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Squats are an effective body resistance exercise that works the lower body.

If you’re looking to improve your physical fitness and tone the muscles of your lower body, add squats to your exercise routine and do them several times each week.

In a standard bodyweight squat, the following muscles are targeted:

  • quadriceps
  • hamstrings
  • glutes
  • abdominals
  • calves

You can also try squat variations, like barbell and jump squats, for an additional challenge. These work slightly different muscle groups, like your back muscles (barbell squats), and can help improve aerobic fitness (jump squats).

Squats are also a functional exercise that can help you with daily tasks, like sitting in a chair and bending down to get something off a low shelf. That’s because they work the same muscles you use to do those activities.

For best results, do squats along with cardiovascular exercises and other strength training moves.

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Muscles worked: quads, hamstrings, glutes, abs, calves

To perform a basic squat using only your own body weight, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with toes slightly turned outward.
  2. Tighten up your core to stabilize yourself, then with your chest thrust upward, start to shift your weight back into your heels while pushing your hips behind you as you squat down.
  3. Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Your feet should remain flat on the ground, and your knees should remain over your second toe.
  4. Keep your chest lifted and your feet on the floor, and exhale as you push yourself back up to standing.
  5. Do 12-15 reps.

There are different variations of squats, including the barbell and jump squats. You can customize the squat based on your fitness level and fitness goals.

For example, the back squat with a barbell can help you strengthen and stabilize your:

  • hips
  • knees
  • upper and lower back
  • leg muscles

The sumo squat, on the other hand, can strengthen your inner thighs. The jump squat can increase your cardiovascular fitness and strengthen your glutes and thighs.

If you’re new to squats, you don’t need to squat down as far to still experience the strengthening benefits.

Jump squat

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Muscles works: glutes, thighs, hips, legs

  1. Start by performing a basic squat following steps 1-3 above.
  2. When you reach the position where your thighs are almost parallel to the floor, keep your core engaged as you jump up.
  3. As you land, lower your body back into the squat position. The goal is to land softly mid-foot, with your trunk aligned slightly forward.
  4. Repeat for 10-12 reps, or do as many jump squats as you can in 30 seconds.

If you’re just beginning, start with a low jump. As you get more advanced, you can add a more explosive jump.

Barbell or back squat

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Muscles worked: glutes, legs, hips, lower back

Equipment needed: barbell on a rack

  1. Start with the barbell on a rack, placed just below shoulder height.
  2. Move underneath the bar so it’s resting behind the top of your back, and grip the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width distance apart, arms facing forward.
  3. Stand up to bring the bar off the rack. You may need to step back slightly.
  4. With your feet shoulder-width distance apart and chest up, squat down until your hips are below your knees.
  5. Press feet firmly into the ground, and push your hips back to stand up.
  6. Do 3-5 reps — depending on the weight of the bar and your fitness level — and then slowly step forward to replace the bar on the rack.

Sumo squat

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Muscles worked: inner thighs, glutes

  1. Start by standing with your feet out wide and your toes pointing out.
  2. Keeping weight in your back heels, start to lower your hips and bend your knees into a wide squat. Go down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. Stand back up, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
  4. Complete 10-20 reps. For more of a challenge, do as many sumo squats as you can in 30 or 60 seconds.

Squats are a challenging and effective exercise for toning up your entire body. Plus, you can do them at home or at the gym.

To add them to your fitness routine, start by doing squats several times per week. If you’re new to exercise, try to do 12-15 squats at a time at least three times per week.

If your goal is to lose weight or improve your fitness level, you should also do cardiovascular exercise, such as running, swimming, or cycling, several times per week. Try alternating cardio days with strength training or weightlifting.

Remember: Spot training isolated areas of the body isn’t efficient. Instead, a comprehensive fitness program will be more effective.

If you aren’t sure where to start, work with a certified personal trainer who can set up a weekly program for you to follow.

Squats are an effective exercise that can help you build your leg and lower body muscles. They’re also accessible because they don’t require any equipment, and you can do them using only your body weight.

You can also perform squats with barbells or kettle bells for more of a challenge.

Good form is essential for squats because it’s easy to do them incorrectly, which can lead to a strain or injury. Ask a certified personal trainer or a friend to watch you squat to confirm your form is correct.