Science Summary: Squats and Leg Training


Squats are seen as the granddaddy of all exercises.  You’ve seen the memes by now.  If that was all you had to go off you’d probably be under the impression that squats are the only leg exercise you need to be doing.  It’s worth exploring the hype though, what exactly do squats do for your body?  The link to the journal article I’ll be covering can be found here.

What they did.

In this study, the researchers had participants perform a series of single joint leg isolation movements and calculated the maximum force each muscle was capable of providing at various angles along the range of motion.  Additionally, they performed hip extension tests with the hamstrings selectively numbed so that they could not contribute in order to find the relative contributions between the glutes and hamstrings.

What they found.

From here they did some calculations to find the contributions quads, glutes, and hamstrings had at each point in the squat motion.  They found that the primary drivers of a squat were the glutes and the quads.  The hamstrings didn’t play a major role because they work contrary to the quad at the knee.  Simply put, if you flex your quad and  your hamstring at the same time, the pull on the knee in opposite directions and work against each other preventing any movement from happening.  This is especially true at depts greater the 90 degree knee bend.  Take a look at the picture below if you’re a more visual learner.


What this means for you.

There are a couple takeaways from this article.

#1 – Squats are not an effective way of training hamstrings.  If your leg routine consists on nothing but squats, then you are neglecting one of the largest muscle groups in your body.  Posterior chain work (deadlifts, hip thrusts, hinge variations, etc.) is necessary for a balanced lower body and preserving joint health.

#2 – If you want better squats, focus on training your quads and glutes.  As these are the primary movers in the squat, strengthening either component individually (in other motions or through isolations) will greatly benefit you the next time you squat.

So yes, squats are awesome.  But, they are only part of a well balance diet.  As with most things in the fitness world, the best thing your routine can have is variety to make sure all your bases are covered.