In this article I’m going to explain the benefits of squats and why they deserve a special place in your workout. Like the original gangsters of the exercise world, it’s my belief that anyone who can squat, should squat.
Squats are so much more than an exercise.
They’re a fundamental movement pattern.
It’s one of the first skills we master as toddlers and one that we use for the rest of our lives.
Being good at squatting benefits us far beyond the gym or sports field. They improve our joint health, they improve us neurally, they make us better athletically and they help us grow muscle all over our body.
In my 20 years as a certified personal trainer, I’ve seen that they’re the wonder movement. And one of the few that everyone should be doing. The old bodybuilding joke is that you should ‘never skip leg day’. It’s true, but more accurately… you should never skip squat day!
I want this article to be both informative and educational.
I’ll explain not only the benefits of squats, but where the evidence behind these claims comes from. By the end of the piece, you’ll be far more informed on the benefits of squats. And hopefully, you’ll be including various squatting patterns in your workouts.
- Why squats are legendary amongst exercises
- The benefits of squats
- 6 benefits from 2 decades of observations
- 6 health benefits of squats
- 7 benefits of squats for performance or aesthetics
- 13. Frequent squatting improves athleticism
- 14. There are plenty of core strength benefits
- 15. Squats crossover to other sports – walking, running, lifting, jumping
- 16. Squats helps to improve mobility
- 17. They’re easy to put into a complex
- 18. Squats burn a lot of calories
- 19. Squatting builds a lot of muscle
- The benefits of squats – the bottom line
But first quickly, a little bit on…
Why squats are legendary amongst exercises
I want to address the term ‘squats’.
When most people picture a squat, they’re imagining a barbell back squat (like the image above). That’s like imagining all cars to be a Ford Focus! It doesn’t factor in the huge variety out there.
In professional training circles, squats are a movement pattern. There’s an endless variety of squats. Without scratching the surface you can list…
- back squats
- front squats (find more front squat alternatives here)
- pistol squats
- split squats
- overhead squats
- bodyweight squats
- hack squats (find more hack squat alternatives here, and best hack squat machine buying guide here)
- TRX squats (check out the best suspension trainers here)
- suitcase squats
- weighted vest squats
- deficit squats
- belt squats (read more in our best belt squat machine buying guide)
- jump squats
- sumo squats
…You get my point?
That endless variety means there’s a squat pattern to suit almost all training goals. It’s a multitool of exercises.
You can use squats to help people rebuild joint function after a serious injury. You can use squats to help build strength… add new muscle… slow down the aging process… and improve athletic performance.
In this article on the benefits of squats, I’m going to avoid technique guidance… because there’s simply too much to unpack. Instead, like a lawyer in court, I’m going to try to build a case for the benefits of squats. Hopefully by the end convincing you that you should be including them in your training!
Because you really should!
The benefits of squats
It’s all well and good me telling you that squats are great. But now I have to back up my claims with some evidence!
Enough talk, more proof!
Here’s a list of 19 benefits of squats. They come from a mixture of evidence-based claims and my own anecdotal observations. This is based on nearly 20 years as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach. I’ll share links to research papers and videos for additional context.
By the end of this list, I hope you’ll be itching to get straight to your squat rack and get busy!
They are split into 3 sections:
- My anecdotal observations as a certified personal trainer for almost 2 decades
- Proven health benefits
- Proven performance or aesthetic benefits
That way, you’ll see some of these 19 benefits firsthand. So without further ado, here are some of the (many) benefits of squats…
6 benefits from 2 decades of observations
1. Squats are easy to do
Most squat patterns are easy to do, unlike Olympic weightlifting or gymnastic style exercises.
They don’t require a huge amount of learning nuanced technique. And the coaching cues you need are relatively simple.
The vast majority of people will have a passable squat within a very short period of time. Yes, the exercise can be limited by mobility issues and strength. But even those can be worked around.
