What Muscular tissues Do Squats Work? Maximize Your Advantages from the King of Leg Workouts

The again squat, universally hailed the king of leg workouts, holds a timeless place within the realm of energy coaching. It’s a primary barbell motion that challenges not solely your bodily energy, however psychological energy as effectively.

The explanation it’s such a troublesome train to beat has to do with not simply muscular energy, however muscular coordination, as effectively. (1) If you carry out the traditional barbell squat, you’re recruiting a number of muscle teams on the identical time, from head to toe, whereas coordinating your effort amongst the bodily and technical calls for of the train.

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Whereas many workouts can have their place in a leg workout, when you’re in search of to reinforce the muscular density and energy of your decrease physique, the again squat is the undisputed champion. It places your muscular tissues to the check, because it calls for a stage of metabolic dedication that’ll set off a spike in progress hormone that performs a task in stimulating hypertrophy. (2)

Take a more in-depth look and deal with the mechanics of the squat, the muscular tissues recruited, and a few easy and efficient variations that may assist you get essentially the most out of the time-tested again squat.

What Muscular tissues Do Squats Work?

Find out how to Do the Squat— A Method Information

The barbell again squat can seem deceptively easy at first — put the bar in your again, squat down, and rise up. Nevertheless, there are a lot of particulars to this carry that may usually be missed, comparable to particular bar placement, hand and foot place, and the posture of your head and neck.

Right here’s a step-by-step information to performing the squat, together with some tricks to develop into a greater squatter. Security is essential. Make sure that to use all of those steps for each particular person repetition to not solely get stronger, however to coach smarter, too. 

Step One — Set the Barbell Top

Set the barbell at shoulder-height in a squat rack. If you grip the bar, place your arms parallel to the bottom, guaranteeing a snug grip width that fits your shoulder mobility. Beginning with a shoulder-width grip is really helpful, however regulate to your particular person steadiness of mobility and stability.

person in gym preparing to lift barbell
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Coach’s Tip: In case you encounter difficulties together with your shoulder mobility, carry out an intensive upper-body warm-up earlier than beginning your leg exercise to enhance your shoulder and chest mobility.

Step Two — Place the Bar and Create a Shelf

Select between utilizing both a high bar or low bar placement. What deciphers between a excessive bar or low bar place is whether or not the barbell is above your rear deltoids, or on high of (or under) your rear deltoids.

A high-bar squat tends to emphasise the knee joint which might recruit extra quadricep dominance than a low-bar squat, which might place the load nearer to the hip joint to recruit the glute muscular tissues. Choose the bar placement that aligns together with your coaching targets.

Long-haired person in gym preparing to do barbell exercise
Credit score: hurricanehank / Shutterstock

“Constructing a shelf” helps to create an area for the barbell to sit down comfortably on the higher again to squat. To construct a shelf, retract your scapulae (shoulder blades) and tighten your higher again to create a steady shelf for the bar to relaxation on.

Guarantee your elbows are positioned beneath the bar, additional securing it and selling higher posture. In case your elbows aren’t underneath the bar or close to perpendicular to the ground, your higher again may lose tightness and trigger your backbone to bend ahead. 

Coach’s Tip: To assist preserve your elbows beneath the bar, discover your grip width on the bar. The broader the grip, the extra mobility your shoulder should assist this facet of your squatting efficiency.

Step Three — Unrack the Weight and Set Your Stance

Raise the barbell off the J-hooks and take two steps again. In case you’ve set your barbell peak appropriately, it needs to be comparatively straightforward to unrack the load. When stepping again, preserve the preliminary step small, because the second step is primarily used to regulate your stance. Keep away from stepping too far again, as it will make it more difficult to re-rack the load later.

Your stance considerably influences muscle engagement. For a extra quadriceps-focused squat, go for a more in-depth stance together with your toes ahead or barely outward. Athletes ought to preserve their ft ahead to imitate the stance of their particular sport. (3)

If you’re on the lookout for most squat strength, angle your toes barely outward to verify your knees keep outward in a extra advantageous place. If you wish to have interaction your hips extra, stand wider and switch your toes outward — a way usually utilized by powerlifters and strongman opponents. 

