Top 10 Unique Benefits of Squats (The Definitive Guide)
What are the benefits of including squats in your workout routine?
Squats are the most effective lower body exercise for developing strength and muscle mass in the legs and stabilising core muscles.
Squats are an incredibly versatile compound movement that recruits the large muscles groups of the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves to work cohesively in one fluid movement.
Squats develop functional strength and power which directly translates to improving sports performance and athleticism.
Here are the 7 most important benefits of squats:
Squat variations: Pistol, front and back squats emphasise and improve different athletic characteristics.
Squats heavily target the glutes to add mass to your ass.
Developing a strong squat improves your bench press by providing a solid foundation and improves stability and body awareness.
The muscle endurance and mobility built up from squatting helps to alleviate back pain as you retrain your natural movement patterns to lift with the legs rather then bend at the back, every time you pick something up.
Squats are like an active stretch for your hamstrings and fire up your glutes which also helps to reduce lower back pain.
Squats develop functional strength, athleticism and muscular coordination
Throw a harder punch, hit a more powerful tennis serve, throw a ball further, sprint faster.
Compound exercises such as squats are more time efficient then isolation and machine based exercises.
Improve your balance and stability- build a strong foundation.
Squats increase strength and muscle mass more effectively then any other lower body exercise.
Different Squat Variations Accentuate Different Athletic Qualities
If your an athlete, then concentrating on only one type of squat is too one dimensional as there are other athletic qualities to be gained by practising front, back and pistol squat that will improve your sports performance.
The best three squat variations for developing your athleticism are:
Pistol squat (Emphasises balance and stability better then any other squat)
Front squat (As the added weight is in front of your body the power comes through the ball of your foot, emulating how you would use power from your legs in a sporting context)
Back squat (Simply the best exercise for building raw power in your legs)
Pistol Squats- Superior Balance, Coordination and Stability
Pistol squats (one legged squats) are the best squat variation for accentuating the athletic qualities of:
Body awareness (Proprioception)
They are also great for anyone who is trying to train legs, around a back injury as you are not loading up weight directly over your spine as with other squats, yet the resistance is still high.
When you are performing a squat whilst balancing on one leg there is a far greater demand on the different muscle groups to work cohesively to contribute to the exercise. The muscles that participate in the movement not only have to provide the pushing strength required for the exercise but also maintain posture and stability throughout.
In particular the stabilising muscles in your core will be working overtime to keep you balance through the range of motion.
Pistol squats prioritise the development of stability strength, so by directly targeting this quality, you will be increasing your body’s overall capacity for stability.
If you are more stable and have improved your balance then you will have a more solid foundation from which to produce force.
In sports you also tend to drive with one leg at a time (your feet are rarely positioned side by side as with a regular squat in a sports context) so the unilateral strength training that pistol squats develop will be directly transferable to performing better at your chosen sport.
(For a full explanation of the benefits of pistol squats, check out my article)
Front Squat- Excellent Athletic Crossover
The front squat where the weight (whether its a barbell or kettlebell) is held out in front of your body.
The position of the added resistance with a front squat means that the weight is aligned so that the drive for the squat comes through the ball of your foot whereas with the back squat the weight is aligned so that the push comes more from the middle of your feet with your heel playing a bigger role.
When you think of how you would use your leg power and drive in an athletic context, you always drive forwards from the ball of your foot. Whether its sprinting, freestyle wrestling, in a scrum in rugby or throwing a ball you are pushing from the ball of your foot.
The front squat emulates how you generate force during sports performance. Therefore if you are playing competitive sports, make the most out of your strength and conditioning training by alternating to front squat so you can put the power and leg strength that you are developing to good use on the field of competition.
Front squats and back squats work the same muscle groups, however the front squat emphasises the quads, upper back and core (for stabilisation) with higher levels of tension, more then the back squat so you learn to increase your balance when the resistance is aligned differently as the weight is shifted forwards.
If your back squat progress has plateaued then training front squats can serve as a great alternative stimulus to build strength in different areas and improve your overall squat game so you can return to the back squat even stronger.
Barbell Back Squat Benefits- Build Undeniable Lower Body Power
The back squat excels at developing an athletic characteristic that is essential for all sports.
Strength and power.
With the traditional back squat the barbell rests across your trapezius muscles and the bar is stabilised with each hand. This is a very effective way of keep the bar stable.
Because stability and balance is less of a concern with the back squat then it is the front or pistol squat, you are able to prioritise the development of power and strength in the largest muscles of your body with the back squat.
Strength in you legs is a fundamental requirement if not essential to compete in almost every sport. Take rowing for example, you need to be able to push hard and produce an enormous amount of power with your legs for a sustained period otherwise you simply wouldn’t be able to compete.
