The squat is known as the king of exercises and with good reason; it works just about every muscle in your lower body and a host of upper-body muscles too. As well as targeting your thighs, squats really hit your gluteus maximus -- your butt. If you want a better butt, you really ought to squat. Not only are squats great for your muscles, they are great for your bones too.
Muscles can generate force in three main ways -- eccentrically, concentrically and isometrically. All this means is they can generate force as they lengthen, as they shorten and without actually changing length at all. As you descend into the squat, your muscles are primarily lengthening and working eccentrically to control your rate of descent. As you push back up, those same muscles are working concentrically and shortening. While you squat, some muscles work isometrically to ensure your limbs and spine are held in the right position.
Squats use virtually every lower-body muscle, but some major muscles are especially noteworthy. Located on the front of your thigh, your quadriceps control the speed of your descent by controlling your knee joints and pushing you up to standing. That burning sensation you can feel in the front of your thighs when you squat is your quadriceps working harder than normal and crying out for a rest. This burning is not a bad thing; it just means that your muscles are working harder than they want to.
You hamstrings -- on the back of your thighs -- are so called because they closely resemble the muscles on the back of a pig's leg. As you squat, these long muscles control your decent by applying a breaking force at your hips. The deeper you squat the more work your hamstrings must do. Working alongside the quadriceps, the hamstrings extend your hips to help you stand up again.
The gluteus maximus muscles are the largest and potentially the most powerful in your body. As you squat, your glutes, along with your hamstrings, work to control your hips and therefore your speed of descent. Coming up out of the bottom of the squat, the glutes and hamstrings work together to extend your hips and help you stand up. Squats, especially deep squats, will help build, tone and strengthen your glutes so that you'll look great in your jeans and eliminate any flat-butt issues.
Adductor and Abductor Muscles
Located on the inside and outside of your thighs respectively, your adductor and abductor muscles control the inward and outward movement of your thighs. They ensure that your knees do not roll in or out as they work together to keep your thighs and hips stable. If, as you squat, you find your knees roll in, this may indicate weak hip abductors. If, however, your knees roll out, you may have weak hip adductors. Ideally, your knees should stay properly aligned whenever you squat. You can target your outer thighs by squatting with a resistance band around your knees or hit your inner thighs by squatting with a small medicine ball between your knees. Both options are great for spicing up your squat workout.
- Strength Training Anatomy; Frederic Delavier
- Super Squats: How to Gain 30 Pounds of Muscle in 6 Weeks; Randall J. Strossen
- Anatomy of Exercise; Pat Manocchia
- The Student's Anatomy of Exercise Manual: 50 Essential Exercises Including Weights, Stretches, and Cardio; Ken Ashwell Ph.D.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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