Squat (exercise)

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The parallel back squat

In strength training and fitness, the squat is a compound, full body exercise that trains primarily the muscles of the thighs, hips and buttocks, quadriceps (vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris), hamstrings, as well as strengthening the bones, ligaments and insertion of the tendons throughout the lower body. Squats are considered a vital exercise for increasing the strength and size of the legs and buttocks, as well as developing core strength. Isometrically, the lower back, the upper back, the abdominals, the trunk muscles, the costal muscles, and the shoulders and arms are all essential to the exercise and thus are trained when squatting with the proper form.[1]

The squat is one of the three lifts in the strength sport of powerlifting, together with deadlifts and bench press.

Muscles engaged[edit]

Primary muscles

Gluteus maximus (glutes), quadriceps (quads), hamstrings[2]

Secondary muscles (synergists/stabilizers)


A deep squat

The movement begins from a standing position. Weights are often used, either in the hand or as a bar braced across the trapezius muscle or rear deltoid muscle in the upper back.[3] The movement is initiated by moving the hips back and bending the knees and hips to lower the torso and accompanying weight, then returning to the upright position.

Squats can be performed to varying depths. The competition standard is for the crease of the hip (top surface of the leg at the hip joint) to fall below the top of the knee;[4] this is colloquially known as "parallel" depth.[5] Confusingly, many other definitions for "parallel" depth abound, none of which represent the standard in organized powerlifting. From shallowest to deepest, these other standards are: bottom of hamstring parallel to the ground;[6] the hip joint itself below the top of the knee, or femur parallel to the floor;[7] and the top of the upper thigh (i.e., top of the quadriceps) below the top of the knee.[8]

Squatting below parallel qualifies a squat as deep while squatting above it qualifies as shallow.[3] Some authorities caution against deep squats;[9] though the forces on the ACL and PCL decrease at high flexion, compressive forces on the menisci and articular cartilages in the knee peak at these same high angles.[10] This makes the relative safety of deep versus shallow squats difficult to determine.

As the body gradually descends, the hips and knees undergo flexion, the ankle dorsiflexes and muscles around the joint contract eccentrically, reaching maximal contraction at the bottom of the movement while slowing and reversing descent. The muscles around the hips provide the power out of the bottom. If the knees slide forward or cave in then tension is taken from the hamstrings, hindering power on the ascent. Returning to vertical contracts the muscles concentrically, and the hips and knees undergo extension while the ankle plantarflexes.[3] In a weight bearing squat, the heels should always maintain contact with the floor throughout the movement. Weight shifting forward on to the toes, and off the heels creates unnecessary stress on the knee joint. This added stress may lead to inflammation or other overuse injuries.[11]

Two common errors include descending too rapidly and flexing the torso too far forward. Rapid descent risks being unable to complete the lift or causing injury. This occurs when the descent causes the squatting muscles to relax and tightness at the bottom is lost as a result. Over-flexing the torso greatly increases the forces exerted on the lower back, risking a spinal disc herniation.[3]

Another error where health of the knee joint is concerned is when the knee is not aligned with the direction of the toes. If the knee is not tracking over the toes during the movement this results in twisting/shearing of the joint and unwanted torque affecting the ligaments which can soon result in injury. The knee should always follow the toe. Have your toes slightly pointed out in order to track the knee properly.


Various types of equipment can be used to perform squats. A power cage can be used to reduce risk of injury and eliminate the need for a spotting partner. By putting the bar on a track, the Smith machine reduces the role of hip movement in the squat and in this sense resembles a leg press.[12] Other equipment used can include a weight lifting belt to support the torso and boards to wedge beneath the ankles to improve stability and allow a deeper squat (weightlifting shoes also have wooden wedges built into the sole to achieve the same effect). Heel wedges and related equipment are discouraged by some as they are thought to worsen form over the long term.[13] The barbell can also be cushioned with a special padded sleeve.

