The Squat: New research shows how to maximize the benefits.

injury prevention resistance training
Squat exercise. Man

Improve the benefits you get from squats with a few easy changes.

The squat has long been recognized as the king of exercises. The reasons are that 1. it uses the largest muscles in the body at one time, and 2. it releases testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) into the body - both of which are essential to muscle mass, strength and power developments and have anti-aging effects.

The mechanics of the squat have not changed of course; however, recent data does have some specific suggestions on which muscles benefit the most from the squat and minor adjustments you can make to improve the benefits of the exercise. Keep reading below for programming tips based on the latest research.

Programming Power Points

1. For gluteal and quadriceps muscle growth, the squat is the best choice (Plotkin, 2023) when compared to the popular hip thrust exercise.

2. For best results, do squats at 80% 1 RM (repetition maximum) or estimated is recommended. This will activate the hip muscles the best (Martinez, 2023).

3. If tolerated, full depth or range of motion ((ROM) is acceptable and benefits the knee (Goodman, 2024). If pain occurs or mechanics are compromised avoid this strategy and use partial ROM.

4. If desired, placing the barefoot on a plate is beneficial to the distal tibiofibular joint (Arlettaz, 2024). This strategy protects the joint and plays a role to prevent ankle injuries.

6. To progress and gain muscle strength, add four to six sets per two weeks (Enes, 2024). Although this is a heavy volume increase, it can be mitigated with few repetitions and higher weight or with range of motion adjustments or sparingly versus every two weeks.

These are a few tips. To learn more about the latest data on squats AND earn 1 HR of FREE CE credit for PT, click here.


1. Arlettaz ME, Dorsch LN, Sganga M, Booth ND, Farabello JS. Kinematic variations in the barbell back squat under different footwear conditions in female college athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2024 Mar;64(3):287-292. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.23.15378-3. Epub 2023 Nov 28. PMID: 38015479.

2. Enes A, DE Souza EO, Souza-Junior TP. Effects of Different Weekly Set Progressions on Muscular Adaptations in Trained Males: Is There a Dose-Response Effect? Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2024 Mar 1;56(3):553-563. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000003317. Epub 2023 Oct 5. PMID: 37796222.

3. Goodman W, Flores V, Cotter JA, Graham D, Becker J. Support moment distribution during the back squat at different depths and loads in recreationally trained females. J Sci Med Sport. 2024 Feb;27(2):119-124. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2023.11.001. Epub 2023 Nov 10. PMID: 38036316.

4. Martinez SC, Coons JM, Mehls KD. Effect of external load on muscle activation during the barbell back squat. Eur J Sport Sci. 2023 Jun;23(6):975-982. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2081093. Epub 2022 Jun 13. PMID: 35603722.

5. Plotkin DL, Rodas MA, Vigotsky AD, McIntosh MC, Breeze E, Ubrik R, Robitzsch C, Agyin-Birikorang A, Mattingly ML, Michel JM, Kontos NJ, Frugé AD, Wilburn CM, Weimar WH, Bashir A, Beyers RJ, Henselmans M, Contreras BM, Roberts MD. Hip thrust and back squat training elicit similar gluteus muscle hypertrophy and transfer similarly to the deadlift. bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2023 Jul 5:2023.06.21.545949. doi: 10.1101/2023.06.21.545949. Update in: Front Physiol. 2023 Oct 09;14:1279170. PMID: 37461495; PMCID: PMC10349977.

Author Biography

Amy Ashmore, Ph.D. holds a doctorate in Kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a physical therapy continuing education provider located in Las Vegas, NV.


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