The squat is probably the best all-round, compound exercise for developing muscle and strength in the lower body. The squat develops the muscles of the front of the leg and the butt mostly, but different foot positions and depth of squat can invoke other leg muscles as well such as the hamstrings at the back of the upper leg and the adductors and gracilis along the inside of the upper legs.
Always observe good form and safety measures when squatting (or any other weights exercise).
Squats can be performed with barbells, dumbbells, Smith machine, kettlebells, plates, and with different leg positions, with one or two legs, to the ground or halfway, with bodyweight only, and with various schemes for sets and repetitions.
- Barbell back squat (barbell at rear on traps)
- Barbell front squat (barbell in front)
- Dumbbell squat (at sides. chest or on shoulders)
- Single leg squat
- Split squat (one leg forward, one back)
- One-leg split squat (leg resting on bench)
- Hack squat machine
- Hack squat (barbell)
- Wide stance squat
Barbell Back Squat
This is the standard big-bar squat. You place a barbell and weights on the trapezius muscles at the back of the neck. You can go ass to ground (ATG) or near enough, or halfway. Good technique is essential.
Barbell Front Squat
Same barbell, but placed in front on the chest, and sometimes with a crossover grip to keep the bar in place. Most people find this more difficult than the back squat with heavy weights because of balance issues.
The dumbbells can be held in various positions—on the shoulders, hanging at the sides or at the chest.
Split squats are a little out of fashion these days, but they make a nice change from the standard horizontal stance. One foot forward, one foot back, as you would with a lunge, only not quite as far between foot placement. You can do these with standard barbell back squat or with any combination of dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. of your choosing.
Feet are placed wider, and split, for lunges, but the lower body gets a similar workout to that for classic squats. This exercise requires a lunge forward. In the split squat above the feet are stationary.
Hack squats are another squat exercise that seems to be out of fashion, or perhaps they have regional popularity. You can use a hack squat machine or a barbell behind the legs.
Single-Leg Squat (Pistol)
Single-leg squats are an advanced exercise requiring strength and balance, although you can use various props to assist with balance. For example, with a dumbbell split squat, rest the rear leg on a bench while squatting on the front leg. The unassisted one-leg squat is often called the pistol squat.
Wide Stance Squat
Often called the Sumo stance because of the wide foot placement, wide-stance squats also activate the muscles of the inside of the thigh such as the gracilis and adductor magnus.