21 Benefits Of Squats For Men & Women

Squats are an intimidating exercise. First, there’s learning the proper form and mastering the technique. Then there’s the sheer difficulty of squatting with a heavy bar on your back.

But, believe me, the rewards far outweigh the burden of suffering through a few sets per week. That’s why I’m laying out 21 of the best benefits of squats for men and women.

Including everything from boosting testosterone to building your booty. After reading this, you’ll never want to skip squats again!

Benefits of Squats For Men And Women

Why Do Squats?

For men, you don’t want to be that guy whose legs barely fill out slim-fit skinny jeans. Imagine how confident you would be if you made relaxed-fit jeans look like jeggings!

Similarly, loose leggings aren’t a good look for women. You want full, yet firm thighs that make your pants fit snug in all the right places.

Whatever your gender or body goals, squats can help you build muscle, burn fat, and become an all-around stronger person.

Personally, I’ve been doing squats almost every week since 2001. So I can attest to their benefits.

But it’s no secret that this exercise works. After all, squats are called the king of exercises for good reason!

What Counts As Squats?

Before we dive in, let me clarify one thing. When I say squats, I’m not referring to air squats or bodyweight squats. I’m talking about down and dirty heavy ass back squats. Also known as traditional barbell squats.

But if you don’t have access to a barbell and plates, you can still get most of these benefits using heavy dumbbells, sandbags, or whatever you’ve got lying around. With that, let’s get into the 21 benefits of squats.

21 Benefits Of Squats For Men & Women

In order to make this list easier to digest, I broke it up into sections based on similar benefits. That includes muscle/strength building, anabolic response, calorie-burning, nervous system, and general health.

Muscle & Strength Building Benefits Of Squats

1. Squats Turn Chicken Legs Into Tree Trunks

If you’ve never done squats before, the body transformation you can achieve from this one exercise is astounding. And even if you already train legs and do squats occasionally, doing them consistently can have dramatic results.

Below is a transformation from my friend and client, Dylan. This was 3 months after adding squats to his leg day. You read that right – just 3 months. Without steroids or performance-enhancing drugs of any kind!

Benefits Of Squats For Men

With his weightlifting knowledge and experience, Dylan went on to found Flight Physiques where he creates custom workout plans for men and women.

2. Squats Build Your Booty

Bigger thighs aren’t the only thing squats are good for building. If you’ve got a small bum, squats are your best friend. And I’m not just talking to the ladies. Some guys look like a frog stood up and put on pants. 😏

Many people use hip thrusts to build their booty. And that exercise is excellent for activating the glutes1. However, when done properly, squats are also a great way to grow the gluteus maximus.

The key for squatting to build your behind is to use a stance wider than shoulder-width. And focus on hitting depths 90o or below2.

3. Squats Activate Your Core

Another muscle group that squats activate is your core. This includes muscles of the abdomen and the lower back. These muscles are used to keep your body stable and upright when balancing the barbell on your back3.

While you’re not going to get 6 pack abs from doing squats, you will get a much stronger midsection compared to exercises like Smith machine squats or leg press.

4. Squats Result In More Upper Body Gains

You might not expect squats to help you gain upper body strength. But research shows that’s exactly what happens.

One study compared two groups of women with different workout routines. The first group trained only upper body. And the second group trained total body including squats.

Interestingly, the group that did squats gained more strength on the bench press than the group that trained only upper body4. Even crazier is that the bench press exercise wasn’t even included in their workout routine!

Benefits Of Squats Upper Body Strength

Figure 1. Upper body strength increases more when you include squats in your workout routine. Adapted from WJ Kraemer et al.

5. Squats Increase Metabolic Rate

Along with increased muscle mass comes another, sometimes overlooked benefit. For every pound of lean mass you have, you burn about 11 calories per day.

That may not sound like much. But adding 10 lbs of lean mass burns 110 more calories per day without doing any extra activity. And that makes it easier to burn fat without eating less!

