Different Types of Squat Exercises to Build Muscular Legs

The squat, an exercise that develops the lower limbs, is included in the range of exercises that standardize everyday movements, therefore, it has a positive impact on our daily mobility. With the ability to strengthen the muscles of the lower limbs, the squat substantially improves movements such as walking up/downstairs, standing up/sitting down on a chair or even walking.

An ex-libris of training, the squat is a complete exercise, as it also involves the abdominal muscles, the back, and of course, the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes). Another of the benefits of this exercise is the improvement of cardiovascular endurance (as it recruits many muscles, energy expenditure will be greater), it reduces the risk of injuries and tones the legs.

In this way, we demystify the various types of squats that exist and how we can implement them in our workouts in order to strengthen the legs and glutes.

Also, performing squats frequently will help maintain good posture, and the ease of doing squats means they can be performed anywhere/environment.

Build Muscular Legs

What types of squats are there?

Bilateral

Bilateral exercises (with both feet on the floor) can have different distances between the two feet (narrow base, medium base, wide base) in order to change muscle activation and strengthen the muscles in a different way. This type of squat also adds variety to your workout.

1. Narrow Base – The Short Distance Between Feet

An example of a narrow base stance exercise is the Narrow Back Squat.

Indications:

  • The bar remains supported on the shoulders (between the posterior deltoid and the middle trapezius) with the scapulae in retraction.
  • The feet are in line with the knees and hips.
  • The bar is held in pronation.
  • The hip and knees are flexed in the descending phase with the bar to be controlled keeping the torso erect.
  • The descending phase continues until the top of the thigh is parallel to the floor.
  • The ascending phase takes place with the extension of the hips and knees.

2. Middle Base – Average Distance Between Feet

An example of a mid-base stance exercise is the Bodyweight Squat.

Indications:

  • Feet are shoulder-width apart
  • Posture should be upright, keeping your eyes straight ahead
  • Squatting at maximum range of motion (as if you were going to sit in a chair), but without taking your heels off the floor and keeping your core contracted
  • The back doesn’t bend and the heels don’t leave the ground
  • Return to the starting position, exhaling while performing this movement

3. Wide Base – Wide Distance Between Feet

An example of a broad-based stance exercise is the Goblet Squat.

Indications:

  • Place the weight (dumbbell/kettlebell) in front of the chest and spread the feet a little more than shoulder-width apart, with the toes pointing outwards
  • Keep your weight close to your chest and bend your knees and hips. Then, squat down keeping the torso erect and the soles of the feet on the floor
  • When thighs are parallel to the floor, hold for a few seconds. Then push the floor with your heels to return to the starting position

Unilateral

Unilateral (single-legged) squats are a movement used regularly in everyday life as it simulates common movements such as going up and down stairs or walking.

Unilateral squats strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings, maintaining an appropriate strength ratio between these muscles. They help to stabilize the knee and prevent knee injuries.

Unilateral squat exercises seem to be the most appropriate exercises to strengthen these muscle groups, but adding load to the bodyweight will always be more difficult due to the unstable nature of the exercise.

Exercises with moderate instability can optimize motor recruitment while producing the necessary stimuli for maximizing strength.

1. Bulgarian Split Squat.

Indications:

  • Support the instep of a foot on a bench or TRX (if it is more comfortable it is also possible to place only the toes)
  • Bend your front leg to a 90-degree angle
  • Keep your abs tight and your back straight without ever letting your heel off the floor
  • Push the heel against the floor extending the hip and knee, returning to the starting position.

2. Pistol Squat on TRX

Indications:

  • When starting one leg, you should extend the other at a 90-degree angle to the body.
  • Always holding the TRX, keep the spine neutral and the torso erect in order to balance the weight of the hip, which will balance backwards;
  • Pull shoulders down and back to lean forward slightly
  • Rotate your knee out towards your little toe, but not too much
  • Keep your hips below the knee line in the most descending part of the movement, if you feel comfortable
  • Push the floor with your heel to bring the hip and torso to the starting position

Types of Squats: What muscle groups are recruited?

The most requested muscles in leg and glute exercises are the following:

  • The gluteus maximus, the biggest contributor to most of the muscle mass that, in our eyes, makes up the buttocks.
  • The gluteus medius, which is located on the side of the gluteus grande, having as its action an internal rotation of the thigh.
  • The quadriceps is a set of four muscles located in the anterior part of the thigh, is one of the largest muscle groups in our body and helps in the extension of the knee.
  • The hamstrings are located at the back of the thigh and are a group of three muscles.
  • The adductors, located on the inside of the thigh, are a muscle group sometimes ignored, but with considerable functions in leg movements.
  • The gastrocnemius and soleus constitute the main muscles of the leg and are essential for the balance and position of the foot.

What is the ideal frequency to do squats?

Training volume is a measure of the total workload performed and is the multiplication of the load with the number of sets and number of repetitions performed during a workout (volume = reps x sets x load).

Several systems, including the nervous, metabolic, hormonal and muscular systems, undergo different adaptations depending on the variability of training volume. Manipulating the training volume can consist of changing the number of repetitions/sets or the load itself used in the training. Another way to manipulate the training volume is to change the exercises performed.

Muscle hypertrophy and endurance workouts are synonymous with low to moderate intensity with moderate to high volume.

This type of program will stimulate a strong metabolic and endocrine response. A study mentioned by The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in the book Foundations of Strength Training and Conditioning suggested that the ideal number of sets for substantial effects per muscle group would be between 4-8.

Based on this assumption, the main component to change will be the load. The load must be handled as well as in each set, we can get between 1-5 repetitions of failure. That said, the number of repetitions can (and should) be changed during the exercise itself if it is not producing enough/necessary stimulation.

The suggestion that can help in handling these variables:

Lower limbs: 15-30 sets per workout (6-9 sets or 1-3 exercises per muscle group)

The rest time between sets/exercises affects the hormonal, metabolic and cardiovascular responses, as well as affecting the performance in the following sets/exercises and the consequent adaptations.

Thus, rest intervals that are too short may compromise performance while long or moderate rest intervals may help to maintain the ideal/desired intensity and volume.

The number of drills performed during a certain period will also affect adjacent adaptations. The frequency includes the number of times the muscle groups are stimulated through the exercises performed per week, and this is dependent on certain variables such as training volume, level of exerciser, recovery, nutrition and goals.

Studies show that 2 to 3 weekly training sessions can be enough between athletes of different levels regarding the achieved results, as long as the volume is identical.

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