Depending on the type of squat you perform, you can easily work more than 15 muscles at once.
Place your legs farther apart, toes pointed out and your inner thigh will work intensely. Go deeper and the gluteus muscles, especially the gluteus maximums, goes into overdrive. Perform with dumbbells and the distribution of the load over the engaged muscles change.
This article won’t cover the extensive “squat world,” but you’ll find answers to common questions about this super leg move and a great squat workout that is both safe and effective.
Many men brag they can squat more than 300 pounds, but are they really squatting to the parallel position? Women, on the other hand, tend to focus more on the muscles they “feel they are working ” so they may tend to go lower when mastering the almighty squat, and strive to engage all the gluteus and thigh muscles.
So how deep should you squat?
Before getting into an endless debate on who is right or wrong, keep in mind that the appropriate depth depends on factors, such as your fitness/ sport goals and musculo-squeletal considerations—e.g. previous knee injuries, etc.
Go Low, But How Low?
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, experienced squat participants did a full range of motion (FROM) squat versus a partial range of motion (PROM). A FROM squat was achieved when the hips where parallel to the knees. A PROM squat was considered when the knees reached 120 degree of knee extension.
Maximal force and power was elicited with a PROM squat, which is needed for some sport actions. However, if your goal is to change body composition—tone and fat loss—FROM squats are better.
This is because the amount of time performing a rep using a FROM squat is longer. With a longer rep, the tension time—the amount of time the muscle is stressed—is extended, which helps produce the muscle-metabolic response to induce tone and body mass leanness.
Knee Problems? No Problem!!
Sometimes squats (particularly deep squats) can be problematic for people with knee issues, such as osteoarthritis, chondromalacia, and other pathologies. The alternative for achy knees may be the Front Squat.
In an article, “Exploring the Front Squat,” published in The Strength and Conditioning Journal, the authors explained that the Front Squat and the Back Squat elicited the same level of activation of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and erector spinae muscles—despite the differences in the weight lifted.
Even though no significance difference was observed in the knee joint sheer stress—which strains the anterior and posterior ligaments of the knee—the compressive forces placed on the meniscus and cartilage were higher when doing the Back Squat compared to the Front Squat.
Variety is the Key
Not one squat will fit all your needs. This is why adding some of these versions may be worth the sweat, according to Strength and Conditioning Journal.
- Hold it: The isometric squats—holding the hips flexed at the bottom—tackle the gluteus and the quadriceps in your weakest point, which is when your legs are parallel to the floor. This will support your overall squat strength.
- Nothing to wiggle: The inner and outer thigh muscles—hip adductors and adductors—may not be used enough in the standard squat, so the Bulgarian split squats are a great exercise to increase other leg and hips muscles and core stabilization.
- Work it all: And if you want to challenge your upper body—shoulders and upper back—the overhead squat gets you covered from down up.
- Explode: Jump squats tackle the quadriceps, gluteus, hamstrings, and improve explosive power.
- Shake it: Looking to develop lateral mobility, balance and strength in the frontal plane? The lateral squat does the trick.
Super Squat Workout
This routine has three super-sets for you to choose. Pick one or two, depending on your fitness level and goals. Aim for two to four sets per super-set.
Also, the reps and sets vary according to your needs. Generally, a good rep range for muscular endurance is 15 to 20, for tone 12 to 15 reps, and to increase muscle mass, eight to 12 reps.
When doing these exercises, follow these guidelines:
- Always warm-up in the beginning and stretch the muscles you’ve been using at the end of the workout.
- Always keep the core tight, back straight, chest up, and shoulders down—pinch the scapula muscles together to open up the chest.
- Don’t lean forward. Never lift the heels off the floor nor let the knees pass the toes.
- When doing the Front Squat, keep the arms parallel to the floor. Don’t let your elbows drop as this forces you to change your body position.
- The overhead squat tests your upper body flexibility and balance in strength between opposing muscle groups. So if you’re not able to perform this move, check with a fitness professional before adding this exercise to your program.
- Rest a minimum of 48 hours before working the same muscles.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.