The Anatomy of The Squat

The squat is one of the basic compound movements. A compound movement involves more than one joint and the squat involves more joints than I can accurately count.

On a basic level it involves the hip, knee and ankle but when you start to increase the load and execute a squat with proper form you realise that you start to bring in many many more joints including your elbows, wrists, intervertebral joints, neck etc. I’m not saying that you actively use them and think about it but you do use them to maintain almost full-body tension.

If you just want to know about the anatomy of the squat skip to the section titled “Anatomy”

The reason why the squat is sometimes hailed as the “King Lift” (as stated by powerlifting legend Louie Simmons in an article written in Jan 2009) is because of the profound effect it has on the body’s physiology.

When executing the squat you put your body under a massive amount of stress, physically and hormonally. Squatting develops power in your legs (quads and hamstrings), in your glutes and also helps build strength in your back. When your squat increases; your deadlift increases, your clean increases, your snatch increases etc

Some coaches also make the bold statement that you can squat to increase the size of your biceps – while you do get some tension in your biceps when you squat I personally don’t feel that it’s enough to build the kind of biceps that people actually want.

Putting the physical effects aside, squatting causes your body to release massive amounts of growth hormone (a communicating hormone with a very misleading name) as well as testosterone. Both of those hormones will lead to muscle growth as well as lipolysis (the breakdown of fat).

I won’t go into how to squat correctly because you can find a video on YouTube that’ll explain it better than my words ever could. You understand more of what you see than what you read.


If you go below 90 degrees your knee is in an anatomically favoured position so it’s actually stronger and less likely to get hurt.

Also, if you go lower your fibres get stretched more so the contraction required to bring you back to a standing position is going to have to be larger, thus leading to more tears in your muscle which will inevitably lead to more growth.

The lower you go (flexed knee position) the tauter your cruciate ligaments are which prevent medial, and to some extent, lateral rotation of your knee. Whereas, when your knee is in a more extended position (closer to extended than flexed – i.e. a 2 inch squat) they aren’t very taut and your knee is seriously unstable (which allows you to do certain movements like turn your feet inwards etc).In the last 10 degrees of movement from flexed to extended there is an obligatory terminal rotation so by moving through that range constantly you’re causing a grinding/screwing action which will wear everything down a lot quicker. This movement is actually referred to as being “screwed home.” Putting a large amount of weight on that unstable joint is going to lead to rotational damage as well as keep all the strain on your knees which will grind down your menisci until you have bone on bone grinding.

Just looking at the ligaments, in an extended position you use your ACL and in a fully flexed position you use your PCL. Keeping it in the top part of the motion you’re constantly stretching and relaxing your ACL like a rubber band. At least when you squat down fully with a full range of motion you move the strain between ligaments (even though they’re both taut, they aren’t both doing the same job) which means you can move the strain around. Having said that the strain is very low at the lower portion of the squat because the majority of the strain is then passed onto the hip joint which is actually a lot sturdier because it’s enarthrosis (deep ball and socket) so the range of the motion is limited by bones etc making it a hell of a lot sturdier.

So without even looking at any studies that show which kind of movement provides more muscle activation etc etc just from looking at the anatomy of the joint I can tell you that keeping it very high with a lot of weight is going to cause a lot of damage and stability issues.


  • Squat lower to avoid knee issues and to build more stable knees.
  • Squatting increases growth hormone and thus IGF-1 levels – leading to hyperplasia and growth and fat loss
  • Squatting increases androgen levels leading to growth
  • You shouldn’t lock out your knee at the top of the squat – that prevents knee damage and keeps tension on the muscles for longer.

Written by Shiva, a med student with an interest in bodybuilding and powerlifting.

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One comment on “The Anatomy of The Squat

  1. Pingback: The Anatomy of The Squat | ANATOMY

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