Squat benefits: The 8 types of squats and which muscles they work

Amanda Holden and team perform squats in radio studio

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Squats aren’t just about getting a peachy posterior and toned thighs… these compound exercises use several large muscle groups each time you squat. They have a range of benefits, from strengthening your core and lower body to helping you lose weight. However, squats can also work your upper body, it just depends on which variations you choose. Express.co.uk chatted to Curves Gym fitness instructor Fiona Hawker to find out everything you need to know about the eight types of squats you can do.

Squats are hard, especially because you have no excuses to avoid them since they don’t require any equipment.

You can do squats throughout your day – when you are cooking, taking a break from your desk, waiting for the kettle to boil, or watching your favourite TV show.

The basic squat is a good first step on your fitness journey, but it’s important to mix up the squats you’re doing.

Fiona explained: “You need to do strength training exercises that target the whole body at least two to three times per week to avoid any muscle imbalance.

“Adding a variety to your squats will prevent you from plateauing and will target muscles in different ways.

“If you are only doing bodyweight squats, your muscles will recover faster, but if you are doing a lot of weighted squats, you need to make sure you allow your muscles enough time to recover.”

Here are eight variations of squats to try (each variation targets different muscles).

Basic squat

Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width – having too narrow a stance can decrease the stability of your base and put extra pressure on your knees.

Although you may feel it is natural to look down when performing a squat, it’s important that you look straight ahead, Fiona explained.

To help with this, pick a spot in front of you to focus on – this will also help keep your neck in a neutral position.

Fiona instructed: “Keep your chest up, engage your abs to avoid rounding your shoulders or back, and shift your weight onto your heels as you push your hips down and back into a sitting position.

“Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel or almost parallel to the floor. Only lower yourself as far as you can comfortably go.

“If you start to feel discomfort in your hips or knees, stop and use that as your endpoint.

“Pause with your knees over but not past your toes, exhale and push back up to the starting position.”

Prisoner squat

Prisoner squats are more challenging for quads, glutes and hamstrings. They help you to engage your core more and will help to improve your balance.

Fiona said: “Start with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and hands interlaced behind your head.

“Keep your head up and chest forwards and continue with the basic squat.

“By keeping your arms behind your head, you are not able to use the arms for balance or to generate any momentum as you power up, so it is more taxing on the muscles.”

Sumo squat

Sumo squats give your inner thighs and glutes more of a workout.

Fiona explained: “Start with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed out at about 45 degrees and your hands on your hips.

“Bend your knees and drop down until your knees are about parallel to the floor or as far you can comfortably go, then push up to the start position.

“Keep the torso upright and facing forwards throughout the squat.”

Walking squat

Walking squats aren’t fun! They increase the time your muscles are under tension and target your quadriceps and glutes.

Fiona said: “Start by dropping into a basic squat and maintain that position as you take a few steps forwards then backwards. Keep your torso upright and look forwards.

“You can hold your arms out in front of you for balance if you need and if you find it is too challenging from a full squat position, start off by lowering into a half squat until you build up the strength in your legs.”

Squat jump

Squat jumps are what they say on the tin, and they’re great for adding in some explosive cardio exercise

Fiona explained: “Start by dropping into a basic squat, then from the bottom of the squat, power up from your toes into a jump.

“Make sure you land softly with your knees slightly bent, then drop straight back into the basic squat.”

Split squat

Split squats target the abs more as they work one leg at a time and don’t allow for a stronger leg to compensate. This move is also great for stability and balance

Fiona said: “Start from a staggered stance – one foot is in front of the other – and hands on your hips.

“Bend the front knee until it is parallel to the floor but does not come past your toe, and drop the back knee down towards the floor.

“Keep your torso upright and your head looking forwards. Switch your stance to perform the exercise again on the other side.”

Goblet squat

Goblet squats are great for adding some weight safely for the core, back, forearms, shoulders and biceps.

They also help you to prepare for the more demanding front and back squats.

Fiona said: “Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and your toes pointing out slightly.

“Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands, elbows bent and close to the centre of your chest.

“Squat down keeping the torso upright, head looking forwards and the weight close to your chest.

“Keep your weight evenly distributed or slightly more on your heels to avoid coming up on your toes.”

Overhead squat

The overhead squat increases mobility, stability and strengthens the core, shoulders and upper back.

Fiona explained: “Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and your toes pointing out slightly. Hold a ball or barbell overhead with a wide grip.

“Keep your torso upright, head forwards, and weight on your heels as you squat down. Try to keep the weight over the centre of your feet.”

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