Squatting is one of the most functional forms of exercise and the back squat has been hailed by many as the king of strength exercises. But exactly what makes the exercise so good, and what are the main back squat benefits?
When you squat, you activate all major muscles in the lower body as well as well as your low-back and core muscles to stabilise your upper body.
What are back squats?
The back squat is the most basic strength exercise and arguably the most popular movement found in gyms and weight rooms around the world. They are highly versatile and can increase performance or be used during rehabilitation processes.
6 back squat benefits
Due to its ability to mimic many different activities from day-today life, the squat is an ideal choice for general health and fitness training programs, as well as rehabilitation routines, but let’s dig deeper into more specific benefits.
The back squat:
Targets many big muscles at once
The back squat is a compound exercise which works your leg and core muscles. It specifically targets your:
- Hip flexors
The back squat is a muscle-building favourite because, for such a simple exercise, the muscle mass recruited is unsurpassed. Squats are efficient and effective.
They also allow for heavy loads; with the barbell sitting in a stable and balanced position you’re able to move heavier weights than you would with different exercises or props.
Builds lower-body and midline strength
“The squat is arguably one of the best exercises for the lower body,” writes exercise physiologist Helen Kollias, PhD.
Squatting promotes hypertrophy of all the muscles mentioned above, which in turn can become functional muscle mass for contact or strength sports or assists with tasks in daily living.
The back squat works some of the biggest muscles in your body and those muscles are responsible for a vast number of daily activity. By increasing your back squat you also increase the amount of weight on your back you can safely handle.
You can develop your strength in two ways: maximum strength or endurance strength. Performing back squats with heavy loads for few reps will increase your maximum strength, while doing the exercise with low to moderate loads for many reps will increase your strength endurance (and is conductive to hypertrophy).
It’s vital to engage the whole core when moving a load on your back. Therefore, back squatting is also a great tool to strengthen your core, as midline stability is essential when standing back up from the squat.
May reduce your risk of injury
When performed correctly and under appropriate supervision, squatting can is not only safe but can be a significant deterrent to knee injuries, research has found.
Additionally, resistance training may increase mineral bone density or prevent its decline, research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning concluded. This may in turn prevent fractures and breaks to the bone.
Improves sprint performance
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that performing heavy back squats before 40-meter sprint trials produced significantly greater speeds, especially in the second half of the sprint, compared to athletes who didn’t.
The study’s authors recommended coaches incorporate heavy back squats (up to 70% of an athlete’s 1RM) into warm-up procedures to improve sprinting performance.
They concluded that the results were due to the specific muscle activation and mechanical aspects of the back squat, but added that other exercises may be beneficial for other types of sprinting intervals.
Benefits coordination and flexibility
Because back squatting requires you to balance a weight while balancing on the ground, athletes new to the exercise or those lifting heavy weights will see gains involving coordination.
Additionally, the exercise carries over more real-life coordination and balance components than similar exercises such as leg extensions.
Back squats allow for a full range of motion, which improve your ability to flex the ankles, knees, and hips.
For older populations, squatting as part of a strength training intervention program has been shown to improve performance in day-to-day activities, and can help counteract age-related skeletal muscle disorders.
Improves general sports performance
Research published in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2016 found that a squatting program can increase vertical and horizontal jump distances.
In fact, increased squatting strength is strongly linked to general sports performance as more powerful legs has positive implications for any sport which requires leg strength or leg power.
By improving your back squat, you’ll:
- strengthen joints, muscles, and bones
- improve your ankle, knee, and hip flexibility
- forge a strong and stable core
All these back squat benefits carry over to many sports and activities in life.
Further back squat questions
Should you back squat with knee pain?
You should always consult a trained professional if you experience pain or discomfort during exercise. If you are cleared to train, front squats are recommended over back squats if you have knee problems.
Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2009 studying the biomechanics of the front and back squat found that the front squat was as effective as the back squat in terms of overall muscle recruitment, but placed less stress on the knee joint.
How to improve back squat?
The right training, intensity, and volume should give you the tools to improve your back squat, but what if you have plateaued? These tips might help you squat heavier or give you important pointers on your technique.
• Squat often: you can’t improve on something you don’t train. Whether it’s hip or ankle mobility keeping you stuck, or the need to become stronger, squatting regularly is one sure answer to help you.
• Squat barefoot: sometimes, shoes hide mobility problems you seriously need to address. If you can perform a solid back squat barefoot, wait and see what you can do with lifters on.
• Check your technique across all rep ranges: your first few reps should look the same as your last few. If your technique breaks down towards the end of your set, you won’t be squatting efficiently and reaping all the benefits of the exercise.
• Add tempo to your training: squatting slowly, and spending some time going down, in the hole, and standing back up can help you build additional strength and control.
What squat variations could I try?
The squat can be performed in many different ways. These are other exercises that promote lower-body strength and muscle-building:
· Sumo squats
· Single leg squats
· Bulgarian split squats
· Front squats
· Sissy squats
· Jefferson squat
· Box squats
· Overhead squats
· Landmine squat
· Hack squat
· Cossack Squat