By Rachel Schneider

The illustrious squat: widely known and frequently seen as a key element of anyone’s workout regime. But how many know WHY we squat? Or let alone how to do so properly?

The squat is a complex, multi-joint movement that engages over 200 muscles in the body. The primary movers are the glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. The core and back are activated through abdominal bracing – this aids in trunk stability throughout the movement.

Outside of muscle engagement to shape the legs and buttocks, why squat? Squatting creates an anabolic environment that is necessary for converting proteins and nutrients into muscle mass and increasing strength. It also prompts the release of hormones critical for recovery (e.g. testosterone, human growth hormone). The loading on the joints during a squat stimulates an increase in bone density, thus fortifying and strengthening the joints. Finally, as proper form requires mobility and flexibility, squatting encourages improvement in these areas, as well.

To properly perform a basic bodyweight squat, begin standing with your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Send your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering your body to the floor – like sitting in a chair – being sure to keep your chest lifted. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure that your knees track toward your little toes. This is important for knee health and stability. It’s okay if your knees pass over the end of your toes! This is an excellent way to recruit the vastus medialis oblique muscle – one of the quadriceps muscles that is crucial for patellar (kneecap) stability. To come out of the squat, drive your feet into the floor – keeping your heels, big toes, and little toes glued to the floor – and engage the glutes as you push the ground away to return to standing. Be sure to extend your hips at the top for full range of motion. For any other form of squat (goblet, front, back), the basic form is the same, but with an added weight held at the chest or across the trapezius muscles.

The training regime for squats depends on your goal and experience level. If you are trying to lose weight, do 3-4 sets of 12-15 repetitions at a light to moderate weight. For hypertrophy (increasing muscle mass), do 3-4 sets of 6-10 repetitions at a moderate weight. Finally, for maximal strength gain, do 4-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions at a heavy weight. Regardless of the regime, choose a weight that is a challenge for the last 2-3 repetitions – this is how you know you’ve chosen the correct weight for the set. If you’re unable to complete the set, it’s too heavy. If you can easily complete the set, it’s too light.