A lot of sports require this sort of raw power in your lower body, and the best way to develop this is with back squats as you can address a leg strength deficit by:
Locking in with the exercise to concentrate on strength development without expending excessive energy fighting for stability and balance
Easily and effectively scale the exercise in difficulty by adding weight
Scaling the exercise with greater resistance is key to increasing your strength. The back squat lends itself particularly well to maintaining a progressive overload.
As your strength progresses with the exercise you can add additional resistance proportionate to your ability.
To develop strength it is best to keep the weight relatively high and the reps to about 6 per set.
As soon as the weight you are using becomes comfortable for 6 reps it is time to increase the intensity by adding more weight. The body adapts to the increased stimulus by increasing in muscular size (by mechanical tension) and strength to cope with the increased demand.
The scalable potential for developing lower body power is the reason why the back squat is an integral part of every strength and conditioning programme for professional athletes at the very highest level of their sport.
Squats Add Mass to your Glutes
Squats are one of the best exercises for train the biggest muscle in the body- the glutes.
Glutes exercises aren’t just for Instagram models.
Stronger glutes are essential for:
Maintaining good posture
Avoiding lower back pain
Moving your hips, generating and transferring power from your lower body to upper body.
Key muscle for performing deadlifts, lunges and other compound exercises
Why are squats so good for adding mass to glutes?
Squats are one of the best targeted glutes exercises as glutes are one of the primary movers of the exercise (responsible for extension of the hip and stability).
The squats puts the glutes through a much greater range of motion then any other exercise so there is significantly more muscle activation and potential for muscle growth compared with other lower body movements (even more then targeted exercises such as the glute bridge).
The glutes are heavily engaged at all stages of the movement throughout each set you perform, which means the muscles spends a high amount of time under tension. Time under tension is one of the most important factors when it comes to increasing muscle mass. (The optimal time under tension for muscle growth according to the latest research is around 45-75 seconds per set).
Not only that, compound movements such as squats (exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups) are the best for increasing in muscle mass as they work multiple muscle groups in one movement, which causes more micro tears in the muscle fibres. (muscle damage in this context is beneficial as it is necessary for the muscle to grow) and signals to the body to release hormones to aid with recovery.
So more muscle is damaged and subsequently repaired during your recovery time which results in bigger and stronger muscles, and the body’s natural repair process is more pronounced when performing compound exercises such as squats.
Keep growing those glutes!: Squats also hold an advantage over other glutes orientated exercises in that it is easy to increase the intensity of the exercise by adding weight with a barbell. Increase the resistance of the exercise as you get stronger will help you maintain a progressive overload to put the glutes under increasing amounts of muscular tension and stimulate an adaptive response of adding mass to your ass!
Squatting Improves your Bench Press
This is a benefit that may come as a surprise to a lot of people. After all, bench press is an upper body exercise that focuses on the chest and triceps.
So how will squats improve your bench press?
The answer is stability. Developing a strong squat is crucial to heavy bench pressing. When you bench press, your feet are the only point of contact with the ground, therefore having strong legs is key to a solid foundation for the exercise.
Think about when you are in position and holding a heavy bar. Your shoulders (rotator cuff), core and legs are all engaged to keep the bar level throughout the exercise.
We have all been in the situation where you can become unbalanced and the bar will lean too far in one direction and you have to recover the bar by engaging your stabilising muscle to avoid an accident (hence why a spotter is so important).
The likely hood of this happening increases with the level of fatigue or if you are approaching your one rep max and you are near the limit of what you can physically handle.
In order to rescue a lift you need to have confidence in your stabilising muscles. This means you need a combination of strong rotator cuff (check out my article on how to increase rotator cuff strength), a strong core but more importantly strong legs.
Strong legs that are accustomed to squatting a good amount of weight, are the most important stabiliser to saving a bench press because the muscles in your legs (glutes, quads, hamstrings) are the biggest and strongest muscles in the body.
Therefore the bigger leg muscles have a greater capacity for the strength required to maintain balance or save a lift that has veered off to one side.
The strength from squatting helps you to drive the force into the ground and provide an undeniably solid foundation from which to push.
So if you want to push high numbers on the bench press then make sure you have an accomplished squat and follow the golden rule of never skip leg day!
Strong Squats Help Reduce Back Pain
Your muscles in your legs are the biggest and strongest in your body. Yet when it comes to picking something up off the ground, people tend to bend at the back rather then lifting with the legs.
Typically it is the lower back that is most vulnerable from poor movement patterns. Every time you bend down to pick something up using your back you are taxing the discs and vertebrae of your spine unnecessarily with significant pressure.
Whereas if you squat down, rather then bending down, then you can avoid excessive flexion at the back when you pick up things (particularly things that are heavy) and prevent unnecessary strain on a part of your body that is vulnerable to injury.
