12 Science-Backed Benefits of Squats You Should Know About

You've been told the squat is beneficial, but do you know why? Read up on the benefits of squats.

We don’t need to tell you that the squat is worth doing, but there are probably more benefits to doing squats than you’re aware of. For one, squatting is a movement pattern we engage in daily — like when we sit on the toilet or bend down to pick something up — so it’s important to practice the motion. 

Squats — be it a back squat, front squat, or Zercher squat — also burn many calories, increase your quad mass and glute mass, and boost the production of muscle-building hormones. To learn all the benefits incorporating squats into your training plan will bring you, keep on reading this science-backed article. 

Benefits of Squats

Squats Develop Bigger, Stronger Legs Muscles

This probably isn’t a surprise. After all, the squat is a leg-focused movement that requires your major lower-body muscles to work in tandem. Here’s an overview of the main leg muscles bolstered by the squat. 

  • Glutes: Combined, the gluteus maximus and medius make up the largest muscle in the human body, responsible for a large portion of our power production. You can strengthen the glutes by squatting — which is important considering that stronger glutes aid in lower body strength and stability. (1)
  • Quads: The four quad muscles — vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris — support leg extension and protect the knee from instability. Also, research suggests that fuller ranges of motion can elicit significant quad growth at lower intensities. Simply put: you don’t always need to squat heavy to build mass, but you do need to squat in the full range of motion. (2)
  • Hamstrings: Made up of the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, the hamstrings flex the leg during exercise and when walking, jogging, and running. The hamstrings also play a large role in our jumping abilities.
  • Calves: Your calves are made up of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles help us move faster (through plantar flexion), improve ankle stability, and support proper lower extremity mechanics. Strong calves also increase our ankle strength and improve our ability to generate and absorb power through the ground when jumping, lifting, and running. Also, squatting can put our calves through more ranges of motion than static calf exercises can. One study concluded that limitations in plantar flexion (pushing your toes into the floor during squats) led to knee valgus, a common issue in which the knees collapsed inwards, resulting in excessive stress at the knee joint. (3)
Man doing back squat
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A Higher Vertical

Squats improve our ability to jump. How? Since we’re strengthening all of the lower extremities, we’re increasing our ability to produce power (stronger and better-conditioned muscle equals better power output). A study published in 2012 analyzed 59 participants and their vertical jump while following a ten-week program that focused on three squat variations: front squat, back squat, and partial squat. The results? Deep full squats improved vertical jump by increasing the ability to develop force. (4)

Improved Core Strength

In this scenario, we’re referencing the whole torso as the core, not just the abs. When you’re holding weight and moving through multiple planes of motion, the body must work hard to remain stable and not fall over. This, in return, strengthens the core as a whole, which includes the lower back, inner spinal stabilizers, mid-back, obliques, and abdominal musculature. (5)

More Confidence

This benefit is a bit more anecdotal, but there’s something to be said for the self-belief that heavy squats can build. Squats are inherently dangerous and extremely taxing on the body. To support hundreds of pounds on your shoulders and then perform a deep squat takes guts and confidence. As you add more weight to the barbell, you’ll build more confidence. At first, 315 may seem heavy, and then it’s your warm-up weight. If you can power through squats, then a heavy deadlift doesn’t seem as bad. The same goes for bench presses

The Ability to Produce More Power

Squats increase our ability to jump, but they also increase our ability to produce power when done explosively, such as in the jump squat. (6) Leg extension, flexion, and hip extension are all key players when we’re sprinting, absorbing force (landing of jumps and braking in a sprint), jumping, and moving weight. You won’t gain power by ignoring the largest part of your body, aka, the lower extremities (legs). 

Improved Mobility

Mobility isn’t just about your range of motion but how strong you are in specific ranges of motion. squats improve your ability to, well, squat. Repeatedly performing squats train your joints to move through Squats through multiple planes of motion. And adding weight to your squats over time will result in strength at both the bottom and top of a squat. That newfound squat strength carries over everyday life. (7)

[Related: How to Burn Fat For Weight Loss and More Definition]

You’ll Burn More Fat

The more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn during the day. Since the squat strengthens multiple large muscle groups at once and requires a ton of energy to execute properly, you’ll increase the number of calories you burn during a set of squats compared to, say, leg extensions. One study concludes that weight training while dieting is one of the most important factors if the goal was to maintain lean muscle and strength (so make sure you lift weights when dieting, don’t just do cardio). (8)

Help Prevent Injuries

A majority of, not all, injuries when moving can be linked to imbalances and weaknesses. The squat improves knee and hip stability, which can help remedy a lot of issues associated with imbalances. (9) Along with fixing imbalances and weaknesses, the squat can be a great tool for assessing deficits we may experience when lifting (basically, using proper form to perform a movement diagnosis). (10)

Build Stronger Joints

When it comes to the function of your joints, if you don’t use it, you do lose it. However, when you regularly squat, you strengthen and build the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments that make up our joints involved in squats. (11

[Related: Here’s Every Step Required to Build Your First Workout Program]

You’ll Sprint Faster

We’ve already asserted that squats improve power output, and power output affects your sprinting abilities. However, there are studies that show a direct correlation between sprint speeds and full squat power outputs. Fourteen soccer players tested both their vertical jumps and sprint times and then performed weighted squat jumps and full squats. Both squat variations resulted in faster sprint times. (12)

Naturally Boosts Hormone Production

Squats have been shown to improve our natural hormone production — mainly testosterone and growth hormone. (13) While studies are still conflicted about the reasoning behind this, there’s a hypothesis that generally agrees. It’s most likely a reaction to the stress of highly demanding movements and forces, such as free weights.

