What is a squat?

What is a squat?

It's THE star of the gym. Squats are easier said than done, so we explain everything you need to know about this strength-training exercise.

People are always going on about squats, but it's not always clear what they are and why they're such a big deal. Where does the squat come from? Which muscles does it use? How do you do it properly? And what's the world record? We answer all your questions!

What is a squat?

A "squat" is a movement where you bend your knees to lower yourself down, then stand back up, all while resting a weighted bar on your back. Squats were originally a weightlifting movement, but today they're done in all sorts of different sports to build lower body strength - particularly the glutes and thighs, although they benefit the rest of the body too.

Where does the squat come from?

The squat movement comes from the world of weightlifting and weight training. It's one of the first exercises you'll learn when you start weightlifting. It was developed to improve weightlifting performances by strengthening the legs and back.
The squat is a multi-joint exercise that builds strength in the lower body. It's one of the three core powerlifting movements, along with the deadlift and the bench press. It's now considered the king of weight training exercises.

What are the effects of doing squats?

The squat is an all-round exercise that tones your muscles, burns fat, improves your balance and makes your joints more flexible. It strengthens your joints by training the stabilising muscles in your legs, and increases hip and ankle flexibility.
The squat is also good for your general health. It improves blood, lymph and water flow, helping to remove waste. Last but not least, it helps with bowel transit.

What is a squat?

Which muscles does the squat use?

The squat mainly works the muscles in your lower body. These are the quadriceps (thigh muscles), glutes and hamstrings (backs of your thighs). It also engages the deep core muscles - which help you perform the action correctly - along with the back and calves. It's a very all-round, effective exercise.

Who should do squats?

As we've seen, squats originally came from the world of weightlifting, bodybuilding and powerlifting. But for a number of years now, they've been a big part of training programmes for many other disciplines, be it to prepare for a competition or to stretch and strengthen the legs and back.

And nowadays, you'll see people doing squats everywhere, from the gym to their own homes, regardless of their physical fitness, and with or without a bar. Absolutely everybody can do a squat, provided that they adapt the movement to their own abilities. There are plenty of variants to make this possible. Don't hesitate to seek advice from a qualified coach to make sure you're using the right technique and won't injure yourself.

How do you do a squat?

The best way to explain how to do a squat properly is with a video:

What is a squat?

If you're squatting with a bar

Keep your shoulders down and place the bar at the top of your shoulder blades, not on your neck. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards.

Here are a few pointers on doing a squat correctly:
- Look straight forward, focusing on a point at eye level, to open up your chest. You should retain the natural curve in your back so that you can squeeze your abs.
- Don't let your knees go too far forwards when you bend them. Your bum should move backwards, with your back remaining straight. Keep your head and spine perfectly in line.
- At the bottom of your squat, your thighs should be parallel to the ground. To stand back up, push hard through your legs until you're back in the starting position. Never arch your back as this could cause injury.
Take a breath in before you squat, then do a long exhale as you stand back up. There you have it! You now know how to do the perfect squat!

How can you do squats at home? what exercises can you do?

Now that you know the theory behind the squat, it's time to put it into practice at home. Here's a free training programme with a virtual coach that teaches you how to squat and what exercises to do:

Squat variants

There are all sorts of different ways to do a squat. Here are just a few of them:
Pistol squat: this involves squatting on just one leg, with or without an extra weight, while extending the other leg out in front of you
Sissy squat: bending your knees but keeping your hips locked in place. This results in you thrusting your hips forwards and balancing on tiptoes
Barbell hack squat: squatting but holding the bar behind you with your arms hanging straight down
Box squat: where you sit on a bench at the bottom of your squat, then slowly rise back up
Front squat: doing a squat with the bar in front of you, like for a clean
Classic squat: squatting with the bar behind your shoulders. This is the only type to be recognised in competition.

Squat world records

In case you were interested, the squatting world record is held by Dave Hoff. It was set (equipped) on 28 October 2019 with a loaded bar weighing 577.5 kg.
The raw record is held by Vlad Alhazov, who squatted 525 kg in 2018.
For women, the record is held by Becca Swanson, with a weight of 387 kg.

You're now a complete expert on squats! All that remains is to give them a go using whichever of the variants works best for you.
Let's put your back into it :) !

What is a squat?

The decathlon advice team

Sport, health and well-being: we share our tips and advice with you.