How to Do Squats: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do a squat exercise to help with lower body pain and mobility, plus modifications to make it easier or harder.

Published Date: Jun 23, 2023
Table of Contents

If you’ve been told to — or assumed you should — avoid squats because you think they’re too hard on your knees, it might be time to think again. Consider this: You squat all the time in everyday life. Every time you sit down in a chair, get in or out of the car, pick something up from the ground, or climb a flight of stairs, you’re doing a form of squatting. And those activities are not harmful or dangerous — they’re just a part of living. To keep your body healthy, strong, and pain free for these things, the key is to stay active, both in your everyday activities and with targeted exercises. 

Instead of hurting your knees, doing squats helps them get stronger, healthier, and ready to handle even more activity. Here, we’ll explore the advantages of incorporating squats into your movement routine and look at how you can modify squats if needed.

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What Is a Squat?

A squat is considered a compound exercise that primarily targets the muscles of the lower body. That means it uses multiple muscle groups at the same time. It involves bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if you are sitting back into a chair, then standing back up. The squat is considered one of the most effective and foundational exercises for building lower body strength, reducing pain, and improving overall functional fitness.

What Muscles Do Squats Work? 

While squats are great for your entire lower body, they primarily target the following muscles:

  • Quadriceps. The quadriceps muscles, located on the front of the thigh, are the primary movers during squats. They include the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Squats help to strengthen and develop these muscles, particularly during the upward phase of the movement. This helps increase knee stability and reduces pressure on your knees during activities like walking and going up stairs, which can help reduce pain. 

  • Hamstrings. Found on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings act as stabilizers during the squat, helping to stabilize the knee and contributing to hip extension during the upward phase of the movement. By strengthening your hamstrings, you may notice that activities like brisk walking, running, climbing stairs, sitting down, and bending forward at the hips are easier and less painful. 

  • Glutes. The gluteal (“butt”) muscles, including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, are heavily engaged during squats and play a significant role in generating power and force during the upward phase of the movement. Strong glutes help keep everything in your lower body in good order, including your knees, hips, and low back

  • Adductors. The adductor muscles, located on the inner thigh, help stabilize the hips during squats. Strong adductors help with everything from walking and standing up to getting in and out of a car. 

  • Calves: The calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus, assist in maintaining balance and providing stability during the squat.

  • Core muscles: The core muscles, including the abdominals, obliques, and lower back muscles, are engaged to stabilize your torso during a squat. These muscles are important for stability and balance during everyday activities — everything from lifting a laundry basket to reaching overhead to shifting your weight from one foot to the other involves your core. 

Squats can also have an indirect impact on other muscles, such as the muscles of the upper back and shoulders, as they are involved in maintaining upright posture and balance during the exercise.

Benefits of Squats

Squats have a lot of benefits, such as improving: 

  • Lower body strength, especially in the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. 

  • Functional movement, meaning they make daily activities like sitting, standing, and lifting objects from the ground easier.

  • Core stabilization, including the abdominal and lower back muscles. This can help make everyday activities that involve balance easier, and also help prevent and alleviate back pain. 

  • Joint health. Squatting promotes healthy joint function by strengthening the muscles that support the knees, hips, and ankles. This can help reduce the risk of injuries and enhance overall joint stability.

Not to mention, squats are a bodyweight exercise, which means they can be done anywhere without equipment. This makes them a convenient option for when you need a quick movement snack during your day. 

Squat: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.





To do a squat:

Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart. Bend your knees and reach your hips back, as if you were sitting in a chair. Keep most of your weight in your heels as you go through the motion. Hold this position while you focus on squeezing your thigh and hip muscles. Push through your feet to straighten your knees and return to a standing position.

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify the squat to meet your needs.

Squat Modifications

Squat Modifications

Squat Modifications

Squat Modifications

To make squats easier:

  • Reduce your range of motion by limiting how much you bend your knees when performing the squat.

  • Hold onto a sturdy object, such as a wall, railing, or countertop, to provide balance and stability during the squat.

To make squats harder:

  • Increase your range of motion by increasing how much you bend your knees when performing the squat. (You can also try deep squats.)

  • Loop a resistance band around your knees when you do the exercise.

  • You can apply one of the above modifications to make the exercise easier or harder, or multiple modifications at once.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Rowden, A. (2021, March 31). What are the benefits of performing squats? Medical News Today.

  2. Crouch, M. (2022, December 27). The #1 Exercise to Do as You Get Older. AARP.