Improved Posture

When you improve your core strength and lower extremities, you improve your posture. Posture is influenced by both anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscles, creating a healthier body. When performed with proper form, squats can improve our hip health by combating things like the act of sitting all day (don’t forget to stretch and mobilize).

Also, squats build our torso strength to prevent things like internal rotation of the shoulders and kyphosis (hunchback). It’s important to note that stretching and mobilizing are also keys to improved posture, not just squatting. 

How to Do the Squat

Of course, you can’t benefit from squats if you don’t know how to do them. Here’s the right way to do a back squat.

  • Step up to the center of the bar and plant your feet about shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and set your hands on the bar just outside your shoulders.
  • Make sure your shoulders aren’t rising toward your ears, but engage your traps. Let the bar settle on the shelf created by the tension in your upper back.
  • Stand up fully so that the bar is unracked. Let it settle, then take two or three steps back. Re-establish your foot position and make sure you’re still braced.
  • As you descend into your squat, press your knees out (instead of letting them cave in). Keep your torso relatively upright, maintaining a vertical path above your midfoot with the bar.
  • Once you’ve reached depth (breaking parallel with your thighs), imagine your feet driving down into the ground to push yourself back to standing.
  • Maintain your core brace and repeat.

[Related: The Best Barbells For CrossFit, Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Deadlifts, and More]

Back Squat Variations 

There are a lot of ways to squat, and though they may be different, they’re all beneficial. Here are five squat variations worth trying. 

Pause Back Squat

The pause squat is performed identically as a regular back squat, except that the lifter will pause at some point during a rep. Most commonly, the pause will occur at the bottom of the squat. However, you can also pause at parallel, halfway into the squat, or at any other stage where there may be a weakness or need for improvement.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is a fantastic back squat alternative for beginners that want to nail down their movement mechanics. Besides being a great precursor for back squats, the goblet squat is a great exercise to do during warm-ups and when teaching torso positioning. 

[Related: What Most Lifters Get Wrong About Progressive Overload]

Split Squat

While not traditionally done with a front rack position (however it can be), the split squat is a great unilateral exercise to develop quadriceps strength and muscle mass. This exercise can be used as an accessory movement to increase front squat and lower body performance.

1 1/2-Rep Squat

The 1 1/2 squat entails lifters performing a full rep, then a half rep to complete one full rep. This variation is great for increasing time under tension, improving postural positions, and sharpening mental awareness during the squat. Be warned: this one burns. 

[Related: Cluster Sets Are the Intensity Booster Your Workouts Need]

Hack Squat

The hack squat machine is an excellent alternative to the back squat as it helps emphasize quadriceps growth via increased knee flexion. This is ideal for lifters who need additional quadriceps development yet may be limited by their mobility, upper back strength, or a combination of the two. The hack squat can be done using tempos, pauses, and double pauses to really maximize growth.

Final Word

Do you have to squat? No — of course not. But, squats can help you build more muscle, increase strength, develop great athleticism, enhance your posture, and even help you lose fat. Before you do the movement, ensure that you perfect your squat form and take the necessary safety precautions. 

Reference

  1. TM;, E. (n.d.). Effect of back squat depth on lower-body postactivation potentiation. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23442291/
  2. LZ;, B. (n.d.). Effect of squat depth and barbell load on relative muscular effort in squatting. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22797000/
  3. Macrum, E., Bell, D., Boling, M., Lewek, M., & Padua, D. (2012, May 01). Effect of limiting ankle-dorsiflexion range of motion on lower extremity kinematics and muscle-activation patterns during a squat. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journalshttps://barbend.com/jsr/21/2/article-p144.xml
  4. Hartmann H;Wirth K;Klusemann M;Dalic J;Matuschek C;Schmidtbleicher D;. (n.d.). Influence of squatting depth on jumping performance. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22344055/
  5. PA;, A. (n.d.). Electromyographic and kinetic comparison of the back squat and overhead squat. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24662228/
  6. M;, B. (n.d.). The load that maximizes the average mechanical power output during jump squats in power-trained athletes. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11708714/
  7. Myer, G., Kushner, A., Brent, J., Schoenfeld, B., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R., . . . McGill, S. (2014, December 1). The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4262933/
  8. Ballor, D., Katch, V., Becque, M., & Marks, C. (1988, January 01). Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/47/1/19/4694815
  9. RF;, E. (n.d.). Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11194098/
  10. Myer, G., Kushner, A., Brent, J., Schoenfeld, B., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R., . . . McGill, S. (2014, December 1). The back squat: A proposed assessment of functional deficits and technical factors that limit performance. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4262933/
  11. Ballor, D., Katch, V., Becque, M., & Marks, C. (1988, January 01). Resistance weight training during caloric restriction enhances lean body weight maintenance. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/47/1/19/4694815
  12. López-Segovia, M., Marques, M., Van den Tillaar, R., & González-Badillo, J. (2011, December). Relationships between vertical jump and full squat power outputs with sprint times in u21 soccer players. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3588648/
  13. Shaner AA;Vingren JL;Hatfield DL;Budnar RG;Duplanty AA;Hill DW;. (n.d.). The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise. Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24276305/

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