Squats hit multiple muscle groups in the lower body, all in one motion. Though much of the work focuses on the glutes and quadriceps, the lower leg does join in on the fun; that may strain the shins in addition to the calves.
The squat is a compound movement that works multiple muscle groups and moves more than one joint. The concentric motion of the squat as the knees bend activates the core and lower back. The quadriceps engage as the upper leg bends toward parallel with the floor. The calves and shins are put to work at the bottom of the movement as the lower leg works to stabilize the weight. Pushing through the heels to straighten the legs fully against the weight activates the hamstrings, the quadriceps and the glutes, as well as the calves.
Push Through the Heels
One of the key factors in maximizing strength in the squat is to push through the heels to straighten the legs as opposed to pushing through the ball of the foot. Pushing through the ball of the foot shifts the focus of the work onto the already over-stressed knees and forces the shins to bear a large part of the exertion that should be reserved for the larger muscle groups like the quadriceps and glutes. Soreness in the shins may be as a result of the weight coming forward onto the balls of the feet as opposed to staying back on the heels. It may feel a bit tippy shifting the weight back and the natural tendency is to want to shift forward to control the weight, but keeping the tailbone tilted back makes sure the body can stay balanced over the heels and keeps the work focused on the larger muscles of the lower body.
Squats can be performed with varying foot positions to target specific muscles or sections of muscles. However, the shins may suffer if the feet are placed too close together. The closer the feet are to each other, the deeper the knee is forced to bend over the toes and the greater the stress directed on the poor shins. Be sure to keep the feet at least hip-width apart to avoid any undue stress to the shins, and consider taking a stance slightly wider than hip-width for a solid base that aims the work squarely at the larger muscles of the lower body.
Some people bend more easily than others and that may apply to the shins as much as to any other part of the body. Even with the feet properly placed and good push through the heels the shins may still be sore if they’re already tight to begin with. The shins could potentially be tight if you’ve already put yourself through a wringer of cardio activity prior to performing squats, or they could tighten progressively if you’ve done a series other leg exercises or compound movement prior to hitting squats. Regardless of the order of your workout, it’s always a good idea to warm up and stretch before beginning any weightlifting regimen.
- Muscle and Strength: Compound Exercises Only Workout
- Bodybuilding.com: The Big 3
- Strength Training Anatomy; Frédéric Delavier
- Harvard Health Publications: Strengthening Your Core: Right and Wrong Ways to Do Lunges, Squats and Planks
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.