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It is easy to wax poetic about the benefits of the squat. In fact, if you ask most fitness professionals about their favorite exercises, most will have the squat at the top of their list.

The basic squat is impressive on its own, but the fact you can make it easier, harder, or even to work your muscles differently makes it an exercise that almost everyone can (and should!) do.

“Squats are one of the best compound movements for overall fitness development,” says Andrew Peak, CPT, corrective exercise specialist and founder of Garage Gym Greatness.

Which muscles do squats work?

  • Primary muscles: The primary muscle groups that squats work are the glutes (gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius), the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the adductor (groin) muscle.
  • Secondary muscles: “We often think about the large muscle groups when performing a squat (quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings), but we also activate small supporting muscle groups—like deep core stabilizers [rectus abdominus, transverse abdominis, erector spinae], obliques, hip flexors, foot, and calf muscles,” says Ash Wilking, CPT, certified personal trainer and Tonal strength coach.

“It’s safe to say that squats provide an almost total-body workout,” Peak says. This includes not only your legs, but also your core. Although traditional squats don’t work your upper body, there are plenty of squat variations that focus on specific muscles, like your glutes.

How to do a basic squat with perfect form

It is important you have proper form while doing the basic squat to get the maximum benefit and to prevent injuries.

“You should also use a mirror or have someone watch your squat form to be sure you are aligned nicely,” Peak says.

Physical therapist demonstrating how to squat

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, your toes slightly turned out, and your arms at your side.
  2. Bend your knees as you push your hips back and shift your weight onto your heels as you squat down.
  3. Keep your chest up and your core tight. Your arms can come up in front as you squat down.
  4. Squat down until your knees are parallel to the ground—or stop before that if you have pain or can’t maintain proper form.
  5. Squeeze your glutes and push through your heels to straighten your legs and return to a standing position.

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