How to Do Squats

Step-by-Step Instructions and Video Below

How to Do Squats Safely and Effectively

Squats are considered the "premier movement of weightlifting." Not only are they great butt exercises for women, but they are a multi-joint exercise that engages most of the muscle system of our lower body (glutes, hips, hamstrings and thighs), and they are great for the cardiovascular system. The squat is also considered the best weight lifting movement for developing the curve of the buttocks.

Squat variations include using free weights (barbells or dumbbells), body weight only, squat machines, squat racks, and chair squats.

Squats should be done with extreme caution and good form as they are also the cause of many serious injuries, such as herniated discs. It's best to ask a personal trainer at the gym to show you exactly how to do squats safely and effectively.

How to do Squats with a Barbell

Equipment needed: Barbell

Targeted muscles: Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, plus quadriceps (vastus lateralis, rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis) and other muscles


  1. Stand with your feet hip-width or shoulder-width apart, feet facing forward or slightly outward.
  2. Holding the barbell with your grasp facing forward (the width will vary depending upon your body) and your elbows pulled down and back, rest the barbell across your shoulders, either on the trapezius or a bit lower on the deltoids and traps.
  3. Bend your knees and lower to a squat; your hips are moving back; only go as low as you can without losing the natural arch in your back; aim for your thighs being parallel to the ground.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position; do not lock your knees.
  5. Repeat the complete squat movement several times, according to your particular workout routine.

Tips for Safety and Effectiveness

  • To protect your knees, keep your knees in line with your toes.
  • Take care not to round your back; keep your back as straight as possible and arch slightly when squatting; keep your head up.
  • Use a light weight when doing this movement for the first time; perfect your proper squat technique before moving to heavier weights.
  • Breathe in when lowering into the squat, breathe out when going back up to the starting position.
  • Add a towel to your shoulders if the barbell is uncomfortable on your shoulders.
  • Tighten your butt muscles, legs and abs and maintain a strong torso.
  • As with all weight training exercises, do the movement slowly and concentrate on the feel of the muscles.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles during the squat. This helps protect your back and gives your abs a workout.
  • Place a block under your heels to avoid too much tilting of the torso if you have tight ankles or long femurs (thigh bones); however, this will put more of the workout onto the quads.

Variations for the Barbell Squat

Squats can be done with a staff or rod instead of barbell. This is a great way to warm up your body for more strenuous squats with a barbell, or can serve as a stand-alone thigh and butt firming exercise.

How to Do Squats with Dumbbells

Follow the same steps as above for a dumbbell squat. The only difference is that instead of holding a barbell, hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms bent and the dumbbells at shoulder level to do dumbbell squats.

Dumbbell squats can also be done with only one dumbbell. For this exercise, grab one end of the dumbbell with both hands in front of your body. Keep your arms straight and hanging down without locking your elbows. Then bend your knees and lower into the squat and follow the steps above for a bar bell squat.

How to Do Squats with Body Weight

Body Weight squats are a great exercise when your are starting to work out with weights.

The basic movement is the same as for squats with free weights, but for bodyweight squats, hold your arms straight out in front of you parallel to the ground, palms facing down, for the entire duration of the movement.


Chair squats are great if you're just starting out, have knee issues, or just want more support until you gain your balance.

With a chair behind you, sit for a few seconds when you lower into a squat, then rise out of the chair to finish the movement. As you become stronger, you can try hovering over the chair and not sitting down.

How to Do Squats at the Gym

For full squats using heavier weights, it's best to use a squat rack at the gym. This is a place that holds the barbell for you. You then position yourself under the barbell and lift up into a standing squat. Gyms also have squat machines, such as Smith machines, to give you a workout with heavier weights.

Because squats are one of the weightlifting movements that can cause serious injury if not done correctly, it's best to ask a personal trainer or trainer at the gym to show you proper squat technique not only for squat machines, but even for the basic squats.

Ready for a Full Body Workout?

Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle

Squats are great multi-joint exercises that target several large muscle groups. But if you're ready for a workout plan that will shape your entire body, then check out Tom Venuto's Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program.

This is a comprehensive workout program guaranteed to give you a great looking body, if you're willing to work for it.

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