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Squats: Powering the Lower Body and Core

Squats: Powering the Lower Body and Core

Squats are one of the most universally used exercises. Variations include Body Weight Squats, Dumbbell Squats, Barbell Squats, and many other compound movements. Athletes and celebrities use squats to tone their lower body and core. Some use body weight squats as a warm up, while most use barbells or dumbbells to get the full effect.

The entirety of going all the way down so that your knees are parallel to your legs is of utmost importance if you want the full effect. Squats also tend to work your core, the muscles around the torso of your body. For this reason, squats are considered a compound body movement as it works multiple muscle groups.

To perform Squats:

  1. Start by spreading your legs a bit beyond shoulder length apart.
  2. Make sure your feet are facing forward, unless performing a wide squat or sumo squat variation.
  3. If you are using dumbbells or barbells, make sure your palms are up, and your shoulders are carrying the brunt force of the weight.
  4. Brace your core and shoulders, inhale, then lower your body at the knees and hips simultaneously.
  5. Continue to lower your body until your knees are at the point where your calves and hamstrings are parallel to each other.
  6. Rest at parallel position for a second, exhale, then slowly lift your body up into starting position.

Celebrity trainer, Marco Borges, says that when doing squats the most important thing to remember is:

Keep your back straight and your abs pulled in.

Squat Variations:

Squat Variations include:

Body Weight Squat – Just use your body weight, often as a warm up or cardio routine.

Dumbbell Squat – Dumbbells are good for toning your legs and glutes. Dumbbell squats are harder than you think, especially if you do a front squat, where you hold them above your chest.

Barbell Squats – Barbells are used when you want to use heavy weight, to gain muscle tone in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. This is also known as a back squat, because you hold the weight on the barbell on your back.

Squat and Press – Perform the standard squat, but with dumbbells in each hand. The squat and press works your leg, shoulders, biceps and core. With feet shoulders width apart, squat down. Now, all in one motion drive up with your heels. Finally, lift the dumbbells into the air over your head for a press. Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Angelina Jolie all use the Squat and Press in their workouts. Here is a video on how to do the Squat and Press:

When doing the Squat and Press, Jay-Z and Beyonce celebrity trainer, Marco Borges, says:

Keep your back straight and contract your core throughout the movement. Heels should always remain in contact with the ground. Keep your core, the muscles that support your abs and back, tight.

Wide Squats – Wide squats are the variation that Kim Kardashian, and other female celebrities use to make their butt look bigger. Kim Kardashian uses dumbbells while doing wide squats to maximize her body’s response. When your body realizes (via the dumbbells) that there is more work to be done, it adds more muscle as a response. With the Wide Squats technique, you actually turn your toes outward, so that you focus on working your glutes. You don’t have to go all the way up each time.

To really work your glutes, perform fast pulses, while only going half way up each time. As always, variation is what keeps your workouts fun. Intensity–go until you’re glutes are burning–is the key to this exercise. This variation also allows you to work your hips to a greater degree. Here’s an example of the Wide Squats technique:

When doing Wide Squats, fitness sensation Jen Selter says:

Stand with your legs spaced wide apart, and feet turned out. The wider your stance, the more difficult you will find the squat to be. Come into a deep squat with your knees pressing out. Hold and squeeze through your glutes back up to the start. Hold your arms straight out in front of you, for balance if you need to.


Other variations include the box squat, where you put a bench underneath you for support. In the front squat, you simply hold the weight in front of you. In a hack squat, you carry the weight behind your legs, similar to a rear deadlift. There is also the one-legged squat (see Joe Manganiello above). Here it is in action:

One-legged Squat Video

One-Legged Squats

Sumo Squats

Sumo squats, also known as wide squats or Plea squats help tone your hamstrings and glutes. The stance for the sumo squat is wider than normal. Your toes are actually pointed out, with legs further than shoulder width apart. Sumo squats are done to target the inner thighs and legs.

Make sure to drive through your heels, and this will especially work your hard-to-reach inner thighs. Can be done with barbell, biceps, kettlebell, or just your body.