Coach’s Tip: The strongest and comparatively largest muscular tissues of the physique are your glutes. If you wish to maximize energy, you need to use a extra “glute-dominant” variation of the squat. Make sure that your ft are slightly wider than a traditional stance, together with your toes outward. Think about using a low-bar place, as effectively.

Step 4 — Head Place

To keep up a flat and inflexible backbone all through the squat, ensure you place your head barely down at roughly a 45-degree angle. This head placement helps flatten the cervical backbone — the vertebrae of your neck — which helps affect the remainder of your backbone to stay steady throughout the carry.

Coach’s Tip: In case you wrestle to have good posture, begin off together with your head barely going through down, however, as you carry out the squat, preserve your head barely ahead till you hit your sticking level shifting upward. When you hit that sticking level, tilt your head up and ahead to assist affect your backbone to “get taller.” This could put you in a greater place and enhance your squat. 

Step 5 — Time to Squat

After the detailed strategy of establishing in a very good place, it’s time to carry out the squat itself.

  • Preliminary Section: Earlier than starting the descent, brace your core by taking a deep breath by way of your stomach, rising stress inside your stomach cavity. This method enhances decrease again rigidity and total posture. Think about using a lifting belt for added assist. To maintain the brace in your core, breathe by way of your nostril, and don’t permit your shoulders to rise throughout your preliminary breath. 
  • Descending Section: As you decrease into the squat, guarantee your hips transfer downward and barely again to distribute the load evenly throughout your mid-foot. The objective is to take care of correct alignment between your knee and hip joints. Purpose to succeed in a snug depth, together with your thighs close to parallel to the bottom or barely decrease.
  • Ascending Section: In the course of the ascent, take note of potential “sticking factors” because the load will get heavier. When your energy will get challenged, method turns into essential. The higher your method is from begin to end, the extra doubtless you may battle by way of that sticking level to finish the carry. Return upright to a full lockout.

By following every of those steps and sustaining correct kind all through the motion, you’ll maximize head-to-toe muscle engagement and cut back the probabilities of widespread errors, guaranteeing a profitable and efficient squat.

Muscle Recruitment Throughout Squats

Time to dig deep into the anatomy of the barbell again squat, exploring the first muscular tissues and secondary muscular tissues required to carry out the motion.

The barbell again squat recruits a mixture of main and secondary muscular tissues, with the quadriceps and glutes taking the lead in knee and hip extension, respectively. Correct engagement of those muscle teams, and the assist of secondary muscular tissues, is essential for executing a protected and efficient squat.

Main Muscular tissues

A main muscle is the primary focused muscle used throughout an meant motion. The muscular tissues are typically the bigger muscular tissues of the anatomy, particularly throughout a compound motion which includes shifting at a number of joints — within the squat, you’re shifting on the hips, knees, and ankles. The first muscular tissues of the squat are the quadriceps and the glute maximus.

muscular athlete in gym flexing leg muscles
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  • The quadriceps are a bunch of 4 muscular tissues positioned on the entrance of the higher leg. 
  • The first operate of the quadriceps is knee extension, which is essential throughout the ascending section of the squat. They play a pivotal position in straightening the knee joint as you carry the load.
  • The quadriceps are closely engaged when an athlete depends on their knee joint to maneuver the load. The knee joint is likely to be prioritized throughout a high-bar squat, a squat to full (under parallel) depth, or when the athlete’s knees start to interrupt far in entrance of their toes. 


  • The gluteus maximus, the biggest of the gluteal muscular tissues, varieties the majority of the hip joint. 
  • The glutes are answerable for hip extension, which is essential for rising from a squat place. They supply the facility wanted to straighten the hips.
  • The gluteus maximus is closely engaged when an athlete begins to rely extra on their hip joint to drive the load up. The hip joint is likely to be prioritized when an athlete performs a low-bar squat, field squat, or when the athlete has “vertical shins,” which suggests they’re placing extra weight on their heels than their toes. 

