Slight modifications to your stance can shift squat focus to your quads or hamstrings.
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Squats are a standard part of fitness and bodybuilding regimens to develop the lower body. The movement focuses on development of the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings for tightening and toning of the legs and buttocks. With slight modifications to your stance, you can focus the work more on either the hamstrings or the quads.
Proper Squat Form -- A Must
Whether you're looking to target your quads or hamstrings with squats, correct form is essential in order to avoid injury and ensure you're focusing work on the right muscles. Make sure your tailbone stays back from the outset of the movement and through the full range of motion. Rounding the lower back forces the weight forward onto your toes causing injury to the ankles, knees and lower back. Keep the knees aligned over the ankles or toes as you bend the knees and push through the heels as you straighten the legs. Pushing through the toes instead of the heels forces all the weight forward and forces the knees to do the work instead of the muscles of the legs.
Quad Foward Focus
Squats, by nature, are a quadricep-dominant exercise but the hamstrings and glutes are also active. However, certain adjustments can be made to focus more of the work onto the quadriceps. If you take a narrower stance with the feet hip-width apart, the hips aren't able to flex as deeply and the thighs are forced to stop at 90 degrees or less. The reduced angle of the hips forces the work onto the quads limiting the action of the hamstring and glutes. Keeping the bar higher up on the trapezius, as done in Olympic-style squats, also focuses work onto the quadriceps by forcing the torso to maintain a more upright position. The upright position reduces that bend at the hips the same way a narrower stance does, focusing the work onto the quads.
Hitting the Hamstrings
The standard squat stance with the feet slightly wider than shoulder-width automatically focuses work onto the hamstrings. The hamstrings are activated through hip extension, meaning they're at their most active as you straighten your legs and extend your hips. The wider your stance is, the deeper your hips will flex, therefore, exaggerating hip extension and forcing your hamstrings to activate. This extends the hips over a greater range of motion as you straighten your legs. Placing the bar lower down on the back toward the shoulder blades, as done in power lifting squats, allows for a deeper bend at the hips and greater activation of the hamstrings. Also shifting the weight further back onto the heels as you straighten the legs forces activation of the hamstrings. However, lighter weight should be used to make sure you're able to control the weight shift without losing your balance or overcompensating with other muscles.
Front and Squat
Front squats are a modified version of the squat that focuses the majority of the work on the outer sweep of the quads. However, front squats demand a certain amount of established strength in the shoulders to hold the barbell against the clavicle with the elbows wide, and also require greater lumbar and flexibility in the knees. A lighter load is recommended if performing front squats to avoid over-taxing the upper body muscles used to hold the barbell. Be sure you are well familiar with a standard barbell back squat before attempting front squats.