What Muscles Do Squat Thrusts Work?

Couple training in fitness studio exercising push ups

The squat thrust is a calisthenic exercise that targets several major muscles in the legs. Squat thrusts also work, to a lesser degree, muscles in the arms, stomach and chest. Additionally, squat thrusts are a good exercise for strengthening the heart muscle and building cardiovascular endurance. The squat thrust is a challenging exercise and beginners might need to obtain a doctor's approval and learn proper technique from a certified personal trainer before starting a vigorous exercise program that includes squat thrusts.

Target Muscles

The main muscles worked by doing squat thrusts are the muscles in the legs,. specifically the gluteus maximus, hamstrings and quadriceps. Exercises such as the squat thrust that target the leg muscles are important for building muscular endurance in the lower limbs. The legs are the largest group of muscles in the body and thus leg exercises possess significant potential for burning calories and losing weight. Building muscular endurance in the hamstrings, glutes and quads with squat thrusts also helps thwart fatigue in the legs from work or other daily, athletic or recreational activities that involve the legs.

Other Muscles

While squat thrusts primarily work the leg muscles, they can also be considered a "full-body exercise" because their execution requires some help from the triceps, pecs, abs and core muscles. Like other endurance exercises, if performed for a sufficient length of time, squat thrusts are also a cardiovascular activity that strengthens the heart muscle and works the respiratory and circulatory systems. Cardio exercise that strengthens the heart muscle is important for preventing heart disease and for overall good health. If you're unable to do more than a few squat thrusts when you first start training, you might want to start with an easier variation -- the alternating leg squat thrust -- which should allow you to exercise for a longer amount of time and thereby receive more cardio benefits.


To get a good squat thrust workout for your heart and leg muscles, follow proper form. To properly perform a squat thrust set, position your body as if you were about to do a pushup, with hands and toes on the floor, both about shoulder-width apart. This is also called the plank position. From plank, jump your feet up toward your hands in one motion so you are in a squatting position. Then, jump your feet back to plank. This is one rep. For best results, try to do one to three sets of eight to 15 repetitions. Some squat thrust variations also insert a pushup after the plank step or have you stand up after you jump to a squat. Include one or both of these variations for a more challenging workout.

Besides the squat thrust, other body-weight exercises that work the leg muscles include lunges, which target the quadriceps muscles, and squats, which target the glutes. While squat thrusts are ideal for building muscular endurance in the leg muscles, squats and lunges are better for building strength in these muscle sets. To increase the difficulty and strength-building potential of squats and lunges, experienced weight trainers can incorporate a barbell or dumbbells or do single-leg squats. Squat thrusts are also related to the burpee exercise. A burpee is a more challenging version of the squat thrust, in which you stand up and jump in between the squat and plank steps.