Secondary Muscular tissues

A secondary muscle tends to be a comparatively smaller muscle group that aids the first muscle(s) with executing an train. The secondary muscular tissues that present assist and stabilization throughout the squat are the hamstrings, calves, decrease again, and core muscular tissues.

muscular person in gym flexing legs
Credit score: vladee / Shutterstock


  • The hamstrings are positioned behind your higher leg, operating out of your hips to you knees.
  • Whereas primarily answerable for knee flexion (like leg curls), the hamstrings help in hip extension (straightening your higher leg in keeping with your torso). Your hamstrings assist management the descending section of the squat, appearing as stabilizers.


  • The calves are comprised of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscular tissues, and are positioned behind your decrease leg.
  • The first operate of the calf muscular tissues is the extension of the ankle joint — “pointing” your foot down. Whereas indirectly concerned within the squat, they assist stabilize the ankle joint, particularly when pushing by way of the mid-foot. If you wish to have a fantastic squat, you need to preserve your ft flat throughout every rep, that means you want nice ankle mobility, which depends on versatile calf muscular tissues. 

Erector Spinae (Decrease Again)

  • The erector spinae muscular tissues run alongside your backbone’s size, supporting and stabilizing your decrease again, particularly. 
  • The erector spinae muscular tissues are answerable for spinal extension, serving to to take care of an upright torso place throughout the squat.


  • Your core contains muscular tissues such because the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis.
  • Core muscular tissues present stability to the torso, serving to preserve correct posture and stopping extreme spinal flexion or extension. They work along side the erectors, as effectively.

Find out how to Emphasize Key Muscular tissues

As talked about earlier, the first muscular tissues used to squat are the quadriceps and the glutes. Nevertheless, to emphasise one muscle group over the opposite depends upon adjusting your setup and motion, together with foot placement, stance, depth, and barbell placement. (4)

Maximizing Quadriceps Recruitment

For these in search of to develop and strengthen their quadriceps, begin by positioning your ft nearer collectively, both at shoulder-width or barely narrower. This narrower stance magnifies the involvement of your quadriceps throughout the squat, intensifying their engagement.

To additional emphasize quadriceps recruitment, favor a high-bar placement with the barbell in your higher again. Putting the bar greater in your again shifts your middle of gravity ahead, guaranteeing that your quadriceps take the brunt of the load.

This strategic bar placement is a key ingredient in successfully concentrating on and strengthening the quadriceps, particularly for these in a hypertrophic (muscle-building) section of coaching. 

One other trick towards quad-dominance goes under a parallel depth. This elevated depth tends to trigger the shins to lean ahead, placing the ankle inside a fantastic vary of movement (also referred to as “dorsiflexion”) which can put extra pressure on the knee joint. This causes the quadriceps to be extra activated.

Maximizing Glute Recruitment

In case your goal facilities on maximizing glute engagement, widen your stance past a shoulder-width place and level your toes out. This could affect your shins to remain upright, redirecting the main focus to your glutes and intensifying their involvement.

You must also use a low-bar place to shift the load distribution at your hip joints. This helps you get a greater hip hinge, which accentuates glute recruitment. Putting the bar decrease in your again ensures that the glutes play a extra dominant position within the squat.

For individuals who wrestle with feeling glute recruitment, attempt together with a “pause” within the backside place, and even use a field squat variation, because the field enforces the cue to push your hips backward as a substitute of down. That’s a key level— in case your hips transfer additional again, your glutes will be extra engaged.

Squatting straight down pushes your higher thighs ahead as you descend, inflicting your knees to be extra recruited, which might trigger a extra quadriceps-dominant motion.

Squat Variations

There are a number of different squat variations that can be utilized to additional emphasize recruitment of both your quadriceps or glutes. By making adjustments to the bar place or, in some instances, avoiding the usual barbell utterly, you may drive your physique to recruit totally different muscular tissues whereas performing the identical basic squatting motion.

