Last updated on November 8th, 2022 at 12:42 pm
Have you ever wondered, “Where Should I Be Sore After Squats?”
The squat is typically viewed as the King of Lower Body Exercises.
Actually, scrap that, squats are often said to be the King of ALL exercises.
Squats work a number of the largest muscles in the body, as well as training the Central Nervous System.
So, it’s easy to see why they’re held in such high regard.
However, it’s important that such a “big” exercise is performed well, and the correct muscles are being targeted.
So, where exactly should you feel sore after squats?
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Where Should I Be Sore After Squats?
The main muscles worked during squats are the quadriceps, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings. So, it is not uncommon to feel some form of soreness in these muscles. However, there are various secondary muscle groups also worked during squats, i.e. spinal erectors, hips and hip flexors, abdominals and obliques, upper back and lats, and calves. So, you may also “feel” these muscles after squats.
Firstly, before I get into the various muscle groups targeted during the squat, it’s important to realise that not feeling sore doesn’t equate to the muscles not being worked.
When you start using a new exercise there is generally some form of soreness associated with this.
However, as you get more used to the exercise, even if you’re adding weight, you may no longer feel the same type of soreness.
The effects usually vary for different people.
So, if you’re not feeling sore don’t worry, as long as you’re performing the squat with good form then the muscles are being worked.
With that being said, the primary muscle worked during squats are the quadriceps.
So, it is perfectly normal to feel sore in the quads after you squat (and don’t forget it is also perfectly normal not to feel sore too).
You can make squats more quad-dominant with certain variations, e.g. high-bar squat, front squat, landmine squats, Bulgarian split squats, etc.
The Most Scientific Way to Train Quads
The adductors (inner thigh muscles) work extremely hard during squats.
Adductor soreness after squats is often mistaken for the hamstrings, simply because many of us don’t realise the role of adductors in the squat.
In fact, many people will complain of groin or hamstring soreness after squatting and this is actually the adductors letting you know how hard they’ve been working.
The European Journal of Physiology actually conducted a study on the effects of squatting at different depths.
However, it was interesting to discover that the adductors had the second biggest muscle volume increase out of all the muscles worked during the squat over a 10-week period.
The moral of the story, it’s perfectly natural to feel soreness in the adductors after squats.
The glutes are the largest muscle in the human body and they definitely get a good going over during squats.
However, the very fact that they are such a large muscle will mean that some of you may never actually feel squats in your glutes.
With that being said, there are probably as many of you who feel glute soreness after squats.
Once again it is a case of different strokes for different folks.
The glutes actually work extremely hard from the bottom of the squat, and are the major driving force (along with the adductors) to get you back into a standing position.
You can of course perform certain types of glute-dominant squats to target the muscles more, e.g. Sumo squats, split squats, jump squats, goblet squats, etc.
Squats – Glute Building Tip
I’ve already spoken about adductor soreness often being mistaken for the hamstrings.
But, that’s not to say that the hamstrings don’t get worked during the squat.
The hamstrings play a dual role in the squat.
Firstly, they support the glutes during hip extension as you rise up from the bottom of the squat.
Plus, the hamstrings also support the knees as a stabilizing muscle at the bottom of the squat.
With that being said, the hamstrings should typically only contract by a small amount.
This realistically means that you shouldn’t feel much hamstrings soreness after squats.
The main issue as I see it is poor technique.
You will often see people push the hips back too far at the bottom of the squat.
In fact, their body position will typically be more reminiscent of the Good Morning exercise.
This immediately brings the hamstrings much more into play.
The main reason this happens is because you’re probably trying to squat too much weight.
Remember the torso should remain fairly upright throughout the entire squat movement.
5. Spinal Erectors
The main role of the spinal erectors during squatting is to ensure that the spine stays stiff.
So, in essence, the erectors should stop you from excessively rounding the back.
If you do find that the back rounds during the squat you will be putting a lot of stress on the lower back.
In fact, this is generally why people complain that their lower back hurts after squats.
I mentioned above that the hamstrings will come into play if you lean the torso too far forward during the squat.
And this is what the erectors are there to stop.
Basically, your spinal erectors are working as hard as possible to keep the back rigid throughout the movement.
So, it’s not unheard-of for the erectors to feel sore after squats simply because of the amount of work they’ve had to do.
Plus, it is often spinal erector soreness that can be mistaken for a sore lower back.
You’ll definitely know the difference.
Upper Spinal Erector Exercise
6. Hips and Hip Flexors
You shouldn’t actually feel any soreness in the hips or hip flexors during squats.
In fact, quite the opposite.
However, if you are feeling it in these areas, this typically points to poor technique or incorrect body positioning.
It is the hip extensors, i.e. glutes, adductors, and hamstrings, that bear the brunt of the squat for the hips.
However, if you are performing the “good morning” type squat that I mentioned earlier, you have in effect turned the movement into a hip-hinge exercise.
So, this could cause soreness in the hips.
At the bottom of the squat your hip flexors should actually be relaxed.
With that being said, I know many people who complain of tight hip flexors and feeling sore whenever they squat.
This could point to the fact that your torso or your feet are positioned incorrectly.
So, it’s probably time to check your technique when squatting.
The hip flexors are a tiny group of muscles, and yet they control so much of what we do.
7. Abdominals and Obliques
The abdominals and obliques act as stabilizing muscles during the squat.
They help to stabilize the spine and pelvis.
Whereas, the erectors help to stop the lower back from rounding, the abdominals and obliques are there to stop the lower back from arching.
Basically, they help your joints to stay aligned during the movement.
There is more work for the abdominals and obliques to do during front loaded squats.
These include font squats, goblet squats, zercher squats, and zombie/Frankenstein squats.
In fact, your abs and obliques get a thoroughly good workout, especially with front loaded squats.
So, if ever you’ve felt ab soreness after squats now you know why.
8. Upper Back and Lats
You wouldn’t think that the upper body would have much to do with a lower body exercise such as the squat.
However, the upper back and lats help to stabilize the core and keep the bar in a fixed position.
If you have a weak or tight upper back and lats the barbell is likely to make small movements every time you squat.
This will force the abdominals and erectors to work twice as hard in order to maintain the bar position.
Plus, just the fact that you are supporting a heavy load and the way you hold the bar during squats will tense the upper back and lats.
You shouldn’t feel any specific soreness in these areas when you squat, but if you do, this may point to the fact you have tight lats.
4 Cues For Upper Back and Lat Tightness in the Squat
The calves do have a small role to play in squats.
At the bottom of the squat your ankles will flex and the shins move forward.
When you push back up from the bottom of the squat it is the soleus muscle of the calves that helps the shins to become vertical once more.
The calves typically need a lot more work than they receive during squats to feel sore.
However, it’s not unheard-of for your calves to feel sore are very heavy or extremely high volume squats.
Just the fact that they have a role to play, no matter how small, means that the calves are being worked during squats.
If you find that your calves are overly sore after squats this could point to a potential weakness in the calf muscles.
So, hopefully you have a better idea of where you should feel sore after squats.
As I’ve mentioned, “feeling sore” shouldn’t be the aim when you’re lifting.
But, as we all know, it can occur.
The primary muscles worked during the squat are the quads, adductors, glutes, and hamstrings.
So, this is typically where you’ll feel sore first.
However, as you can see there are many other muscle groups at work when you squat.
This means that it’s not unheard-of to “feel” these other muscles groups too.
Here’s something that will interest you, as I’ve recently spoken about whether lunges can replace squats.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.