We often bend down with incorrect form for two reasons:
Poor motor patterns (often caused by a lack of mobility)
A deficit in leg strength (whether it is maximal and endurance strength)
Poor motor patterns can develop over time without realising it. In fact it can feel easier for some people to bend down rather then squat down as it is your anatomy that is taking the strain rather then placing your muscles under tension,
Or perhaps a lack of mobility is the reason as muscles and tendons can tighten up as a result of a sedentary life style and large periods of sitting in the same position.
To address this you need to strengthen your legs so that your body learns how to move in the correct way as the legs are far more anatomically suited to lifting then bending at the back.
Your glutes, hamstrings and quads are the biggest muscles in the body and have a huge capacity for strength. So lifting your bodyweight up and down to pick things up throughout the day will not be a problem once you incorporate squats into your gym routine and gain strength throughout your legs range of motion.
Once you have develop power in your legs you will find that you naturally prefer to squat down rather then bend at the back as there is less stain on your back.
The legs can take the muscular tension and your movement patterns will improve, so you can avoid putting unnecessary demands on your back and actually lift much more weight safely as glutes, quads and hamstrings are three of the strongest muscles in the body and they all work together cohesively to contribute to the movement.
Even if you don’t suffer back pain at the moment, prevention is far better then cure. You will be at a unique advantage in that you can work on your squats now and correct bad motor patterns. You will have to consciously adopt the squat into your kinetic vocabulary but with consistent training you will retrain your body to move more efficiently.
Squats Improve Hamstring Flexibility to Reduce Back Pain
The second way squats help to tackle back pain is by correcting muscle imbalances that lead to hamstring tightness and reduced range of motion.
One of the main functions of the glutes is to maintain proper posture and to stabilise and extend at the hip joint. If you have weak or under-active glute muscles then the hamstring, lower back and core are forced to compensate by assisting the functions of the glutes and this only exacerbates the muscle imbalance.
This result is hamstrings that get progressively tighter which can lead to strains or tears in the hamstring muscle itself or result in lower back pain because of the reduced range of movement.
Squats are an important exercise for alleviating tight hamstrings as they fire up the underactive glute muscles and help to restore the strength imbalance which allows the glutes to perform their proper function.
Stronger glutes mean that there is less demand on the hamstring muscle to compensate for the weaker muscle and this will, over time, decrease the tension of the hamstring and lower back.
The squat also acts as an active stretch for the hamstring as the muscle will go through its full range of motion and perform its proper function.
If you have obstructively tight hamstrings it is important to not load up with weight when performing squats but instead concentrate on loosening the tight muscle so you can perform squats safely.
I personally use a foam roller which acts like a sports massage and can specifically target each individual hamstring and the surrounding muscles to make sure your movement isn’t restricted. Stretching a muscle that is already tight will not do much for hamstring flexibility so its important to use a roller to help release tension first.
If you struggle with overall balance and mobility for your squat then this YouTube video has you covered with a great mobility and stretching routine.
Looser muscles means less chance of injury, greater range of motion and more potential for muscular gains.
Squats Develop Functional Strength and Athleticism (How to Throw a Harder Punch)
Squats recruit multiple muscle groups in one movement, so each muscle will develop in strength and musculature proportionally to one another.
This is beneficial for 2 reasons:
Aesthetically muscles that look proportional to one another look much better. If you train muscles individually with isolation exercises then you can overdevelop or under develop particular muscles which will lead to both muscle and strength imbalance.
Training muscles to work cohesively with one another promotes better movement patterns and emulates the way you would move in every day life and develops lower body strength and power that is used in athletic competition.
There is good reason that professional strength and conditioning coaches feature big compound movements for the lower body such as squats and deadlifts rather then isolation exercises like hamstring curls in their programmes for athletes.
If you work muscles one by one then you remove the muscular coordination element from your training and your movement becomes less fluid and more stiff (compare how a body builder moves to how a boxer moves around a ring). With squats all the muscles in the lower body (and stabilising muscles in the upper body) participate in the movement.
This is very important for sports as practically all athletic movements require multiple muscle to work together for full body contribution to the movement.
Punch harder, Throw Further and How Squats Make you More Explosive
Consider driving forward in a scrum in rugby, tackling in American football throwing a punch or serving a tennis ball.
The legs are either required as a strong foundation for balance or for pushing off the ground to produce force and transfer it through the core into the upper body as with throwing a punch.
The legs contribute heavily to even these upper body explosive movements as they are key to producing maximum power through kinetic linking.
This is where energy is transferred through the lower body all the way to the upper body in one dynamic movement.
Picture a tennis player serving a ball. They don’t just use their upper body to produce the force. The power starts with the legs and is transferred from the lower body through the glutes which are responsible for turning the hips which increases the force as it moves through the core and into the tennis players serve.
The large leg muscles have a great capacity to produce explosive force and contribute significant power to these movements. The same is true for throwing a powerful punch or throwing a ball.