  • The Kim Kardashian workout and the Jennifer Lopez workout uses this exercise. Their trainer calls them “Wide Dumbbell Squats,” where he has Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez use dumbbells, and keep their toes pointed out to work their butt.
  • The Lauren Conrad workout alternates between this squat and the Squat and Press exercise.
  • The Jennifer Garner workout also uses the Sumo Squats exercise when working with her trainer, Valerie Waters. Sumo Squats with Knee Bend and Sumo Squats with Leg Lift.

Front Squats

Front Squats take pressure off your back. The weight of the exercise is held across your shoulders. Also, you get to activate your core more aggressively with Front Squats. Make sure that your wrist is inline with your elbow, for proper form.

Gunnar Peterson’s Squats Advice

Gunnar Peterson, who trains many celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Sofia Vergara, has all his clients do squats. He says that there are common mistakes when people do squats. Gunnar says:

Don’t snap into a locked-out knee position at the top. Locking the knees takes the load of the weight off your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps and redirects that pressure onto your knees and lower back. Making them as straight as you can without locking your knees keeps your muscles contracted, forcing them to work even harder so you don’t have to spend as much time trying to exhaust them.

He also says it’s important to make sure you put your weight onto your heels:

If you feel all your weight on the balls of your feet, you’re leaning too far forward and not letting your butt sink down properly. Think about trying to press your heels into the floor as if you were going to jump up but changed your mind at the last minute.

Popular Squat Workouts

  • Kim Kardashian uses a Wide Squat technique. This makes her butt look bigger, by increasing the pressure on her glutes and easing the load on her hamstrings. Make sure to point your toes outward, and have a base with legs further than shoulder width apart.
  • Sofia Vergara uses Dumbbell Squats to tone and maintain an uplifting look in her legs and butt.
  • Derek Jeter uses body weight squats to warm up, and then does Barbell Squats as part of his Super Sets to power his lower body and core.
  • The Henry Cavill workout for Superman used all sorts of squats. Henry Cavill used wall squats to warm up. Then, he moved on to goblet squats, air squats, jump squats, and front squats.
  • The Joe Manganiello Werewolf workout uses one-legged squats. One-legged squats work your core, giving you added agility and strength. Almost all of Joe’s workouts secretly engage his core, while he is focused on another part of his body.
  • The Adrian Peterson Workout also uses Single-leg Squats. So often, he is only on one leg because a defender has him wrapped up. Or, he simply wants to quickly change direction. He spends a lot of time doing one-legged squats for these reasons.
  • The Lauren Conrad workout uses the Squat and Press. This exercise, detailed below, is a full body workout. Lauren Conrad does these in between kickboxing sets for a full body cardio workout. She also uses regular squats and sumo squats. Lauren Conrad uses a 5 lb. set of weights to increase resistance while doing squats.
  • The Matthew McConaughey workout uses the Dumbbell Squat and Press, as well. He works with Gunnar Peterson, who is known for focusing on his clients shoulders, so that their waste looks smaller in comparison.
  • Jillian Michaels workouts use Squat-X’s during the Six Weeks To Six Pack Abs Workout. She also uses the Squat and Press (detailed below) in her 30 day shred videos.
  • The Mario Lopez workout uses the Squat and Press exercise (video below) to start his workouts. He does circuit training, where he does compound supersets.
  • The Jay-Z workout, and the Beyonce workout, both use the Squat and Press exercise detailed in the video below. They start some workouts this way to utilize their shoulder, hips, elbow, and knee joints. On other days, trainer Marco Borges has them do Medicine Ball Squats. Here, they hold a medicine ball over their head while doing squats.
  • The Jennifer Garner workout uses all sorts of squats. She does Squat and Press, Sumo Squats, Speed Squats, and Wide Squats.
  • The Chris Davis workout performs squats. He uses them as part of his Home Run hitting workout that brings Olympic lifting into his workout.

Squat Safety:

If at any time your feet come off the ground, return to starting position. Keep your back straight throughout the entire squat movement. Don’t let your back carry the load. Let your legs, core and shoulders carry the force. Also, don’t move too quickly up or down. You want to breathe in on the way down, and exhale on the way up.

Here, Fitness Model Zuzka Light explains proper Squat Form. You may not like her accent, but you can surely admire her body, and know that she knows what she’s talking about.

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