Strong muscles of the lower body improve athletic and everyday movements like walking, running, and jumping. Lower body stamina helps you to sustain your effort over a long period of time – be it for a marathon or trying to keep up with a toddler.
A simple way to measure lower body strength is with a squat test. Squats are a functional exercise, mimicking the movements of everyday activities, such as sitting down, standing up, lifting, taking the stairs, and getting in and out of your car, it is also a reflection of how easy it is for you to move around and stay active in your everyday life.
Why Do the Squat Test?
Along with your core, your lower body is the cornerstone of functional movement and balance. If you have poor lower body strength, you start using your body in other ways – ways in which it was not designed. Other parts of your body compensate to make up for the lower body weakness, which throws the rest of the body out of whack.
Weak or tight lower body muscles can lead to posture problems such as sway back and lower cross syndrome. An imbalance of the opposing muscles in the lower body (e.g. hamstrings and quadriceps) or between the dominant and weaker sides of your body (i.e. right and left leg) increases the risk of discomfort, pain and injury. 1
This imbalance happens when some muscles are repeatedly used and overdeveloped. It makes them too strong (relatively speaking), while other muscles may become weak. Essentially almost any everyday scenario can be a culprit.
Muscular imbalances can be caused by sitting all day with poor posture, crossing your legs in the same way every day, carrying a bag on one shoulder, a job requiring repetitive motion, favoring one side of your body over the other, or exercising. Runners are notorious for having muscle imbalances and cycling is another culprit. Unbalanced workouts that favor some muscle groups and neglect opposing muscle groups can also lead to muscular imbalances.
How to Perform the Test
What it tests: Strength and endurance of the lower back muscles, hip muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, and smaller supporting muscles.
What do do: Perform a short warm-up. Then complete as many squats as you can with proper form until you are fatigued. Record the number of reps you achieved.
Safety: Before this test, make sure you are able to perform squats safely and with proper form. Stop the test as soon as you are no longer able to squat with correct form. If you feel pain, dizziness, or otherwise unwell stop the test.
Go to the fitness test guide for more.
How to Do Squats
- Starting position: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Look ahead and slight down. To stabilize your body, extend your arms in front of you with your hands clasped together.
- The move: Bend your knees, push your hips down and back, and press your heels into the floor. Keep your chest up and do not round your back.
- Once your knees are bent to about 90 degrees, stop and push back up to starting position.
To make sure you’re squatting low enough, you can place a chair behind you. Simply squat as if you were about to sit in the chair, but only lightly touching it as you squat down.
Squat Test Scores
Compare your results to the norms below4
These scores are based on performing the test as instructed above. The test scores will be less accurate if the test is modified, such as squatting higher or deeper. However, the key aim is to improve your own score over time and help you assess how your training is progressing.
How to Improve Lower Body Strength
Strengthen your lower body by including bilateral exercises in your strength training such as squats and deadlifts. Also include some unilateral exercises to zero in on and correct muscle weaknesses.
It is important to include unilateral moves in your workout, because when you perform bilateral exercises with a muscle imbalance the weaker area might be compensating by recruiting the wrong muscles to execute the movement or the stronger area might be overcompensating. This can worsen the muscle imbalances and lead to pain and injury of the overworked strong muscles, the weak under-developed muscles, or the muscles that jumped in to help out. Unilateral exercises nix that.
Therefore, include a few unilateral strength exercises in all your workouts. Start each exercise using your weaker side and then perform the same number of repetitions with your stronger side. Great moves include split squats, single-leg glute bridges, single-leg reverse lunges, single-leg deadlifts, and single-leg step ups.
Another common imbalance is overly strong quadriceps (front of thigh) and comparatively weak hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes. Correct and prevent this imbalance by performing the same number of exercises for your hamstrings and glutes as for your quadriceps. Exercises that target the hamstrings and glutes include deadlifts, glute bridges, hip thrusts, and donkey kicks.