If you’re not yet doing squats as part of your regular fitness routine, what are you waiting for? As an exercise for building leg strength, squats are phenomenal, but they are so much more than simply a “leg workout.”
Did you know, for instance, that squats work virtually every muscle in your body and prompt a beneficial hormonal response in your body due to their intensity?
When done properly, squats trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, which are vital for your muscle growth and will also help to increase testosterone, and improve muscle mass when you train other areas of your body aside from your legs.
Squats actually promote body-wide muscle building by catalyzing an anabolic environment, which primes your muscles for growth.
Proper Form Is Key to Getting the Most Out of Your Squats
There are many squat variations you can use to alter the intensity and target areas of your workout. But before we get to those, it’s important that you’ve mastered the basic squat first.
Squats have long been criticized for being destructive to your knees, but research shows that when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue. Again, proper form is key to both preventing injury and increasing the benefits.
In the video below, personal trainer and coach Darin Steen demonstrates safe squat techniques for beginner, intermediate, and advanced. A basic squat is performed as follows:
- Warm up
- Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart
- Keep your back in a neutral position, and keep your knees centered over your feet
- Slowly bend your knees, hips, and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle
- Return to starting position — repeat 15-20 times, for 2-3 sets for beginners (do this two or three times a week)
- Breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you return to starting position
6 Squat Exercises to Build Total-Body Strength
Once you’ve mastered the basic squat, it’s time to expand your workout. The Huffington Post shared these six squat variations you can try (keep in mind that these are not meant to be done in one workout, and get progressively more challenging as you move down the list).
1. Isolated Squat Hold
This exercise will help you to improve stability and strength.
“How to:The set-up and lowering part of this move is just like the bodyweight [basic] squat, but things start to change once we reach the bottom. Instead of standing back up, sink into that squat and hold it. Keep all of the weight in your heels, while driving the knees and hips open. Be sure to maintain an upright body position with your chest up, shoulders back and down, and core engaged. Sets: 4, Reps: 5 pausing 30 seconds at the bottom of each rep, Rest: 30 seconds”
2. Jump Squat
This is a plyometric exercise that can help improve your strength.
“How to: Kick things off in the basic bodyweight squat position… and execute the first part of the squat, until we bottom out. With your hips back and butt down, notice your hamstrings and glutes will tighten and activate. Release that tension by driving your hips forward and your arms up towards the sky, while jumping off of the ground. Return to the ground softly and sink right back into the squat before heading into the next repetition. Sets: 4, Reps: 12, Rest: 60 seconds”
3. Goblet Squat
This squat adds a weight, helping to target your lower-body muscles and improve your squat mechanics.
“How to: Grab a dumbbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, or sandbell before preparing to squat. Grasp the weight and hold it at chest height. Next, set your feet shoulder-width apart and engage the upper body. Keep that weight close to your chest while squatting down. At the bottom of the squat the position should resemble the isolate squat hold. Return to standing by driving through the heels, before squeezing the hamstrings, glutes and core. Avoid thrusting your hips forward by slamming your knees to straighten your legs to stand up. Sets: 4, Reps: 12, Rest: 60 seconds”
4. Back Squat
By adding a barbell resting on your back, you can kick up the intensity of your squats. Barbell squats are considered by many to be the “king” of all strength-training exercises.
“How to: To start, adjust the height of the bar so it’s just below shoulder height. Grip the bar wider than shoulder-width and step under the bar so the weight is resting on your upper back. Set up in the same squat position you’ve been using to complete each move so far, making sure to sit back and down while keep the chest upright. Once you’ve hit rock bottom exhale, press through your heels, squeeze your elbows towards your body and return to standing. Sets: 4, Reps: 10, Rest: 2 minutes”
5. Front Squat
This exercise involves a barbell resting across your collarbone in front of your body.
“How to: Setting up in the squat rack, grip the bar with hands at shoulder width and pull your chest to the bar. Drive your elbows up while pulling the bar onto your collarbone. Note: Instead of trying to hold the bar with against your body, let it rest on you to support the weight. Once you’re set up, lower into a squat keeping your core and upper body engaged, while driving your elbows high. Press through the heels, exhale, and drive the elbows up to complete the move. Sets: 4, Reps: 10, Rest: 2 minutes”
6. Overhead Squat
This is an advanced move in which you hold a barbell over your head while performing a squat.
“How to: Grip the bar with hands wider than shoulder width and press the bar overhead. The width of your grip will have the bar six to eight inches overhead with arms extended. For this move your feet can be slightly wider than the hip-width distance used for the other squat movements.
However, the execution of the squat remains intact. While pressing through the bar, begin sitting back and down into the squat. Continue driving your arms up while stabilizing your body at the bottom of the squat. In the squatted position, drive the hips forward and knees open keeping the upper body tall and core engage while returning to standing. Sets: 4, Reps: 10, Rest: 2 minutes”