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What Are Bench Squats?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bench squats are strength-building exercises that target the muscles of the legs. Sometimes favored over regular squats by individuals with knee problems, bench squats allow the exerciser to build leg strength without worrying about sinking too low into the squat or having the knees give out at the bottom of the squat. Although bench squats can help with these issues, it is still important that anyone lifting heavy weights enlist the help of a spotter to avoid getting injured.

A single bench squat is performed by standing in front of a chair or bench, sitting back until the glutes touch the surface of the bench, and then standing back up. Beginners sometimes start with no added weight, but most bench squats are performed with extra weight to challenge the leg muscles and promote muscle growth. This extra weight is typically a weighted barbell held across the back, although other positions and other weights are also possible. Doing a few bench squats with light weight or no extra weight at the beginning of a workout may help beginners practice good squatting form, because touching the bench correctly requires sitting back instead of sinking straight down, as some inexperienced weight lifters do. Additionally, this practice with light or no weight serves as a good warmup before starting a bench squat or deep squat exercise with heavier weights.

When doing bench squats, especially under the added stress of a barbell or other form of weight, it is important to use slow, controlled movements to touch down gently, rather than plopping down onto the bench quickly and then standing back up. Sitting too quickly robs the leg muscles of the workout of lowering the weight slowly. It can also cause a large enough impact, especially when done repetitively, to damage the spine.

Some people use bench squats in place of regular squats or leg presses, while others use them as a means to work up the leg and knee strength before they can move on to these more common exercises. One reason some people choose to eventually move on from bench squats is that squatting onto a bench does not challenge the leg muscles throughout the full range of motion. Additionally, some people may use the bench as a support, rather than as a guideline to gently touch before standing back up again. Removing the bench and sinking lower into the squat works the legs much harder and, for some fitness enthusiasts, is a more worthwhile muscle-building exercise.

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