So the fact that squats help you build more muscle means they also help you burn more calories at rest.

Anabolic Benefits Of Squats

6. Squats Boost Testosterone

In men, low testosterone can cause muscle loss, fat gain, low sex drive, hair loss, fatigue, and depression. So it’s vital to maintain healthy levels of this all important hormone. But don’t be duped into spending money on test-boosting supplements.

One of the best ways to naturally increase testosterone is doing squats. In fact, studies show that free weight exercises like squats result in significantly greater increases in testosterone than machine exercises5.

Benefits Of Squats Testosterone

Figure 2. Free testosterone levels following workouts with machines vs free weights for men and women. Adapted from Schwanbeck et al.

In addition, other studies show there is a very strong correlation between lower body lean mass and testosterone in men6. Meaning, the more muscular your legs, the more testosterone you’ll have.

For women, your testosterone levels are naturally lower and don’t respond in the same way to weight training or lean muscle mass. But this is okay because balanced and stable testosterone levels are a sign of good health in women.

7. Squats Increase Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

Along with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH) also plays an important role in body composition. Low levels can result in excess fat gain and loss of lean muscle. But squats help boost growth hormone.

One study compared growth hormone levels in men after sets of either squats or leg press. The results show that squats released nearly 3x the growth hormone compared to the leg press7.

Benefits Of Squats Growth Hormone

Figure 3. Growth hormone levels in men following squats vs leg press. Note: Total growth hormone release is equal to the area under the curve. Adapted from Shaner et al.

8. Squats Let You Spend Less Time In The Gym

If you want to maximize anabolic hormone response but you don’t want to spend hours in the gym, then I have good news. With high intensity workouts including squats, you can spend less time in the gym.

Another study shows that testosterone and growth hormone are maximized with high loads and low to medium workout volumes8. That means 3 to 6 sets of fewer than 8 reps with greater than 70% of your 1RM.

Benefits Of Squats Shorter Workouts

Figure 4. The total anabolic response (testosterone + growth hormone) to squats based on the number of sets performed with 3 reps at 90% one rep max. Adapted from Wilk et al.

Keep in mind, this low volume pertains to squats or other heavy compound movements. Your workout can still contain lower-weight auxiliary exercises like leg extensions and lunges.

The point is, squats give you a huge bang for your buck and allow you to do more work in less time.

Calorie Burn & Cardiovascular Benefits Of Squats

9. Squats Expend More Energy

As a heavy compound exercise, squats use up a lot of energy. The reason is that your heart rate gets higher on standing free-weight movements than it does on machines or seated exercises.

Heart Rate

To illustrate, the previous study also measured participants’ heart rates during squats and leg press. Their results show that heart rate was consistently higher during and after squats compared to leg press8.

Benefits Of Squats Heart Rate

Figure 5. Heart rate response to squats vs leg press during 6 sets of 10 reps at 80% one rep max with 2 minutes rest between sets. Adapted from Shaner et al.

Moreover, there is a direct correlation between heart rate and calories burned. That is, the higher your heart rate, the more calories you burn. 

Calories Burned

In the graph below, you can see that leg press resulted in an average heart rate of around 62% of max. Whereas squats resulted in an average heart rate of about 70% of max.

Benefits Of Squats Calories Burned

Figure 6. The direct correlation between exercise intensity (heart rate) and calories burned.

Now it’s possible to calculate the calories burned per minute based on exercise intensity. In this example, leg press burned about 10 calories per minute. While squats burned about 12.5 calories per minute.

That looks like a small difference. But when you consider the exercises lasted about 20 minutes and heart rate remained elevated for 30 minutes it adds up.

Over the course of 50 minutes, leg press burned 500 calories and squats burned 625 calories. That 125 more calories. And you burn 25% more calories by doing squats instead of leg press!

