A specialized leg exercise specifically utilized for the purposes of isolating the upper leg muscle groups without incorporating bone or connective tissue normally placed under mechanical stress during the more common squat exercise.
The kneeling squat is a somewhat common exercise either prescribed by physical therapists under the planning of a full physical rehabilitation routine or by athletic coaches in order to build the strength and size of an exerciser under their wing.
The kneeling squat, unlike the traditional squat, involves the individual remaining on their knees and significantly reducing their range of motion in comparison to the latter exercise. This presents several benefits for certain individuals with specific conditions or training requirements, though some other benefits of standing squats are exchanged in place of these.
The kneeling squat is a compound lower body exercise with a closed kinetic chain due to the fact that it keeps both the feet and hands firmly locked in place as the exercise is performed, with the compound exercise classification being present because of the multi-muscle group activation of the movement.
The kneeling squat can be performed with practically any form of free weight resistance equipment, such as a kettlebell or dumbbell, with the particular difference being simple individual preference and equipment availability.
This particular variation of the squat exercise is usually performed to either increase the relative resistance loading percentage of the glute muscles during the exercise, or to isolate the upper leg muscles without directly involving the ankle or knee joints, of which may be susceptible to injury in certain individuals.
Thus, the kneeling squat is an excellent exercise to use in terms of physical rehabilitation routines, wherein the patient must avoid placing significant mechanical stresses on the aforementioned connective tissue areas.
However, in individuals susceptible to back injuries or who possess punctured abdominal walls (and similar injuries), the kneeling squat is quite similar in terms of risk to the traditional squat, making it a poor choice if the patient or athlete possesses such conditions.
The kneeling squat should be performed in instances wherein a patient or athlete requires some level of training stimuli be induced in their leg muscles without the direct usage of their knees, ankles, or the muscles in their calves.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, the kneeling squat places a larger significance on the gluteus muscle groups, all the while retaining its compound status by simultaneously activating the hamstring and quadriceps muscles.
This sort of training stimuli may be suitable for athletes wishing to train their jumping height or similar tasks involving explosive glute power, alongside exercisers that wish to simply save time by inducing a level of hypertrophic growth and strength improvement in the entirety of their upper leg muscles.
To begin performing the kneeling squat, the exerciser must first choose an appropriate area with a suitably comfortable enough flooring to kneel on, even with the addition of excess weight. It is possible to place foam padding or a mat on the ground in order to facilitate this.
The exerciser will then position their resistance equipment of choice either near or above them so as to make it easy to retrieve and return at both ends of the set.
Kneeling on the mat with both legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart, the exerciser will extend their feet behind them while otherwise keeping their torso erect, tightening their core and maintaining a neutral spine by keeping the head facing forward in line with the spinal cord.
The exerciser will then grip the resistance equipment, either against their chest or at either side of the hips if using kettlebells and dumbbells, or by resting the bar against the shelf of the shoulders and back if using a barbell.
By dropping their hips down in a controlled manner, the exerciser will then begin the repetition, drawing their upper body downwards until the gluteus muscles touch the heels or come close to doing so, all the while retaining a straight back and a braced core.
This completes the eccentric portion of the repetition.
To begin the concentric portion of the movement, the exerciser will thrust their pelvis upwards and out by squeezing the glute muscles and tightening their core. If performed properly, this will have the effect of once more drawing the torso back into its original position, with the knees tucked almost parallel to the shoulders below.
This completes a single repetition of the kneeling squat, with subsequent repetitions simply requiring the motion be repeated until the completion of the set.
Being a compound exercise that activates the largest muscle groups found in the body, the kneeling squat is capable of inducing training stimuli in practically every muscle with an attachment point at the femur, as well as the three gluteus muscles and the subsequent smaller hip muscles, alongside various other minor stabilizing muscle groups.
Located at the front of the femur, hence its name, the quadriceps femoris is primarily responsible for both stabilizing the entirety of the body during the kneeling squat movement as well as providing a great deal of the force required to perform it throughout the entire repetition.
The quadriceps are at their most rested position at the bottom of the movement wherein the exerciser’s buttocks are pressed against the heels and the hips are slanted forwards at a minute angle, providing a second of shifting of the resistance load to other muscles, depending on the individual’s biomechanics.
