What Muscle Do Barbell Squats Work Out?

Barbell squats work a myriad of muscles simultaneously.
i Photodisc/Valueline/Getty Images

If you’ve noticed your favorite pair of jeans becoming snug or your once firm derriere taking on the consistency of the cookie dough you love, then it’s time to engage in not only cardiovascular exercise, but also strength training. A staple in lower-body exercise routines are barbell squats. While simplistic in terms of motion, this strength-training exercise engages nine muscle groups to execute its movement.

Thighs and Lower Legs

    As with the standard squat, barbell squats primarily target the quadriceps. However, this isn’t to say every squat variation targets the quads. For example, the powerlift barbell squat targets the buttocks and uses the quadriceps as an assisting muscle during the exercise. Muscles activated within the thigh region include the quadriceps, hamstrings and hip abductors. During the standard barbell squat, hamstrings work as a dynamic stabilizer, which works to stabilize the knee and hip joints during the squatting motion, while the hip abductors work as general synergists to assist other muscles involved in this exercise. Farther down the leg, your calf muscles, also referred to as the gastrocnemius muscle group, also work as dynamic stabilizers.


    When you lift and lower the barbell during the squatting movement, the buttocks, or gluteus maximus, support this motion by acting as a synergist. Throughout the lifting and lowering actions of this exercise, the buttocks are activated to support the balancing and weight control of the movement. However, as stated earlier, performing the powerlift version of the barbell squat changes this muscle group from a synergist to the target muscle worked.


    Although your back is not actively moving during the squatting motion, the erector spinae muscle group, which runs along the entire length of your spine, contracts during the exercise to fixate your spine. Although this muscle does not actively move during the squat, if excess weight load is used it’s possible to accidentally injure this muscle group, along with many other muscles and joints.


    Throughout the barbell squat, your abdominal muscles should be constricted to help add balance and support during the movement. In actuality, the entire abdominal region, which includes the obliques and the rectus abdominis, works to counter the contraction of the erector spinae muscle group. This contraction of the abdominals prevents the spine from hyperextending.

the nest