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Plié Squats – Muscles Worked, How-To, Benefits, and Alternatives – Fitness Volt

As a personal trainer and an athlete, I always felt that you weren’t really training if you weren’t squatting. In…

By admint10m , in Arms , at August 28, 2021

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As a personal trainer and an athlete, I always felt that you weren’t really training if you weren’t squatting. In fact, one of my earliest coaches once told me that a workout was not a workout without squats!

Squats are a foundational exercise with so many benefits they’re almost impossible to list. Whether you want to get stronger, build muscle, or get leaner, a steady diet of squats will help. Squats are also a movement pattern that most people do many times a day. Sitting down and standing back up again, and getting in and out of your car are just two examples of daily squats.

That said, squats don’t have to mean resting and holding a barbell across your shoulders. In fact, that’s just one of dozens of squat variations you can use to build the lower body of your dreams.

So, to save you from more barbell back squats, in this article, we’re going to discuss a less performed squat variation – the plié squat – explaining how to do it, what muscles it works, its benefits, and the best alternatives.

Plié Squats Muscles Worked

Plié is a French term meaning to bend or bending. A plié is the take-off and landing position for most jumps in ballet. Ballet dancers would probably turn up their noses at plié squats as it’s pretty different to what you’ll see in something like Swan Lake!

However, while the plié squat bears little resemblance to the famous ballet movement, it’s still a very useful exercise.

Plie Squats Muscles Worked

The main muscles involved in plié squats are:

Quadriceps – located on the front of your thighs, the quads are actually four muscles that extend your knee and flex your hips. The four quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.

Hamstrings – opposite your quadriceps, the hamstrings flex your knees and extend your hips. There are three hamstring muscles; biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. The deeper you squat, the more active your hamstrings are.

Gluteus maximus – known as your glutes for short and located on the back of your hips, this is the largest and potentially strongest muscle in the human body. Its primary function is the extension of the hip.

Hip abductors – located on the outside of your hip and thigh, the abductors pull your femurs or thighs outward. They’re more active in plié squats than the narrower variation. The hip abductors are gluteus minimus and medius, and tensor fascia latae, or TFL for short. 

Hip adductors – adductor longus, brevis, and magnus are located on the inside of your thigh. They pull your femurs inward. Using a wide stance increases the range of motion of these muscles, which increases inner thigh activation. Most people do plié squats to target their inner thighs.

How to Do Plié Squats

Get more from plié squats while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum by following these guidelines:

  1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes outward to about 45 degrees. You can turn your feet out more if your flexibility allows. However, make sure this movement comes from your hips and NOT your knees. Your knees and toes should point in the same direction.
  2. Stand up tall, brace your abs, and look straight ahead. You can also raise your arms out to the side or in front of you for balance if you wish.
  3. Keeping your torso upright, bend your legs, push your knees out, and descend until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Try not to lean forward, and do not allow your lower back to round.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.

Plié Squats Benefits and Drawbacks

There are plenty of reasons to add plié squats to your lower body workouts, including:

Convenience

With no equipment required, you can do basic plié squats anywhere and anytime. They’re ideal for home workouts and, because they need minimal setup time, are also useful for things like circuit training and HIIT.

Good for developing endurance

If you value endurance over brute strength, the plié squat is an excellent exercise to choose. Using just your body weight means you’ll have to do high-rep sets to feel this exercise working, and that’s precisely how you develop endurance. This is a good exercise for runners, cyclists, and anyone else who wants to build tireless legs.

Better mobility and flexibility

The wide stance and large range of motion mean that plié squats are probably better than regular squats for developing better mobility and flexibility. If you spend a lot of time sitting, your hips are probably very tight. Doing plié squats are a good way to open and loosen your hips, potentially reducing hip pain.

Good for balance

Balance is your ability to keep your center of mass over your base of support. Balance tends to decline with age, increasing the risk of falls. It’s also a critical factor in most sports. Plié squats are a useful balance exercise as they involve squatting down while keeping your torso upright.

Variety

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with regular-stance squats, they do have a limited effect on your muscles, and using the same stance over and over can soon become boring. Adding plié squats to your lower body workouts means you can work your leg muscles slightly differently and ward off the boredom that could make your workouts less enjoyable and not as productive.