The body naturally moves as one unit and squats are one of the best exercises for encouraging all the muscles in your body to move cohesively together so you can transfer power efficiently and move more explosively.
Squats Activate More Muscle Groups Then any Other Leg Exercise (More Time Efficient)
The squat is a compound movement that engages all the major muscle groups in the lower body (as well as your core) under high levels of tension
No other lower body exercise is as comprehensive in terms of muscle recruitment and therefore squats hold the most potential for strength and muscle gain in one movement.
The primary movers for the squats are:
The core and the large muscle groups of the back are engaged under isometric tension for stability throughout the movement.
If you were to train all these muscle groups individually with isolation exercises or machine based exercises (leg press, hamstring curl, leg extensions, calf machine) then you would have to spend a huge amount of time in the gym.
For example if you were to train for hypertrophy (increased muscle mass) then the optimal time under tension per set is around 45-75 seconds, with around 3-5 sets completed per exercise.
To isolate every muscle with machine weights would take (accounting for rest time) well over an hour.
Most people do not have that sort of time to dedicate to the gym per day as you have schedule your workouts between a work, family, socialising and rest.
Not to mention spending all that time doing isolation exercises is tedious and you end up engaging less muscles then if you were to do compound exercises like squats and deadlifts in the first place.
Squats will tax all the muscles that isolation exercises will but under higher levels of tension (you can load up more weight with a barbell squat then you can on a hamstring curl machine as all muscles are contributing to the exercise therefore you are pushing more overall weight).
A set of squats works all the lower body and core in a fraction of the time that an equivalent workout using machine based exercises would take and squats produce much better results.
Improve your Stability and Balance
Squats are the best leg exercise for developing stability and balance in both an athletic context and for every day life.
Squats are a compound movement that engages all the muscle groups in the lower body under high levels of muscular tension. Every muscles in your core is also engaged primarily to maintain stability throughout the movement whilst your drive with your legs.
So you are not only developing high levels of strength but also the qualities of stability and balance in one cohesive exercise.
You do not get these benefits if you are training isolation exercises or with machines! Look around a big commercial gym and you will see a leg press, hamstring curl machine, seated leg extensions, calf raise machine just to name a few.
All these exercises have a huge disadvantage when compared to squats. The machine removes the element of stability and full body coordination so you will not be developing balance simultaneously whilst developing strength.
With the different types of squat (front, back barbell squat, pistol squat etc.) the development of the attributes of balance, stability and coordination are prioritised and increase proportionally with strength gain.
With machine based exercises you can get into a situation where certain leg muscles are strong but they don’t work together as efficiently (because they have been trained in isolation) and you don’t have the balance or stability strength to match the your strength gain.
With squats the onus is on you to provide the balance and coordination required for the exercise and not the equipment.
Machine weights deny you of the opportunity to improve balance and therefore do not contribute to functional strength in the same way that squats do.
Squats build a strong foundation and accentuates stability, balance and coordination.
Squats Build More Muscle Mass and Increase Strength Better Then any Lower Body Exercise
The movement of squatting perfectly emulates how we move in everyday life.
When squatting we are extending at the hip, knee and ankle joints in one movement. This means that every muscle in the lower body that is responsible for lower body joint extension is recruited as a primary mover of the exercise.
Hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps and calf’s contribute the most to the exercise with the core muscles activated for stabilising and coordinating the body.
Here’s why squats are so good for increasing in strength and muscle mass:
The muscles used for squatting are the biggest muscle groups in the body and therefore have a huge potential for increasing in strength and size.
To consistently build mass and increase strength you have to progressively overload the muscles with increasing levels of tension. Both back and front barbell squats are very easy to increase the resistance by adding weight to the barbell and scale the exercise to your ability.
By adding more weight every time your strength increases you are putting the muscle under more stress then it is currently accustomed to. This will force the body to adaptively respond to the higher levels of resistance by increasing the size and strength of each muscle group that is participating in the movement so that it can cope with the increased demand.
In other words you need to give the muscle a reason to grow.
By leveraging progressive overload you can continue to build lower body muscle with squats by scaling the intensity and adding weight to the bar in proportion to your strength so you can consistently make gains.
There are different variations of squats (front squat, back squat, pistol squat) that tax your muscles in different ways and emphasise different qualities so if you cycle between different variations you will hit different muscle groups with different levels of tension.
Compound exercises such as squats build more muscle then isolation exercises as they recruit more muscle groups to participate in the movement which creates more muscle damage, and therefore more muscle repair whilst you are in recovery.
If you’d like to know more about why you should not overlook the benefits of pistol squats and check out my article. I would also really appreciate it if you shared this article on your preferred social media platform using the icons below and if you have any questions, leave a comment and I will get back to you! ↓↓↓