Entrance Squat

On this variation, the barbell is positioned on the entrance of your shoulders reasonably than throughout your higher again. To realize this distinctive place, you may both cross your arms over one another to carry the barbell or use an Olympic weightlifting-style “rack” place that places your arms parallel to one another together with your arms bent and the bar close to your fingertips.

The defining function of the entrance squat is its demand for a extra upright torso posture. That is what would make the motion extra quadriceps-dominant than glute-dominant, much like a high-bar squat. 

The entrance squat promotes improved posture and spinal alignment. It strengthens your higher again whereas decreasing the danger of forward-leaning tendencies usually related to the traditional barbell again squat.

SSB Squat

The SSB (security squat bar) is a specialised barbell that has pads and forward-pointing handles that maintain the load on high of your shoulders and higher again. The burden distribution creates a forward-leaning higher physique angle in comparison with a regular barbell , which considerably impacts the mechanics of the squat. This makes it a extra quadriceps-dominant variation.

The SSB squat is a perfect alternative for people who could have mobility limitations in sure areas just like the shoulders. Moreover, the SSB squat locations a considerable focus, not solely on the quadriceps, but in addition the higher again and the posterior chain. It delivers a fantastic problem to not simply quadriceps energy, however postural energy as effectively. 

By way of muscle engagement, the first goal throughout the SSB squat is your quadriceps. Nevertheless, the angled handles additionally convey your higher again and posterior chain into play. This shift in muscle emphasis units it aside from the traditional barbell again squat, which primarily targets the quadriceps however doesn’t have interaction the higher again and posterior chain to the identical extent.

Belt Squat

The belt squat is not like the entrance squat or SSB squat. As a substitute of inserting a barbell in your higher physique, you put on a belt round your waist hooked up both to a specifically designed platform or to a barbell on the bottom set in a landmine unit. The belt distributes weight throughout your hips, which makes it a glute-dominant variation of the barbell squat.

The belt squat affords an efficient technique of difficult the decrease physique with out inserting weight in your torso and backbone, making it significantly appropriate for people coping with again points.

Moreover, the belt squat targets your legs with little to no higher physique involvement. This may be a fantastic train for these with particular limitations, together with poor shoulder mobility, spinal compression points, or an incapability to carry a barbell with one or each arms.

Time to Squat

The barbell again squat is a high train that engages a number of muscle teams and delivers huge advantages, from rising energy and energy to constructing extra muscular legs. Total muscle recruitment throughout squats is an important variable that may be manipulated by your stance, motion, and bar place. Irrespective of the way you do it, the squat is an iconic carry that may enhance anybody’s success in constructing dimension, energy, and athleticism. 


  1. Myer, G. D., Kushner, A. M., Brent, J. L., Schoenfeld, B. J., Hugentobler, J., Lloyd, R. S., Vermeil, A., Chu, D. A., Harbin, J., & McGill, S. M. (2014). The again squat: A proposed evaluation of practical deficits and technical elements that restrict efficiency. Power and conditioning journal36(6), 4–27. https://doi.org/10.1519/SSC.0000000000000103
  2. Wilk, M., Petr, M., Krzysztofik, M., Zajac, A., & Stastny, P. (2018). Endocrine response to excessive depth barbell squats carried out with fixed motion tempo and variable coaching quantity. Neuro endocrinology letters39(4), 342–348.
  3. Ribeiro, Alex & Santos, Erick & Nunes, João Pedro & Amarante do Nascimento, Matheus & Graça, Ágatha & Bezerra, Ewertton & Mayhew, Jerry. (2022). A Temporary Overview on the Results of the Squat Train on Decrease-Limb Muscle Hypertrophy. Power and Conditioning Journal. Publish Forward of Print. 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000709.
  4. Larsen, S., Kristiansen, E., Helms, E., & van den Tillaar, R. (2021). Results of Stance Width and Barbell Placement on Kinematics, Kinetics, and Myoelectric Exercise in Again Squats. Frontiers in sports activities and energetic residing3, 719013. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2021.719013

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