Otherwise known as the buttocks muscles, the gluteus muscles are split into a trio of muscles which work in tandem in order to produce a forward thrusting motion in the hip as well as to stabilize the spine and torso during a variety of different movements.
The gluteus muscles are namely the gluteus medius, maximus and minimus, of which are folded atop one another in succeeding order.
During the performance of a kneeling squat, the glutes are active throughout the entire movement, acting as stabilizing muscles at the apex of the exercise while the individual is kneeling erect and contracting as they lower and raise themselves from the bottom of the repetition.
Also known as the posterior thigh muscular structures, the hamstrings are three muscles referred to as the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and the biceps femoris heads, all of which are responsible for the extension and adduction of the lower limbs.
In the performance of a kneeling squat, the hamstring muscles are activated eccentrically during the first face of the exerciser’s repetition, shortening as the exerciser brings their buttocks downwards, and once again tightening or contracting as they raise themselves back up, entering nearly full extension as the repetition is completed.
The hamstring muscles, while somewhat smaller than the quadriceps and with less responsibility than the glutes, are still found to be vital to the force exertion needed during a kneeling squat repetition, and as such also receives a significant amount of training stimuli from the exercise.
Though not primarily responsible for the majority of the force exerted during the exercise, a variety of miscellaneous other muscles acting in a stabilizing and protective capacity are all activated during the performance of a kneeling squat.
These muscles are primarily utilized by the body in order to protect itself from overextension and injury through the stabilization and reinforcement of the torso and spinal cord, as well as allowing minute resistance redistribution towards the larger primary mover muscles.
Muscle groups such as the various hip stabilizers, abdominal muscles and erector spinae are all activated during the entirety of the exercise for the very aforementioned purposes.
Like all variations of the traditional squat exercise, the kneeling squat provides a myriad of positive effects to any individual who chooses to perform it on a repetitive basis over the course of a period of time, such as is the case in practically every form of resistance exercise.
However, certain benefits are entirely native to the kneeling squat owing to its unique form and method of resistance loading, of which have been listed below, with the standard general exercise benefits already being a well-established common fact.
Due to the constant time under tension and power required in performing the kneeling squat, athletes wishing to increase their explosive strength and speed may find a substantial training benefit in the kneeling squat, especially basketball players or other sports athletes with a particular focus on their lower body’s explosive abilities.
Because of the unique form and stance of the kneeling squat during the entirety of its movement, it may present a significantly lower risk of inducing injury or overtraining, especially in comparison to other leg exercises that utilize similar levels of resistance.
This is all the more so in individuals with some level of flexibility in their hips and knees, of which are the primary contributors to any sort of injuries that may occur while performing this particular exercise.
As always, it is vitally important to first use a warm-up and stretching routine prior to attempting the kneeling squat, or any other exercise for the matter.
Considering the fact that the kneeling squat takes the majority of the connective tissue in the legs out of the equation, otherwise applying very little tension or stress to these joints, it should be no surprise that individuals with particular joint or connective tissue conditions may benefit from substituting other leg exercises for the kneeling squat.
Even in individuals with no susceptibility to joint injuries or connective tissue conditions, giving their knees and ankles a break for a short period may prove beneficial to their relative strength and flexibility.
Individuals may find the proper form of the kneeling squat rather unnatural at first, especially if they have ingrained the more traditional squat form into their muscle memory, and as such learning or re-learning the particular form cues involved in performing a kneeling squat may help reinforce the mind to body connection, improving the individual’s general function in daily life.
1. Arjaree Ausavanonkulporn, Kanyakorn Areekul, Wongwit Senavongse, and Chamaiporn Sukjamsri. 2019. Lumbar Spinal Loading during Stoop, Squat, and Kneeling Lifting: A Musculoskeletal Modeling Analysis. In Proceedings of the 2019 9th International Conference on Biomedical Engineering and Technology (ICBET' 19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 51–55. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3326172.3326210
2. Lorenzetti, S., Ostermann, M., Zeidler, F. et al. How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 10, 14 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7
3. Schoenfeld, Brad. (2010). Squatting Kinematics and Kinetics and Their Application to Exercise Performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 24. 3497-506. 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181bac2d7.