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September 12, 2023 7 min read

There may be no exercise more versatile than the trusted squat. It builds muscle, strength, power, and overall body coordination, and it has a place in almost all fitness routines.

However, doing the same squat exercise every time you work out could become mundane. That's where other varieties of the full squat come in, and one of the most effective alternatives is the squat pulse.

You can use squat pulses as part of a pre-workout dynamic stretch routine, a calorie-burning HIIT workout, or as a finisher at the end of your bodybuilding leg workout to get a good pump. Regardless of how you use squat pulses, they will be a worthy addition to your lower-body workouts.

What are Squat Pulses?

The pulse squat is a compound bodyweight exercise that only uses a partial range of motion (ROM), putting lower-body muscles under constant tension. While pulse squats are not the answer for building strength or extreme muscle size, they’re ideal for overloading your muscles when you don’t have access to a full range of training equipment.

When doing pulse squats, you stay in the bottom of the squat position, pulsing by making only one or two-inch up-and-down movements for the required number of reps before standing up with straight legs.

While it's a great way to boost muscle growth in the lower body, it burns loads of calories at the same time.

Muscles Worked by Squat Pulses

Although pulse squats can be regarded as a full-body exercise, the specific muscle groups they activate are listed below:

— Quadriceps: The quads are a group of muscles present on the front of the thigh. They comprise four distinct muscles: the rectus femoris, the vastus lateralis, the vastus intermedius, and the vastus medialis.

— Hamstrings: The biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus are the three hamstring muscles. They act together to flex your knees and expand your hips when you do pulse squats.

— Calf muscles: The calf muscles, made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, play a supportive, yet necessary role in squat pulses. They stabilize the ankle joints during the squatting motion, and they help maintain your balance as you pulse, and keep your heels grounded.

— Hip flexors: The hip flexors are a group of muscles that facilitate the flexing of the hip joint. The primary hip flexors are the rectus femoris, iliacus, psoas, iliocapsularis, and sartorius muscles. Their function in squat pulses is to stabilize and control the movement of your hips and pelvis.

— Glutes: The group of gluteus muscles, your buttocks, helps you maintain balance, control, and proper form throughout the squat pulses. They also play a crucial role in generating power for the up movement of your body during each pulse. Proper engagement of the glute muscles is essential for the maximum effectiveness of squat pulses.

— Abductors and adductors: The abductors and adductors are located on the inside and the outside of your legs, respectively. They prevent your knees from dropping in or out. The abductors are gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia latae, while the adductors are longus, brevis, and magnus.

— Core muscles: The core is a collective term for the different abdominals and obliques. During squat pulses, your core supports your spine. They work particularly hard when you add weights to your squat pulses.

How to Do Squat Pulses with Proper Form

Squat pulses are a bodyweight squat variation that uses a shorter range of motion than standard squats. However, muscle fiber engagement is intense, and while you perform squat pulses your lower body muscles won't have time to relax. Along with muscle gains and fitness benefits, pulse squats will benefit everyday activities such as walking and climbing the stairs. Here is a step-by-step guide for doing squat pulses with proper form.

Starting position:

  • Stand upright with your knees slightly bent, and your feet shoulder-width apart and turned slightly outward.

  • With your chest up, stretch your arms out in front of you, or place your hands on your hips.

  • Engage your core by bringing your rib cage down and slightly tucking your pelvis.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Keep your core tight, inhale through your nose, and then bend your knees, hips, and ankles to slowly lower yourself into a squat position.

  2. Align your shoulders directly over your hips, and your quads parallel to the floor.

  3. While you stay in this position, exhale as you drive your feet into the floor, rise a few inches, and descend again.

  4. Continue repeating this up-and-down pulsing motion for the required time or reps.

    The right number of sets and repetitions depends on whether you’re doing pulse squats with body weight or added resistance like bands or dumbbells,

    For the squat pulse using only body weight, begin with 2–3 sets of 8–15 repetitions.

    Base the number of sets and reps on your ability to maintain good technique throughout all sets and repetitions.

    Notes About Proper Form for Squat Pulses

    Squat pulses may seem like simple movements but being mindful of your posture is crucial. Incorrect form will target the wrong muscles and could lead to injuries.

    • If you are a beginner, it will be helpful to learn pulse squats from a certified personal trainer to prevent injuries.