10. Squats Burn More Fat

In addition to burning more calories, squats also burn more fat than exercises like leg press. To see why it helps to understand how heart rate determines the type of energy burned during exercise.

Fat vs Carbs As Fuel

As exercise intensity increases, your body burns more carbs for fuel. So during a set of high-intensity squats or leg press, you’re using almost exclusively carbs for energy.

Benefits Of Squats Fat vs Carbs Burned

Figure 7. The relationship between exercise intensity (heart rate) and calories burned from fat vs carbs.

However, in between sets and after the exercise, your heart rate comes down and you burn more fat. For most people, the “fat burning heart rate zone” is 60-70% of your max heart rate.

Maximum Fat Burning

If you do the math, fat burning is maximized at around 70% max heart rate. This is when you are burning both a high number of calories per minute and a high percentage of calories from fat.

And, as we saw in the previous study, high-intensity squats result in an average heart rate of around 70% max. Therefore, squats burn more fat than leg press or other lower intensity exercises.

Benefits Of Squats Fat Burning

Figure 8. A visual representation of calories burned from fat per minute of exercise at various intensities. And why the higher average heart rate during a squat workout results in more fat burning compared to leg press.

11. Squats Improve Cardiovascular Conditioning

Finally, squats are also an excellent exercise for improving your overall fitness and cardiovascular conditioning. During a set of squats, you’re training near your maximum heart rate.

Doing this on a regular basis actually increases your maximum heart rate and enables you to train harder and longer than you could before. So squats effectively increase your cardiovascular fitness.

Nervous System & Mental Health Benefits Of Squats

12. Squats Power Up Your Nervous System

Your nervous system is sort of like electrical wiring running all around your body. And just like your muscles and heart, you can train your nervous system to become more resilient to stress.

One measure of nervous system resilience is called heart rate variability (HRV). This number represents the variation in time between heartbeats. And more variation is actually a good thing.

The best way to improve HRV is a combination of vigorous exercise and adequate recovery time. Basically, you teach your nervous system to stay calm while being prepared to jump into action. Like a Navy seal resting on a cot awaiting a mission.

In the graph below, you can see how HRV initially drops following squats. But after about 3 days, HRV recovers and is higher than it was before. Whereas the HRV response to lower intensity exercises is not as pronounced.

Benefits Of Squats Heart Rate Variability HRV

13. Squats Make You Better At Handling Stress Outside The Gym

A powered-up nervous system makes you more resilient to stressors like intense workouts. And it also makes you more resilient to the mental and psychological stresses you face on a daily basis.

Any type of stress elicits a fight or flight response. Whether it’s being attacked by a bear or getting yelled at by your boss. But when your HRV is high, you’re able to handle the situation and get back to a relaxed state faster.

For this reason, doing squats to build up your HRV can actually help you manage any other kinds of stress in your life. Even if they are totally unrelated.

14. Squats Are A Positive Outlet For Pent Up Anger

Stress is unavoidable. Even when you get better at managing it, there are times where you just feel like screaming into a pillow!

Squats can be a good way to let out frustration in a constructive way. Instead of acting out or saying mean things, you can take it out on the weights and make yourself better in the process.

15. Squats Build Mental Toughness

Lastly, squats make you a badass MFer. Every time you willingly do something that makes you uncomfortable, you build a little character and toughness.

Heavy sets of squats are extremely uncomfortable. During the exercise, your mind and body will constantly be telling you to stop. But pushing through the discomfort is what gets results.

And if you do that in the gym, you will bear down and forge ahead when life gets uncomfortable outside the gym. You get comfortable being uncomfortable.

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General Health Benefits Of Squats

16. Strengthen Your Knees

Another study compared muscle activation between free weight squats and Smith machine squats. They found that free weight squats resulted in 43% more activation of the knee extensors and flexors9.

Therefore, it suggests that free weight squats may be more beneficial for those looking to strengthen their knees.

