EXERCISE: Squats help build lower body strength

Many people include squats in their workout, and for good reason. This multi-joint, multi-muscle exercise is one of the best ways to build lower body strength and is both convenient and time efficient.

It also burns more calories than many common exercises because it uses some of the largest muscles, including the glutes and quadriceps. Squats are a functional exercise, meaning that it strengthens muscles used in similar everyday motions like sitting and standing from a chair or squatting down to pick an object from the floor. Because this reinforces correct movement patterns, it helps reduce injury risk.

For those who travel or prefer to exercise at home, the squat is ideal because it doesn’t require equipment.

Muscles worked: Quadriceps, Hamstrings and the Gluteus Maximus, as well as many stabilizing muscles, including those of the low back.

Execution: Place the feet approximately shoulder-width apart with toes pointing either straight ahead or slightly turned out. Place hands on hips or fold the arms across the chest. While looking straight ahead, move the hips backward and then bend the knees to slowly lower into the squat position.

This should look as if you are getting ready to sit down in a chair. The heels should be in contact with the floor throughout the repetition, and the knees should not travel over the toes. If the heels come away from the floor, this is an indication of tight calf muscles and/or limited ankle range of motion (dorsiflexion).

It is important not to round the back, but instead, keep the spinal column in its normal alignment all the way to the bottom of the squat and as you return to standing.


  • Safety should be your number one priority when working out. If you have pre-existing injuries or a medical condition, check with your doctor before adding squats to your workout routine.
  • If flexibility or balance is a problem, you might try practicing coming only part of the way down rather than into a full sitting position or holding onto a sturdy surface as you squat. Do not descend any further than your thighs parallel to the floor. There are different types of squats aside from the traditional one discussed here, some of which call for descending so low that the rear is nearly touching the floor, but all variations must be done with very strict form and aren’t for everyone. If unsure, consulting with a fitness professional for proper instruction can be very helpful.
  • Beginners can start with 1 to 2 sets to muscle fatigue. Warm up for a few minutes to increase circulation and stretch once the workout is complete. To stretch the quadriceps (front of thigh) slowly bring the heel toward the rear end while standing. To stretch the hamstrings (back of thigh) slowly bend forward without rounding the back. Hold each stretch 20 seconds or longer.

Other options:

For variety, or if you are having trouble doing them correctly, many health clubs have machines specifically designed for doing squats. Instructions are usually posted on equipment to ensure proper form.

Wall squats are another option, and a good choice for beginners to advanced exercisers.

To execute this exercise, place a stability ball behind the low back or simply put your back against a wall, and then walk the feet forward enough so that when moving the hips toward the floor, your shoulders are over the hips and the knees do not travel over the toes.

Using added resistance. Once a good level of strength is established, many people choose to perform squats using added resistance such as a barbell or dumbbells. This helps to take the workout to the next level, but keep in mind that holding onto extra weight increases stress on the joints, and so is not appropriate for everyone.

Marjie Gilliam is an International Sports Sciences Master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant. She owns Custom Fitness Personal Training Services LLC. Send email to marjie@ohtrainer.com.

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