Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Squats are probably the most underrated body-composition tool in your arsenal. If you’re not squatting, you’re probably not getting stronger, not adding muscle as quickly as possible, and not burning nearly as much fat as you could if you were hitting ass to grass at least once a week.
“The squat pattern is one of the fundamental human movements that everyone should master, with or without load,” says Justin Grinnell, CSCS, and owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. “It sets the foundation for almost all other movement patterns and lifts, and works the body as a unit, causing a large metabolic cost and leading to more calories being burned.”
Any exercise that allows you to build more muscle and increase strength will burn more fat because a muscle cell requires energy in order to thrive. When it comes to muscle building, the squat is second-to-none, engaging just about every muscle in your lower body as well as your core, back and shoulders. And the burn extends beyond the workout itself.
The squat causes such a large metabolic cost that it creates a cascade of hormonal release. All these hormones mean additional muscle growth potential and a boost in metabolism. Translation: More fat burned, more lean tissue built, more forward progress no matter what your goals.
You’re also able to hit dat ass (to grass) more than once a week because the legs have been shown to respond well to high-volume training (i.e., more reps, more workouts per week, more exercises per workout). While Olympic lifters and powerlifters squat upward of four to six days a week, their goals are different from those trying to lose body fat.
“The sweet spot for body-composition change seems to be about two to three days [of squat training] per week,” Grinnell says. “In order to see progress without overtraining, it’s crucial that you vary your sets, reps, loads and total volume and have the proper intensity to elicit some type of response. On the flip side, you also need to back off in order to let your body recover and rebuild.”
These two programs, designed by Grinnell, outline a high-rep/high-volume day as well as a low-rep/heavy-weight day. “It’s good to vary the rep rotation and squat variations to ensure that progress is consistent and that recovery happens,” Grinnell says. “Vary the intensity for your chosen goal about every four to six weeks for long-term gains.”
Implement these workouts starting, like, now, and tell HIIT to take a hike.
Squat for Strength
|Back Squat*||3||5, 3, 2||3-6|
|Paused Front Squat**||3||3||3-5|
|Nordic Hamstring or Glute/Ham Raise||3||8||1-2|
*Do three to five warm-up sets before going for the five-, three-, and two-rep max.
**Pause for two to three seconds at the bottom of each rep.
Squat to Shred
|Back Squat*||1||20||As much as needed|
|Walking Lunge||3||10 (each leg)||1-2|
|Kettlebell Swing||As many as needed**||100||As much as needed|
|Farmer's Carry||1||100 meters||As much as needed|
*Squat the equivalent of your bodyweight. Rack the weight as minimally as possible while maintaining proper form.
**Perform sets of 10 to 20 reps until you achieve a total of a hundred with a 24-kilogram kettlebell (men) or 16 kilograms (women).