"Squats work your complete lower body, including glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips, and calves, and they also work your abs and core," says Erika Rayman, founder of The DB Method. "They're one of the best functional exercises at building muscle throughout your body, helping your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promoting mobility and balance. Squats also improve the range of motion in your hips and ankles." Basically they're one of the best things you can do in terms of exercise.
Why You Should Squat Regularly
It's super important to work your butt. Those muscles are responsible for a lot more than you probably realize.
"Your butt as a whole is a major muscle group that powers the body," says Ashley Rosenberg, a NASM-certified trainer and The DB Method (an at-home squat machine) master trainer. "Not only does working your bum make your backside look great, but it strengthens the entire backside of the legs as well, enabling your legs to power stronger, longer workouts."
And exercising that tush helps to take pressure off of the spine. "High functioning glutes prevent stress from rotational movements—present in almost all exercise—to manifest as spinal pain," says Dan Cohen, MD, a Mt. Sinai spinal surgeon in Miami Beach.
"[Squats are] one of the best functional exercises at building muscle throughout your body, helping your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promoting mobility and balance." —Erika Rayman
However, "to grow your glutes, you don't want to just stick to squats," says Azul Corajoria, a certified health coach and personal trainer. Corajoria explains that the glutes are made up of three major muscles that are responsible for a range of movement, not just the squat. And in order to support that full range of movement (and grow the muscles that power them), you should be working in moves that include "a bridge pattern, hinge pattern, and abduction pattern," as well as a squat pattern. You'll also want to work both legs at a time, one leg at a time, and "train the body in its different planes of motion: frontal (side to side), sagittal (front to back), and transverse (rotational)."
So while the squat can't do it all, it sure can do a lot. There's a whole world of squats that you can employ into your fitness routine that will help you work different muscle groups and those different planes of motion.
"Your position changes everything," says Rosenberg, who notes that by simply switching up where you place your feet, you can work all different areas of your rear.
A crucial move through it all? Make sure you're squeezing your butt.
"Because the general population sits on their butt for hours upon hours a day, the mind-muscle connection to our glutes gets atrophied over time," Corajoria says. "That's why when most people start working on their glutes, they'll say they can't feel them working. Therefore, I encourage anyone that does leg exercises to always try and mindfully squeeze their butt as much as they can. In a squat, for example, I'd instruct my client to squeeze their butt as hard as they can from the bottom of the squat, all the way to the top, and end with a big squeeze once they're standing straight."
The Best Squat Variations
1. Classic Squats
Keep your feet 6 to 8 inches apart, hold your abs into the spine, and push your butt back and down a few inches. "You'll activate the butt, inner thighs, and lower abdominals," says Rosenberg.
Watch the video of how to do a squat properly:
2. Sumo Squat
Place your feet slightly wider than you would in an OG squat, and lower and raise. This is true for all squats, but especially in a sumo squat, Corajoria advises that you keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. Here's a breakdown of the move.
Watch the video of a sumo squat:
3. Curtsy Squat
Start with your legs 6-8 inches apart. Shift your weight to your right leg, then take your left leg and place your toe behind and to the right of your standing leg. Bend your knees and hinge at your hips as if you're going into a curtsy, but make sure to keep your chest upright. You can repeat this on one side and then move to the other, or alternate.
Watch the video of a curtsy squat:
4. Jumping Squat
Lower yourself down into a regular squat, but on the way up, explode out of your heels and jump vertically in the air as you straighten your legs. On your way down, make sure to land with bended knees, and then do the whole thing again.
Watch the video of a squat jump:
5. Bulgarian Split Squat
"This challenges balance while also focusing on one leg at a time," says Charlee Atkins, founder of Le Sweat. "As a cyclist, this is my favorite squat variation because it feels good on the quads and allows for a deep stretch through the exercise." Start with your front foot on the ground, rear foot on a bench (with toe pointed or foot flexed), and lower into a deep lunge while keeping the chest up. Make sure the front knee doesn't pass the toes, and then return to the starting position by driving up through the front foot quads.
6. Goblet Squat
"If you use an added weight, it allows for stabilization in the upper body, plus it can relieve tension in the lower back," says Atkins. Start with feet shoulder width apart, sit back through your hips while keeping a flat back. Then lower down until the hips are between the knees, without losing the upright chest. Your knees drive out on the way down and on the way up.
7. Squat to Calf Raise
While you're squeezing your butt on the way up from your squat (you'd better be squeezing!), don't let the move stop just because your knees have straightened out. Instead, at the top of the move, lift your heels off the ground so you come onto your tiptoes. Then, lower back down onto your heels before you move into the next rep.
Watch the video of a squat to calf raise.
8. Elevated Front Leg Split Squats
This move is like the front-side mirror version of the Bulgarian Split Squat. Instead of resting your back leg on a surface behind you, place your front foot on an elevated surface in front of you. Then lower and raise while your legs are at different elevations to feel the burn.
9. Banded Squats
Before you move into an OG squat, grab a resistance band and slip it over your feet until it's resting above your knees, across the middle of your thighs. As you squat down, you'll feel the band wanting to turn your knees inward—don't let it. Use those quads and butt muscles to keep your knees tracking in the same direction as your toes, which will give your squat some extra oomph.
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