17. Reduce Chance Of Injury

Stronger knees are a good way to prevent common injuries like torn ACLs and MCLs. In fact, a recent study suggests that squats, especially to parallel or deeper, may actually be an effective method for preserving joint health10.

18. Increase Functional Strength

Unlike machines, squats follow a natural movement path as you lower and raise the weight. As a result, this exercise is more beneficial for improving your strength in everyday activities that involve squatting or standing up from a squatted position.

19. Squats Increase Athleticism

In addition, squat strength is strongly correlated with better performance in key areas of sports performance. Such as sprinting speed, vertical jump height, and agility11.

Generally, the higher your squat 1RM, the better your athletic performance.

Figures 10-12. Correlations between squat 1RM and sprint speed, vertical jump, and agility. Note: the higher the “r” value, the stronger the correlation. Adapted from Parchmann et al.

20. Squats Improve Mobility

Squats require good mobility of the hip joints in order to perform the exercise through the full range of motion. And this is one reason some people think they aren’t good at squats and avoid them.

But if you practice the squat movement, your hips will become more flexible over time. Especially if you stretch before your workout. And this improves your overall mobility in other movements.

21. Prevent Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is the weakening of bones that occurs as people age. It’s especially common among women in the post-menopausal stage of life. But resistance training has been shown to prevent and even reverse low bone density.

Multiple studies have shown that performing heavy squats can increase bone density in the legs and lower back by as much as 5%12.

Final Thoughts

The list of the benefits of squats for men and women could go on and on. But I think the 21 benefits above are plenty to convince you that squats should be a regular part of your workout routine.

By doing squats consistently you build muscle and strength, burn more calories and fat, improve your nervous system and ability to handle stress, and make your whole body more fit and healthy.

So do yourself a favor – get in the squat rack and get under a heavy bar. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. And you will be rewarded with results in both body and mind.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with all your chicken-legged friends! And check out my related articles below for more workout routines and tips.

References
1) Neto, Walter Krause, et al. “Gluteus maximus activation during common strength and hypertrophy exercises: A systematic review.” Journal of sports science & medicine 19.1 (2020): 195.
2) Paoli, Antonio, Giuseppe Marcolin, and Nicola Petrone. “The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.1 (2009): 246-250.
3) Clark, Dave R., Mike I. Lambert, and Angus M. Hunter. “Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 26.4 (2012): 1169-1178.
4) Kraemer, William J., et al. “Changes in muscle hypertrophy in women with periodized resistance training.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.4 (2004): 697-708.
5) Schwanbeck, Shane R., et al. “Effects of training with free weights versus machines on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol levels.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 34.7 (2020): 1851-1859.
6) Mouser, J. Grant, Paul D. Loprinzi, and Jeremy P. Loenneke. “The association between physiologic testosterone levels, lean mass, and fat mass in a nationally representative sample of men in the United States.” Steroids 115 (2016): 62-66.
7) Shaner, Aaron A., et al. “The acute hormonal response to free weight and machine weight resistance exercise.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28.4 (2014): 1032-1040.
8) Schwanbeck, Shane, Philip D. Chilibeck, and Gordon Binsted. “A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.9 (2009): 2588-2591.
9) Wilk, Michal, et al. “Endocrine response to high intensity barbell squats performed with constant movement tempo and variable training volume.” Neuroendocrinol Lett 39.4 (2018): 342-8.
10) Ciccone, Tony, et al. “Deep Squats and Knee Health: A Scientific Review.” California State University. Available from: URL: https://shruggedcollective. com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/04/DeepSquat-Review-Barbell-Daily-3-27-15. pdf.(diakses 23 Juni 2020) (2015).
11) Parchmann, Christopher J., and Jeffrey M. McBride. “Relationship between functional movement screen and athletic performance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 25.12 (2011): 3378-3384.
12) Mosti, Mats P., et al. “Maximal strength training in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis or osteopenia.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 27.10 (2013): 2879-2886.

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