Photo: Oana Szekely | Getty Images
Squats are a basic exercise that anyone can do without any special equipment. They work the muscles in the legs and can help increase your overall strength, flexibility, and balance.
Squatting is also a functional movement — people squat while performing everyday activities, like lifting boxes or playing with children. How many calories do squats burn? It depends on a number of factors.
To figure out how many calories you’ll burn doing squats, you need to take into consideration your body weight and the number of minutes you spend exercising, along with the level of effort (intensity) of your squats session.
The intensity is also known as the metabolic equivalent (MET) value. For example, resting in a seated position has a MET value of 1.
Calories burned per minute = .0175 x MET x weight (in kilograms)
To find the MET value, you can consult a MET table or estimate the value based on how you feel during exercise:
- If you can carry on a conversation while squatting, you’re likely doing the activity with light to moderate effort. This would give you a MET value of 3.5.
- If you find that you’re out of breath while doing squats, your effort is a more vigorous one. The MET value may increase to as much as 8.0.
Moderate effort is light enough that you can keep talking. Vigorous or high-intensity effort makes conversation difficult, and you’ll be breathing heavily.
Here’s an example of how to use this formula for a person weighing 165 pounds who has performed 5 minutes of high-intensity squats:
To convert pounds to kilograms, divide number of pounds by 2.2:
- 165 / 2.2 = 75
Plug the MET value (8, for high-intensity squats) and number of kilograms (75) into the formula:
- .0175 x 8 x 75 = 10.5
Now take the number of calories burned per minute (10.5) and multiply by the number of minutes exercised (5):
- 10.5 x 5 = 52.5
So, this formula shows that a person who weighs 165 pounds and performs 5 minutes of high-intensity squats has burned 52.5 calories.
Here’s an example of calories burned based on a range of exercise intensities and lengths of time.
Range of calories burned for a person who weighs 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms)
|low intensity (3.5 METS)||high intensity (8.0 METS)|
|5 minutes||19 calories||44 calories|
|15 minutes||58 calories||133 calories|
|25 minutes||97 calories||222 calories|
When performed correctly, squats are an extremely safe exercise. The primary muscles involved include the gluteus maximus, hip flexors, and quadriceps. Your abdominal muscles, calves, hamstrings, and lower back also get a good workout.
Proper form is important for getting the most out of the exercise and protecting yourself from injury.
The basic squat
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width distance apart, arms at your sides.
- Breathe in and bend your knees while pressing your hips backward. Bring your hands together out in front of your chest. You should stop lowering yourself once your hips are lower than your knees.
- Breathe out as you press your heels into the floor to return to your standing position, arms at your sides.
Tips for squats
- Keep your chest up and your hips back to ensure your back stays neutral and aligned.
- Look down at your knees when in the full squat. If they’ve extended beyond your toes, correct your stance so they’re in line above your ankles.
- Put your body weight on your heels, not your toes, when raising up to keep the focus on the right muscle groups.
Start by mastering the basics before moving to variations. You may do three sets of a particular exercise for between 8 and 15 repetitions. From there, you can work up to doing more sets of between 15 and 20 repetitions (or more).
Adding free weights to your squat can increase your muscular strength. If you’re new to weights, start light; you should be able to easily hold the correct form when using weights. You can always add more pounds once you’re comfortable.
- Begin with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent. The weights should be just below chin level.
- Inhale as you lower into your squat. Your elbows may even touch your knees.
- Exhale at your return to your starting position.
- Repeat to complete your set.
A plié is a classic ballet move. When combined with squats, it helps better activate the muscles in your inner thighs. You may perform this variation with or without weights.
- Start with your feet wider than hip-distance apart, turned out 45 degrees.
- Inhale as you lower into the squat — your hips should be slightly lower than your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes as you exhale and press up through your heels to your standing position.
- Repeat to complete your set.
You may also focus the squat energy on one leg at a time by getting into more of a lunge position. Again, this variation can be performed with or without dumbbells.
- Begin with one foot in front of the other in a lunge. Your arms should be by your sides.
- Inhale as your drop your back knee toward the ground and bring your arms to meet at your chest.
- Exhale and squeeze your buttocks as you return to your original lunge position.
- Perform your repetitions on one leg before switching over to the other.
A Bulgarian split squat is performed the same way, but your back leg is elevated onto a bench several inches off the ground. Start without weights until you get your balance.
To add more power, try plyometrics. Jump squats aren’t recommended for beginners. They involve force that may tax the lower joints. That said, jump squats help develop explosive strength and speed that can help in different sports, from sprinting to soccer.
- Start in your basic squat position with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides.
- Squat down low and bring your arms behind you.
- Then swoop your arms forward and jump up off the ground. Your arms should be over your head and your legs extended out straight.
- Land in your squat position and repeat to complete your set.
Squat pulses engage your muscles the entire time you’re doing them. They’re less jarring than jump squats, but they still up the difficulty of a standard squat.
- Lower into a normal squat and stay down low. Make sure your upper body isn’t leaning forward over your legs.
- Raise your seat a quarter of the way up to your starting position and then pulse back down to your lowest squat.
- Keep pulsing for 30 seconds to a full minute.
You may combine pulses with jump squats. Lower into a squat, do one pulse, and then jump up off the ground. Land in a squat and pulse again. Repeat and do two to three 30-second to 1-minute sets.
The number of calories you’ll burn doing squats has to do with your weight, intensity, and amount of time doing them.
Start out slow if you’re a beginner and make sure you’re tuning in to your form so that you’re working the right muscles and protecting yourself from injury. Once you get the hang of squats, you can try one or more of the many variations to get the most from your workout.