hands (you can use a clean grip or cross-armed grip).
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled outwards slightly.
  3. To squat down: take a deep breath in, move your hips back while pushing your knees out to the side, lowering your bum until your hips are just below parallel with your knees. Maintain a neutral spine throughout.
  4. To come back up: Push the ground away from you, keeping your chest high, and knees pushed outwards, squeezing your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
  5. Exhale at the top of the movement, before starting your next rep.

What Muscles do Front Squats Work?

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Hamstrings
  • Abdominals
  • Adductors
  • Erector Spinae

Front squats work very similar muscles groups to the back squat, with one slight difference; when performing the front squat, the muscle recruitment in the quadriceps is increased, due to the position of the barbell.

So now you know how to squat, you'll need some more exercises for your next leg day workout...

Take a look at our five best leg exercises.

What are your favourite squat variations? Do you keep it OG with the back squat or mix it up?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

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