The bottom line… when compared to some other lifts, they’re easy to do.
2. Squats offer limitless progress
You can’t ‘complete’ squats because there’s always more weight to lift and more variations to try.
Say for example you reach a point where you can’t lift anymore with your back squat, the front squat provides a new challenge. When you max out your front squat, there’s an overhead squat… there’s always a new challenge or progression.
You can train your entire life and still find a new challenge in squats!
3. Squats can be done anywhere
Whilst you’re limited when it comes to exercises that need equipment, you don’t suffer from the same limitations with squats.
You can do bodyweight squats for high reps.
If that’s too easy, you’ve got jump squats (plyometrics are VERY effective). Then there are also step-ups and pistol squats (see below). You don’t need anything to give your legs a great workout!
4. Lots of variation – single-leg, barbell, front, dumbbell squat, etc
Some exercises can be pretty boring after a while because there’s only a certain amount of ways you can mix them up… squats definitely aren’t one of them! I’ve mentioned at least a dozen different variations of squats in this article already, and that’s without trying.
If you’re bored of squats, it’s because you haven’t tried enough of them yet!
5. They highlight your limitations
Do you want to see if you’re truly athletic?
Grab a barbell, stick it overhead and see if you can do a full-depth overhead squat.
Chances are you won’t be able to… you’ll either lack mobility (you’ll know this if you twist like a corkscrew or can’t get the depth without falling forward). Or you might not have the core strength to control the movement.
It’s a real spotlight on your fitness. Forget your big number for a second, think about your form and function as I’m doing (trying) in the video below…
6. Squats improve gym confidence
This is one of those benefits that we forget about, but as a personal trainer I notice regularly.
Squats really help gym confidence. Because it’s a legit exercise that the ‘advanced’ lifters do! So to many people they can seem really intimidating.
Once somebody gets themselves under the bar and squatting, it doesn’t matter what weight they’re lifting… they can feel like they’re truly training. Compare that to say, a leg extension, which is a basic machine that doesn’t give someone the same feeling of achievement.
6 health benefits of squats
7. Squatting regularly helps to improve bone health
A study on post-menopausal women showed that regular squatting helps to improve bone health.
The benefits of squats are especially notable in women suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Regular strength training stimulated the formation of new bone tissue, improving their skeletal health. The benefits weren’t limited to middle aged people either… similar results were shown in studies involving younger men and women too.
Read more on the benefits of strength training in general here.
8. Squats provide a growth hormone stimulation boost
It’s not a myth that leg day provides a large stimulation of growth hormone release.
When you perform squats you are engaging hundreds of muscles… this leads to a hormonal response which includes the release of a lot of human growth hormone into the bloodstream. This hormone builds muscle, strengthens connective tissue and helps to burn fat.
9. Squats improve joint health
There are a lot of joint issues that can be helped by improving the function of the knee joint.
In particular with frequent, full-range squats.
In research from 2019, the following conclusions were drawn from Bela Agarwal, a Doctor of Physical Therapy…
“People with higher squat exposure demonstrated greater knee motion, muscle strength, and balance compared with non-squatters.”
“Deep-squat activity performed in moderation is a potentially beneficial activity to maintain knee range, muscle strength, and balance.”
10. Squats help injury recovery
There’s an (understandable) assumption that squats are a leg exercise.
But there’s actually a huge amount of benefit across the rest of the body.
One such benefit is the repair and strengthening of spinal tissues. The back is heavily involved in squatting because it has to support the weight.
Head of rehabilitation at Sports Surgery Clinic, Neil Welch says…
“A free-weight-based resistance training intervention can be successfully utilised to improve pain, disability and quality of life in those with low back pain.”
11. Squats help to improve connective tissue health
When we squat, we’re not just training muscles and bones… we’re loading our connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons too.
These become stronger, tougher and more injury resistant. Frequent mechanical loading through exercises such as squats improves tendon stiffness over time, so practice squats every week for a long time and you’ll benefit your connective tissues too!
