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What Muscles do Squats Work?

    So, you’ve heard your trainer going on and on about the importance of squats in building a better core and developing more toned muscles. But you may not feel up to doing them as you feel they’re just for weight lifters and bodybuilders. It may help to know what muscles get activated while doing squats.

    Squats target several muscles in the upper and lower body. Glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hip adductors, and calves are the most important muscles directly activated during squats. Plus, squats are functional movements that help you perform your everyday activities better and avoid injuries.

    Read on to learn more about the influence of squats on different muscles and how you can engage those muscles with squat variations. We’ll also talk about other benefits of squats.


    You must have heard that squats are one of the booty-shaping movements that help you have firm buttocks. That’s because of the muscles they target: glutes.

    Glutes are your hip muscles and the strong, fleshy mass that form the appearance of your buttocks. And since glutes are one of the main muscle groups targeted in squats, you can be sure to have toned buttocks through squats. It doesn’t matter what variation of squats you do; all you need is to maintain proper form.

    The glutes are a group of three muscles: Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. They all play a significant role in supporting our legs and maintaining our posture. That’s why glutes can do more than toning your posterior; they can also improve your posture by activating and strengthening the gluteal muscles.

    Although all squat variations can activate your glutes at high levels, studies have suggested that a wider stance and deeper squats maximize glute activation. So, perform your squats with your feet more than hip-width apart (while maintaining good form) and go slightly deeper to get the most out of your squats.

    Check out this video to see how to maintain proffer form while doing squats.


    Quadriceps are the four muscles in front of your thighs that extend from your hip joints to the knees. Since their primary role is to bend and straighten the knees, you can see how squats can work them.

    Strong quads help you achieve more stable and stronger knee joints, higher endurance, and more effective runs. They’re also pivotal in our everyday tasks, such as standing up or supporting the knees while walking or standing.

    Weak quads are more likely to lead to knee pain and the loss of knee cartilage over time.

    Pulse squats are one of the best variations to activate your quads to the maximum degree. They’re like the traditional squats, only pausing for a few seconds before going back up. In addition, using weights while performing squats will focus the pressure on your quads. Make sure to place the weights on the front of your body to feel the burn in your quads.


    Hamstrings are another group of large and powerful muscles on the back of your thighs, extending from the hips to the knees. Your hamstrings play an important role in hip extension and knee flexion. So, strong hamstrings give you stronger knees and hip joints.

    They’re the equivalent of quads located in the back of our thighs, helping us bend our knees and move our legs backward.  

    Squats activate your hamstrings when you lower your hips. However, the role of squats in activating hamstrings may not be as much as we thought. For example, this study found that squats have the least significant influence on working hamstrings than deadlifts and good mornings.

    That’s because squats strongly engage the quadriceps, which counteract hamstrings during squats. However, these findings don’t mean that you can’t activate your hamstrings during squats. The point is, choose other hamstring-isolating activities if you want to train your hamstrings.


    Hip Adductors

    Adductors are in the inner thighs, often overshadowed by glutes and hams. However, they’re important muscles that help us stand, walk, stabilize our knees, and rotate our legs. The largest adductor, the Magnus, plays a crucial role in squats as it’s one of the most powerful hip extensors.

    You may think that squats can’t help with your hip adductors, but studies have strongly supported the effect of squats on these muscles and their volumes.

    The best squat variations are the classic squat, front squat, single-leg squat, and goblet squat.


    The calf muscles, namely the gastrocnemius and the soleus, are essential in all leg movements, such as walking and running.  

    However, although they’re a muscle group largely overlooked by athletes, they determine how deeply you can squat.

    The calf muscles play a central role in different variations of squats by providing balance and resistance. They also determine how much weight you can carry during squats by counterbalancing the quads’ movements. 

    The gastrocnemius is attached to the ankle, providing a base for the knee and glutes movements during squats. That’s why weak calves lead to lower mobility of ankles, preventing the knees from bending and moving forward.

    The best squat variations for calves are the basic squat and the jump squat. It’s like the basic squat, but when you go back up, you should jump upward.


    The obliques are essential muscles running along your core’s sides. They’re crucial in bending from side to side, moving your torso from right to left, and protecting your spine during rotations.

    Squats work the obliques because they help you keep a straight back during the movement. You may think that your legs are the most active during squats, but you need obliques to stabilize your torso and maintain your balance.


    It prevents other muscles in your upper body from hyperextension. For example, the muscle that runs along your spine, the erector spinae, keeps your back straight during the downward and upward movements. The obliques help it to do its job perfectly and keep your back aligned.

    The best squat variation is the traditional squat for obliques, but you can fire them up by overhead squats. It involves holding a barbell above your head with your arms extended.

    The barbell that you use for doing squats needs to have a firm grip so that it doesn’t restrict your motions. Check out this barbell on Amazon with knurled grip bar to offer secure gripping.

    CAP Barbell 7-Foot Olympic Bar for Weightlifting and Power Lifting | Various Specialty Bars
    • Specs - 110, 000 Psi tensile strength Japanese cold rolled steel; 15 Inch loadable sleeve length; The shaft length (inside length between the sleeves) is 51; 5 inches; Handgrip diameter 28; 5 millimeter; 5 year
    • Construction: Built from solid cold rolled steel with a black phosphate finish; Used for training, this bar measures 2185 millimeter in length and weighs 20 kilogram (44 pounds); For commercial or home use

    Other Benefits of Squats

    In addition to working the muscles mentioned above, helping develop better-toned bodies, squats have other benefits. Here are the main benefits:

    Improve Hormone Production

    According to studies, doing squats is a natural way to boost growth hormones and testosterone. There’s a need for more research to explain the mechanism behind this hormone production, but it may be due to the intensity of the exercise and the demanding movements.

    Improve Function

    Squats are one of the best exercises for improving function because they work muscles and joints that you need for everyday activities. As mentioned earlier, squats help you strengthen muscles that you need for standing up, bending your upper body, and walking. Plus, they help you increase the risk of injuries due to falling in older adults.

    Improve Athletic Performance

    Explosive strength and speed are two essential skills in most competitive sports. Studies have found that squats can improve sprint speed and vertical jumps. Another study found that jump squats help with explosive strength and sprint time.  

    Final Thoughts

    The basic squat and its variations are the perfect exercises to target your glutes as they’re the main muscles you use in this movement. Other muscles activated by squats are hamstrings, hip adductors, quadriceps, and calves.

    Working these muscles reduces the risk of injury, improves your performance during everyday activities, and boosts your athletic performance. 

    Last update on 2022-10-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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