The Ultimate Guide to Doing Squats Properly

Squats are a go-to for many workouts. Whether you’re warming up or working out, doing squats is a great way to engage multiple muscles. There are plenty of ways to do squats, and there are definitely wrong ways to go about this exercise. Whether you already have a squat workout or are new to this form of exercise, here is your ultimate squat guide:

Before You Start Doing Squats

New exercise programs should be started with care, especially for individuals who have a pre-existing condition. If you’ve been advised to speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise program, do that before you begin.

What Muscles Do Squats Work?

A lot of people wonder what doing squats do exactly. The answer to what do squats work depends on the type of squat and squat variation. Body squats, which are simple in that they use your body weight and nothing else, work almost every muscle in your lower body as well as your core.

Squats Benefits

Adding squats to your daily workout routine has many benefits, such as:

  • Working multiple muscles at the same time, thus improving your workout efficiency
  • Increasing core strength
  • Increase natural hormone levels
  • Improve flexibility
  • Reduce chances of injury

How to Do a Basic Squat

Here are the steps to take for the basic squat:

  • Make sure that your toes and knees are facing forward, and feet are shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly lower yourself as though you are about to sit on a chair while keeping your core tight and your neck and upper body straight.
  • Go as low as you can, or until your knees are bent 90 degrees.
  • Come back up until your legs are straight- though you don’t want to lock your knees.

Congratulations, you’ve just done a squat. While this doesn’t seem hard, there are many ways people can mess this up. Some common mistakes include not keeping your feet and knees forward and keeping your butt in instead of out as though you were sitting in a chair.

How Much Should I Squat?

The answer to this depends on your ultimate goal, your overall health, and the specific exercise that you’ve chosen. A lot of squat exercises can be done as 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps. However, if this is too hard or too easy, you want to start slow and work up. Remember, it’s better to start easy and work up than to start off with something that is too difficult.

Squat Variations

There are many different types of squats. Each type is designed to work for some muscle group more than others. Here are just a few examples of different variations of squats:

Plie Squat

This one has a few notable differences. First, your feet and knees are turned out as far as is comfortable- the turnout should happen from your hip. Second, you should keep your tail bone perpendicular to the ground- your butt stays in, instead of sitting in the imaginary chair. This variation should be done with caution, as doing this improperly can cause ankle and knee damage.

Curtsy Squat

The curtsy squat, also called the curtsey lunge, is done by placing one leg behind the other, as though you are about to curtsey, and bringing your butt straight down until your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.

Pistol Squat

This is a single leg squat done while the free leg is extended in front of you.

Squat with Weights

Adding extra weight allows you to make the squat more difficult. Some of these can be done with squat variations, while others require the basic squat.

Dumbbell Squats

This is a variation of the weighted squats and dumbbell exercises that involves picking up one or two dumbbells. Squats with dumbbells can be done in two ways. You can either keep the dumbbell or dumbbells, to your side the entire time or curl them when you come up from the squat to work your arms.

Kettlebells Squats

This is an alternative to dumbbell squats. You can hold the kettlebell at chest level to give your arms a workout. You can also swing the kettlebell as you squat to work your lower back if you’re experienced with kettlebells.

Barbell Squat

Barbell Squats are also known as squats with bar or back squats because they are done with a weighted bar over your shoulders. This is a one of the best shoulder exercises, as it  puts more work on the glutes while also adding your shoulders and spine into the mix of working groups. A typical bar weighs 30-45 lbs., but you can add weighted plates to either side of the bar to make this squat more challenging.

Common Mistakes

While squats are pretty simple and intuitive- humans are naturally designed to be able to squat- there are still a lot of things to watch for to ensure that you avoid injury:

  • Proper Alignment: Depending on the type of squat, you’ll want your butt and your toes facing a certain way. If you are doing squats that require you to turn your feet and knees out, that turnout should come from your hip, never your knees.
  • Not Going Deep Enough: A proper squat means that your knees are bent at 90 degrees before you come up. Stopping too soon means that you’re shorting your workout and not getting the benefits. While you may not hit the 90-degree mark when you’re just starting out, you definitely want to increase the depth of your squats until you have proper form. You can also help yourself out; try holding on to a wall, starting with wall squats, or using a chair as a backup.
  • Not Increasing Intensity: While we all start wherever we can, we don’t want to stay there forever. After you feel comfortable with your starting number of squats, you definitely want to slowly increase. If you’re already doing  squats, consider adding weights.
  • Not Asking for Help: Weighted squats can get pretty complicated- especially if you’re working with barbells. If it’s your first time doing a new type of squat, there is nothing wrong with asking for help or tips. If you’re shy about talking to other people, consider watching videos online.


  • There are many benefits of squats, including more calories burn, increased hormone levels and workout efficiency.
  • Squats should be part of every workout routine.
  • There are many types of squats but start with the basics if you’re new.
  • You can definitely be doing squats incorrectly. Make sure you check your form, especially when you’re tired.
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