12. Squats help staves off ageing
One of the most effective anti-ageing approaches of all is resistance training.
Research shows time and again that maintaining muscle mass helps to slow down (and in some cases reverse) the aging process. As one of the most effective muscle-building exercises of all, squats are fundamental to this process. Squatting regularly helps to maintain strong muscles, balance, and overall vitality.
7 benefits of squats for performance or aesthetics
13. Frequent squatting improves athleticism
Squats have been used in athletic strength and conditioning circles for years – millenia in fact.
The combination of strength, movement control, mobility power generation and momentum control is a great basis for improving athleticism. Analysis into the effects of squatting on athletic performance concludes:
“Common squat exercise training and squat exercise with superimposed EMS improves maximum strength and power, as well as jumping abilities in athletes from different disciplines.”
14. There are plenty of core strength benefits
The benefits of squats include core training… especially if you perform them at a high intensity.
In a research study that directly compared the core muscle activation with squats and prone bridges (a specialist core exercise). Researchers concluded that the abdominal muscle engagement was the same. But the squat was a better exercise because it engaged the spinal erectors more, giving you additional benefits.
15. Squats crossover to other sports – walking, running, lifting, jumping
I can put this simply…
As I’ve already shown, squats improve leg power, strength, injury resistance, and injury recovery.
All of these are beneficial for sports. I can’t think of a sport where being stronger, more powerful, or able to control movement more effectively is a disadvantage. Research shows that squatting helps to specifically improve performance in sports where there is a jumping or squatting element.
16. Squats helps to improve mobility
In professional training circles, there’s a concept known as ‘greasing the groove’.
What this means is you should perform versions of exercises regularly… even at a very light weight just to maintain an ability to do them.
One of those is squats. Researchers from Harvard university found that performing deep squats help to maintain excellent hip, knee and ankle mobility even without the need for stretching.
17. They’re easy to put into a complex
Squats are a great exercise to put into a complex.
This allows you to pair multiple exercises back to back. This has huge benefits for your fitness and is something I employ both in my own training and that of my personal training clients. Here’s an example of me showing the kind of complex I use…
18. Squats burn a lot of calories
Research shows that squats burn 35 callories per minute. If you could squat for an hour without rest (you couldn’t) that would be 2,100 calories…
This is a serious amount of calories!
I was personally inspired by some of the Tom Platz thinking around squats… he’d squat big weights for huge sets (20+ not uncommon). When I did this, I’d see my heart rate rocket and the sweat pour out of me!
High heart rate = high calorie burn!
19. Squatting builds a lot of muscle
In a 2019 study the muscle building effects of half-squatting vs full squats were assessed and the conclusion was clear…
Full depth squatting builds more muscle.
Further evidence of the effectiveness of squats can be found here, where squats were shown to be more effective than leg extensions.
The benefits of squats – the bottom line
The oldest cliche in bodybuilding is that lazy people skip leg day.
To be honest, it’s true…
So many people will avoid getting under a bar because it’s hard and the results aren’t as important to the vain… who cares if you’ve got great legs on the beach?!
Skipping squats hinders your progress in other aspects though.
As you’ve read here…
- It reduces your stimulation of human growth hormone (which makes muscle grow all over the body)
- It reduces your calorie burn
- It impacts your strength gain etc.
There’s almost no element of your health and fitness that can’t be improved by throwing a few squats in your workout.
So I’ll leave you by urging you to get those squats done.
Experiment, play around! Learn overhead squats, pistol squats, front squats, and the like. You’ll refresh your training, you’ll learn new skills and you’ll make yourself significantly fitter and healthier in the process!
To help keep your motivation up and continue exercising regularly, consider reading our article on benefits of exercise.
To progress the weight with your squats a good squat rack is crucial. That’s why we spent dozens of hours researching the best ones on the market and testing many of them out. Check out the full guide for the best squat racks here.
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