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Squats strengthen and tone the hip and thigh muscles, including the hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteus maximus. To do a squat, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms straight out to the front. Bend at the hip and knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor, then return to the standing position.
Four muscles form the hamstrings, giving shape to the back of the thigh. The semitendinosus, semimembranosus and long head of the biceps femorus attach to the ischial tuberosity, which is the part of the pelvic bone you sit on and run down to the top and rear portions of the tibia and fibula, the two bones of the lower leg. The short head of the biceps femoris doesn't attach to the hip bone, only to the femur, which is the thigh bone, and the fibula. The hamstrings are hip extensors and knee flexors, which mean they straighten the hip and bend the knee. You use the hamstrings primarily as you lower your body during the squat.
Four muscles make up most of the front of your thigh. The rectus femoris starts at the pelvic bone just above the hip. Vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius start on the top and front portions of the femur. All four muscles merge to form the quadriceps tendon, which attaches the quadriceps to the kneecap. The patellar ligament attaches the kneecap to the tibia and fibula. The quadriceps are knee extensors and the rectus femoris is also a hip flexor, bending the hip. You work the quadriceps when you straighten your knees and raise your body up out of the squat.
The gluteus maximus muscle forms the buttocks. It runs from the pelvic crest, or the upper back portion of the pelvic bone, and the sacrum, which is the bone that forms the base of the spine, down to the back and top part of the femur. Gluteus maximus is a hip extensor so squats work your gluteus when you return to the standing position.
Using proper form improves the squat. ExRx.net advises to keep your head facing forward with your back straight and your chest high. According to the American Council on Exercise, keep your heels flat on the floor and your knees aligned with your second toe as you perform a squat. Don't let your knees go below an imaginary line parallel to the floor. Inhale as your lower your body and exhale as you return to the standing position.