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I believe in balancing the amount of exercise that I give to each muscle group, but recently it occurred to me that my leg muscles might be imbalanced. More than anything, squats are the number one leg workout I do; they are in almost all of my routines. Given that, I was worried that I might be potentially overtraining certain muscles by having such a large focus on squats.

If squats are my primary leg exercise, what leg muscles do I need to focus on to in order to avoid muscle imbalances?

EDIT: I do medicine ball squats (squat down to 90 degree angle with hands extended holding a medicine ball). I would prefer to do barbell squats, but do not have a barbell rack...

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What kind of squats are we talking about? And what other lifts do you do? More detail about your situation makes for better answers. –  Dave Liepmann Mar 20 '12 at 2:08
    
@DaveLiepmann see my edit for the type of squat I do (I'm not sure if there is a name for it, so I did my best to describe it). –  Moses Mar 20 '12 at 3:07
    
Where is the 90 degree angle measured between? –  Dave Liepmann Mar 20 '12 at 3:30
    
@DaveLiepmann my legs and butt are forming the 90 degree angle –  Moses Mar 20 '12 at 4:35
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2 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Squats are a closed kinetic chain exercise, training the entire posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, spinal erectors), in co-contraction with your quadriceps, abductors, and abs. If you're doing proper, below parallel, knees-out squats, you won't be developing any muscle imbalances in your legs.

The Starting Strength training program and Stronglifts 5x5 both advocate squats being part of every lifting session.

Both of those programs also include deadlifts, not really to address muscle imbalances, but to engage a lot of the same muscles worked by the squat with much heavier loads, and some extra emphasis on the back.

Starting Strength also includes Power Cleans, also not to address imbalances, but to develop power from the legs and hips (instead of just strength).

I mention these programs because they are widely considered to be complete strength training programs, and they focus almost solely on the squat for strength training of the legs. Variants of the Starting Strength program even have deadlifts placed only every 5th workout (see Chapter 8 of the 3rd edition).

If you want additional exercises to assist you in your squats, Starting Strength suggests glute/ham raises, but only in as much as it will assist the main lift, and these are not suggested until your squat has developed quite a bit on its own.


Noticing that you're starting using medicine ball squats rather than a barbell, the only difficulty will be progressively loading the exercise to make it more difficult each workout. You can try heavier medicine balls, switch to dumbbells or kettlebells for a goblet squat, do them more explosively (jump squats, for example), and dumbbell single-leg squats.

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Properly performed full squats are not unbalanced. (Also, I doubt that a medicine ball is heavy enough to produce any muscular imbalance anyway.) I worry somewhat that the 90 degree angle you describe is not deep enough, so I advise you to read this history of squat depth recommendations. Squat deep, with the crease of the hip getting lower than the top of the knee (or even lower), and you will avoid the muscle imbalances and knee injuries that result from shallow squats.

The squat doesn't overtrain a particular articulation of any joints. For instance, too much bench pressing is known to cause shoulder issues, since only one side of the shoulder's musculature is developed. (Pulling exercises such as rows and chin-ups are advised in that case.) In contrast, the squat develops the abs and back in tandem, as well as the quads, glutes and hamstrings, and all the other myriad leg muscles. There's no one-sidedness to squatting that I know of.

However, a well-designed long-term program should involve many things. I find it more productive to divide up the exercises by types of movement instead of muscle groups, unless there's a problem with a specific muscle. Dan John lays out five fundamental human movements:

If you're hitting all five of those, you'll either discover or fix any imbalances you might have.

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That's a very interesting point about the five fundamental human movements. –  Moses Mar 20 '12 at 22:52
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