Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review

J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Apr;26(4):1169-78. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31822d533d.


The purpose of this article was to review a series of studies (n = 18) where muscle activation in the free barbell back squat was measured and discussed. The loaded barbell squat is widely used and central to many strength training programs. It is a functional and safe exercise that is obviously transferable to many movements in sports and life. Hence, a large and growing body of research has been published on various aspects of the squat. Training studies have measured the impact of barbell squat loading schemes on selected training adaptations including maximal strength and power changes in the squat. Squat exercise training adaptations and their impact on a variety of performance parameters, in particular countermovement jump, acceleration, and running speed, have also been reported. Furthermore, studies have reported on the muscle activation of the lower limb resulting from variations of squat depth, foot placement, training status, and training intensity. There have also been studies on the impact of squatting with or without a weight belt on trunk muscle activation (TMA). More recently, studies have reported on the effect of instability on TMA and squat performance. Research has also shown that muscle activation of the prime movers in the squat exercise increases with an increase in the external load. Also common variations such as stance width, hip rotation, and front squat do not significantly affect muscle activation. However, despite many studies, this information has not been consolidated, resulting in a lack of consensus about how the information can be applied. Therefore, the purpose of this review was to examine studies that reported muscle activation measured by electromyography in the free barbell back squat with the goal of clarifying the understanding of how the exercise can be applied.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / physiology
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Resistance Training
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*