Woman squatting with a kettlebell

Squats: what muscles do squats work and why they're the best lower body exercise

Posted by for Strong Women

The perfect squat can target more than just the legs. This is how and why squatting is so good for your whole body. 

Whether it’s heavy loaded-barbell squats, a dumbbell goblet squat or bodyweight versions, squats are probably the most famous resistance exercise that exists. In fact, data by Better Gyms shows that they’re the UK’s most googled exercise, closely followed by crunches and planks

There’s a reason why squats are always at number one. Not only do they create strong thigh muscles, but they are also a functional exercise – helping you get better at everyday movements. Plus, they can get your heart rate up, meaning you develop your cardiovascular fitness

But it’s important to understand the nitty-gritty of your workouts – including what muscles they utilise – so that you can plan an effective workout plan. So we asked fitness experts to explain everything you need to know about squats. 

What muscles to squats work?

“A lot! Squats are a big compound move so they work multiple muscle groups at once,” says fitness coach Tess Glynne-Jones. “That includes the glutes, the quads, adductors (the muscles on the inside of the leg), the hip flexors and everything that works to stabilise the hips. It’s also amazing for the core.”

However, changing your foot position, the number of reps you perform and the weight you lift can switch up the muscle focus, too,” says trainer Caroline Bragg. 

Do squats help strengthen glutes?

One way we can change the style of squatting to enhance different muscles is by taking a ’sumo’ position to target the glutes. “Taking a wider stance with your feet turned out a little will enhance glute activation,” says Caroline. 

A traditional squat will still target the glutes, but it’s all in the depth, says Tess: “Lots of people want to use the squat to target their glutes, but for many people the squat ends up being a quad-dominant movement. When your hip flexes and your knee comes up towards your chest, you load your glutes. The closer your thighs come to your body, the more your glutes will load.” 

“However, not everyone is biomechanically made to squat, meaning some people’s bodies can’t easily form the squatting shape and their glutes won’t load as much.”

What are the benefits of squatting?

Just because it might not be a glute isolating move, it doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits. “By working multiple muscle groups at a time, the squat helps you to build more muscle mass overall,” says Tess. “It’s also really helping the muscles around the hip, which tend to switch off when you’re at your desk. It’s about helping your body become more functional for your everyday life.”

Caroline also points out how useful the squat is to counteract our days at the desk: “Sitting down all the time limits our range of movement, so practising squatting and getting a good, deep squat is really important. It also helps stabilise your pelvis by developing the glute and adductor muscles. That’s really important for controlled movement when running, lunging and even walking. If you don’t have those strong, stabilising muscles, you could get runner’s knee or pelvic floor issues.”

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Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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