How Many Squats Should I Do To See Good Results?

I have been working as a Certified Personal Trainer for the past 15 years, and recently, I have tried to focus on programming functional training exercises into the workouts for my athletes.

Functional strength training exercises have a good deal of carryover into everyday life activities and/or other types of exercise or sports that the individual participates in.

For example, step-ups are a good functional training exercise because they replicate climbing stairs in everyday life. Another excellent functional strength training exercise that is also great for increasing leg strength and power is the squat.

What is great about the squat is that it not only strengthens almost all of the major muscles of the lower body but it can also be progressed and modified to match the ability level and training goals of the individual.

But, when programming your training session you may wonder, how many l squats should I do in each workout?

In this squats exercise guide, we will discuss how to do squats for leg workouts, some squat variations to try out, and ultimately answer your question, how many squats should I do based on my fitness goals?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a squat.

How Do You Do Squats?

Before we discuss how many squats you should do for your strength training goals and fitness level, let’s review how to perform the basic squat exercise.

The squat is one of the foundational movement patterns used in all strength training programs.

Squats involve a bilateral lowering and raising of the entire body by flexing and then extending the hips, knees, and ankles.

This triple-extension movement pattern, which refers to the simultaneous extension of the hips, knees, and ankles, is one of the key movements required when you jump and run.

You can visualize triple extension as straightening your knees and hips from a bent position and plantarflexing your ankle as if pressing the gas pedal on a car.

With squats, you are using the triple extension when you come up out of the squat from the lowered position back up to standing. This is why you want to explode powerfully through this portion of the exercise (but you should descend slowly down into the squat).

A person doing a squat.

According to research, triple extension training with exercises like squats helps improve running performance by increasing the push-off or propulsive power that you have in your running stride.1Kuhns, B. D., Weber, A. E., Batko, B., Nho, S. J., & Stegemann, C. (2017). A FOUR-PHASE PHYSICAL THERAPY REGIMEN FOR RETURNING ATHLETES TO SPORT FOLLOWING HIP ARTHROSCOPY FOR FEMOROACETABULAR IMPINGEMENT WITH ROUTINE CAPSULAR CLOSURE. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy12(4), 683–696. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5534158/

Triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips is also required when you jump and sprint, so squatting is a great way to improve running and jumping ability by strengthening the muscles that allow for this explosive triple-extension movement.2Lorenz, D. (2016). Facilitating Power Development in the Recovering Athlete. Strength and Conditioning Journal38(1), 48–50. https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000192

‌Beginners can start with just bodyweight squats to first master the movement pattern for a proper squat technique. 

Then, as you get continually stronger, you can start to hold dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell to increase resistance for building muscle and increasing strength with squats.

Here are the step-by-step instructions to perform a bodyweight squat:

How To Perform A Bodyweight Squat

  1. Stand upright with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. 
  2. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, spine tall and neutral, gaze forward, and abs engaged.
  3. Engage your glutes and core engaged as you bend your knees and hips to squat down, sitting your hips back as far as possible as if reaching your butt back to sit in a chair. You can thrust your arms forward straight in front of your body to act as a counterweight for balance.
  4. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent to 90 degrees (or slightly lower). When you’re at the lowest position of the squat, your shins should be as perpendicular to the ground as possible without your knees extending far beyond your toes.
  5. Press powerfully through your heels and fire your glutes and quads to stand back up to the starting position, bringing your arms back to your sides. 

Squat Variations 

There are tons of squat variations such as goblet squats, barbell back squats, and sumo squats. 

While all forms of squats work all of the major muscles in the lower body, you can alter the muscles worked by squats somewhat depending on the squat variation that you use.

Here are a few types of squats to try:

#1: Prisoner Squats

You can progress from regular bodyweight squats to prisoner squats.

This squat variation requires more core activation for balance and focuses more of the work on the quads since you can’t use your arms for momentum or balance.

Perform the same bodyweight squat steps but your hands are laced together behind your head with your elbows flared out to the sides for the entire exercise instead of being used for balance.

#2: Hack Squats

Hack squats are good for leg workouts for hypertrophy and strength because the hack squat machine provides external stability, which eliminates the need to balance your body as you perform the movement.

As such, you can really load up your hack squats with a lot of weight without worrying as much about safety.

Here is how to perform this type of squat:

  1. Stand on the foot platform of the hack squat machine as if you were going to perform a back squat. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and you should be upright with your core and glutes engaged, chest up, and shoulders back and down.
  2. Sit your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering your body all the way down until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent to 90°.
  3. Explode through your heels to press upward until you are standing back up fully erect.
  4. Focus on moving as slowly as possible during the descent and then exploding powerfully and rapidly through the ascent.

#3: Front Squats

The front squat is one of the best squats for quad workouts because the weight is located in front to load the quads.3Gullett, J. C., Tillman, M. D., Gutierrez, G. M., & Chow, J. W. (2009). A Biomechanical Comparison of Back and Front Squats in Healthy Trained Individuals. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research23(1), 284–292. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31818546bb

Here are the steps to perform this squat for quads:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, chest up, and core engaged.
  2. Hold the barbell or dumbbells around the level of your clavicles.
  3. Bend your knees and sit your hips back.
  4. When your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent to 90 degrees, pause, and then push explosively through your heels to stand back up.

#4: Jump Squats

Jump squats involve performing a powerful, explosive vertical jump between each rep of a regular squat. This plyometric squat exercise is great for increasing power and leg strength.

Here are the steps to perform a jump squat:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, core engaged, chest up, back straight 
  2. Perform a regular squat by bending your knees and sitting your butt back.
  3. Push through your heels and then your midfoot and toes to explode upward as high as you can jump, simultaneously straightening your knees, ankles, and hips and using your arms to power your body upwards into the air.
  4. As soon as you land from the jump, bend your knees to cushion the impact, transitioning immediately into a full squat to begin the cycle again.
  5. Move quickly and powerfully from rep to rep.

How Many Squats Should I Do To See Good Results?

The number of squats you should do depends on your fitness level and training goals.

How Many Squats Should I Do As A Beginner?

A good starting place for beginners is two sets of 10-12 reps of squats

Build up to three sets. Once you can do 10 to 12 reps without stopping, you can increase the weight.4Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1

How Many Squats Should I Do To Increase Strength?

If your goal is to increase strength, use a weight that corresponds to at least 85% of your squat 1RM, or a weight that you could manage for just 3 to 6 squats with proper form.

Aim for 4 to 6 sets with at least 2 minutes of rest in between sets.5de Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, J. da S., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)39(9), 765–777.

People doing squats.

How Many Squats Should I Do To Build Muscle?

If you are doing squats to build muscle, perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.

How Many Squats Should I Do To Increase Muscular Endurance?

To increase muscular endurance, perform at least three sets of at least 15 squat reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

If you are mostly interested in how many squats you should do to build muscle, check out our muscle-building guide here.

A person doing a squat.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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