    • Keep your shoulders directly over your hips while maintaining a neutral head and neck position.

    • Make sure not to drop your head downward, keep it up and face forward.

    • Keep your chin tucked throughout the movement.

    • Keep your chest high and your core engaged.

    • Do not round your lower back.

    • Distribute your weight evenly on your feet, from toe to heel.

    • Achieve a stable foot position by gripping the floor with your toes.

    • Keep the focus on your quads and glutes, they should remain tight while you are pulsing.

    • Don't allow your knees to cave in or fall out.

    • Keep your movements controlled and smooth – pulse, don’t bounce.

    • Lower yourself only as far as you can while maintaining a level pelvis.

    • Don’t forget to breathe through the movement.

    Benefits of Squat Pulses

    Though they might never replace traditional full squats in your overall exercising plan, squat pulses have some unique benefits worth considering. They are particularly valuable for those who want to improve their athletic performances.

    — Running and jumping: Squat pulses target the large leg muscles like the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, with less focus on stretching the hips and knees. This helps you to develop shorter strides, and if you're a sprinter, it will produce more running power.

    However, squat pulses do improve the flexibility of the hip and ankle joints, which can significantly improve the explosiveness of jumping off the ground and driving upward. The role of ankle strength in running and jumping power is often underrated, and the true importance of sprinting is explained by The Journal of Sports Medicine.

    — Convenience: You can do squat pulses anywhere, anytime because you need no equipment and very little space.

    — Easy to perform: Of all the squat variations, the pulse squat is one of the easiest to master, making it ideal for all, from beginners to gym junkies and fitness fanatics.

    — No set-up required: It takes only seconds to get going with a set of squat pulses. This makes them useful for circuit training, HIIT, supersets, and other rapid-fire training routines.

    — Knee joint-friendly: Done with proper form, squat pulses are joint-friendly. The partial ROM makes squat pulses less taxing on the knees than full squats.

    — Continuous Muscle Engagement: The targeted muscles are under constant activation throughout the squat pulse with no time to relax. This will boost your heart rate and burn more calories.

    — Muscle Pump: While squat pulses are often regarded as toning or conditioning exercises, they could trigger a great muscle-building pump. Especially at the end of a workout routine as a way to fully fatigue the muscles. Because the target muscles are under constant tension, blood flow is impeded, causing a rise in lactic acid production, which is how you get a muscle pump.

    — Calorie burner: Squat pulses are an effective way to burn calories, lose weight, and tone your body. A healthy body weight improves your functionality, reduces fatigue, and prevents health problems related to excess weight or obesity.

    For good progress with compound exercises and building body strength, make sure you incorporate proper warm-ups, cool-downs, rest, and nutrition into your workout program. Your ability to adequately recover from your workouts will play a significant role in the ultimate results of your hard work.

    Other Squat Variations

    As a lower-body workout, squat pulses are highly effective, and it’s good to remember that there are more squat variations to keep your workouts interesting. Some of those are:

    1. Goblet squat pulse: Challenge yourself and make bodyweight squat pulses harder by adding a dumbbell or kettlebell.

    2. Resistance band squat pulse: By using a resistance band, you can keep your body balanced and stable while building muscles as you keep them under tension.

    3. Plié squat pulse: Plié squats are ballet-inspired and involve squatting with a very wide stance. It is excellent for hip mobility improvement, while these squats also increase adductor or inner thigh engagement.

    4. Lunge pulse: Make the balance demand challenges higher by pulsing your lunges.

    5. Bulgarian split squat pulse: Bulgarian split squats will increase intensity as you put more weight on your front leg. Balance and hip mobility are essential for this squat version.

    6. Sumo squat pulse: Sumo squat pulses are done in a wider stance with your feet pointed out at a 45-degree angle. They target the muscles along your inner thighs more than standard squat pulses.

    In a Nutshell

    The squat pulse is an effective exercise for overall fitness and wellness. They put the burn on all the lower-body muscle groups. In the legs, squat pulses activate the hamstrings and glutes, while their primary target is the quads on the front of the upper legs. While all this pulsing happens, the core muscles are kept engaged throughout to maintain stability and keep you balanced.

    Bottom line: Squat pulses are a fun lower body exercise, easy to learn, and extremely effective for all.