World records[edit]

On October 8, 2011, Jonas Rantanen of Finland performed a squat with a weight of 575 kg (1268 lb), beating the previous record by Donnie Thompson (USA) of 573 kg (1265 lb).[14]

The single-ply squat record is held by Carl Yngvar Christensen (Norway) at 490 kg (1082 lb).[15]

The raw world record with knee wraps is 460 kg (1014 Ib) done by Andrey Malanichev at the Raw Unity Powerlifting Meet VII on 02/09/14.[16]


The squat has a number of variants, some of which can be combined:


Starting position of a front squat, using the "California" or cross-armed grip.
Zercher squat
  • Box squat – at the bottom of the motion the squatter will sit down on a bench or other type of support then rise again. The box squat is commonly utilized by power lifters to train the squat. Pausing on the box creates additional stimulus in the hips and glutes. Some people believe this form of isometric training allows for greater gains in the squat compared to a traditional Olympic style squat, while others contend that the increased spinal loading creates more opportunity for injury.



Hack squat with Smith machine


Bodyweight squat
Medicine ball pistol squat

Injury considerations[edit]

Although the squat has long been a basic element of weight training, it has in recent years been the subject of considerable controversy. Some trainers allege that squats are associated with injuries to the lumbar spine and knees.[17] Others, however, continue to advocate the squat as one of the best exercises for building muscle and strength. Some coaches maintain that incomplete squats (those terminating above parallel) are both less effective and more likely to cause injury[1] than a full squat (terminating with hips at or below knee level). A 2013 review concluded that deep squats performed with proper technique do not lead to increased rates of degenerative knee injuries and are an effective exercise. The same review also concluded that shallower squats may lead to degeneration in the lumbar spine and knees in the long-term.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rippetoe, Mark (2007). Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, p.8. The Aasgaard Company. p. 320. ISBN 0-9768054-2-1. 
  2. ^ a b "Bodyweight Squat". acefitness.org. American Council on Exercise. Retrieved 27 March 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Brown, SP (2000). Introduction to exercise science. Lippincott Wims & Wilkins. pp. 280–1. ISBN 0-683-30280-9. 
  4. ^ Technical Rules Book 2013. International Powerlifting Federation. powerlifting-ipf.com
  5. ^ Hanna, Wade (March 2002) Squat depth clarified. USA Powerlifting Online Newsletter. Usapowerlifting.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-05.
  6. ^ Hi- and Low-bar Squatting. Home.comcast.net. Retrieved on 2013-08-05.
  7. ^ 6 Things I Really Dislike. T Nation. Retrieved on 2013-08-05.
  8. ^ A Closer Look at the Parallel Squat. Bigger Faster Stronger, March/April 2008, pp. 36–38.
  9. ^ Kellis, E, Arambatsi, F, Papadopoulos, C. (2005). "Effects of load and ground reaction forces and lower limb kinematics during concentric squats". Journal of sports sciences 23 (10): 1045–55. doi:10.1080/02640410400022094. PMID 16194981. 
  10. ^ Clarkson, HM, and Gilewich, GB (1999) Musculoskeletal Assessment: Joint Range Of Motion And Manual Muscle Strength. Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, p. 374, ISBN 0683303848.
  11. ^ "http://www.lift.net/exercises/how-to-squat-with-proper-form/". 
  12. ^ Cornacchia, pp. 121, 125.
  13. ^ McRobert, S (1999). The Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Lifting Technique. CS Publishing. ISBN 9963-616-03-8. 
  14. ^ Jonas Rantanen Breaks World Record Squat. SeriousPowerLifting. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
  15. ^ "Powerlifting watch. Raw world records". 
  16. ^ "Men's Raw World Records (Open)". Powerlifting Watch. 
  17. ^ Cornacchia, p. 120.
  18. ^ Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M (October 2013). "Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load". Sports Med 42 (10): 993–1008. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6. PMID 23821469. 


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