While plié squats are a mostly beneficial and safe exercise, there are also a few drawbacks to consider:

Knee stress

The plié squat position involves rotating your hips outward. This could increase knee joint stress. It’s not uncommon to feel pressure on the inside of the knee joint during plié squats and even knee pain. Some people do plié squats with their feet turned out so far that they form a straight line. This is not a good idea. Stick to about 45-60 degrees to minimize knee joint stress.

Limited overload

Plié squats are a bodyweight exercise, so, for resistance, you are limited to the weight of your upper body. As you get stronger, this may mean that plié squats start to become too easy to be effective. Yes, you CAN do more and more reps, but that may not be the most efficient use of your training time.

The good news is that there are more demanding variations of plié squats you can use to overload your muscles.

7 Plié Squats Variations and Alternatives

Use these plié squat variations and alternatives to keep your workouts productive and interesting, and avoid training ruts and progress plateaus:

1. Plié squat jumps

Plié squat jumps add an explosive element to what is usually a muscular endurance exercise. Jumping increases muscle power, which is your ability to generate force quickly. Whether you want to increase your vertical jump prowess or just feel like a ballet dancer, plié squat jumps could help.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes outward to about 45-degrees. Stand up tall, brace your abs, and look straight ahead.
  2. Keeping your torso upright, bend your legs, push your knees out, and descend until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Try not to lean forward, and do not allow your lower back to round.
  3. Explode upward and leap into the air as high as you can.
  4. Land back in your plié squat stance, knees slightly bent for shock absorption, and repeat.

2. Plié squat with a stability ball

A lot of plié squatters tend to lean forward, which makes this exercise less effective. One way to overcome this fault is to use a stability ball. The ball acts as an external cue to remind you to stay upright.

How to do it:

  1. Place a stability ball against the wall and lean against it so that it sits in the natural curve of your lower back. Adopt the plié squat position with your feet wide and turned out. Brace your core and look straight ahead.
  2. Keeping your back lightly pressed against the ball (don’t lean!), bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
  3. Stand back up and repeat.

3. Plié squat with heels raised

This plié squat variation works your calves to deliver a total leg workout. It also makes balancing harder.

Plie Squat With Heels Raised
Plie Squat With Heels Raised

How to do it:

  1. Adopt the standard plié squat position, with your feet wide and turned out. Brace your core and look straight ahead.
  2. Rise up onto your tiptoes.
  3. Without lowering your heels, bend your legs and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor.
  4. Stand back up and repeat.
  5. You can also raise and lower your heels between reps if you wish.

4. Plié squat with weight plate

If you’ve mastered bodyweight plié squats and don’t want to have to do even more reps to overload your muscles, this is the variation for you. Using a simple weight plate means you should be able to do this exercise at home or even the most badly equipped gym. Of course, you could also use a dumbbell or a kettlebell if you have one.

Perform plié squats as usual but hold your weight plate in front of your abdomen or chest. Make sure you brace your core even harder to compensate for the increased weight that is trying to pull you forward.

5. Wide stance barbell back squat

Wide stance barbell back squat

Powerlifters use the wide stance barbell back squat to make it easier to hit competition depth, engage more muscle fibers, and lift more weight. In essence, it’s a weighted version of the plié squat.

Because you can go hard and heavy with this exercise, it’s potentially better than plié squats for building brute strength and muscle size. Also, because you can progressively add more weight, you won’t end up doing dozens of reps per set to fatigue the target muscles.

Read more about wide stance barbell back squats here.

6. Sumo deadlift

Sumo Deadlift
Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift involves a wide stance that’s very similar to plié squats. Some lifters find sumo deadlifts more comfortable than conventional deadlifts, and many competitive powerlifters use sumo because they can lift heavier weights with their feet far apart. Either way, the sumo deadlift, much like the wide stance barbell back squats, is useful for adding weight to plié squats.

Find out how to do sumo deadlifts here.

7. Side lunge

Lateral Lunges
Lateral Lunges

The side or lateral lunge works all of the same muscles as plié squats, albeit one leg at a time. You can do side lunges using just your body weight for resistance, holding dumbbells, or with a barbell on your back. However you do it, the side lunge is an excellent alternative to plié squats that many people find more knee-friendly.

Check this guide to discover how to do side lunges.

Wrapping Up

Ballet dancers are renowned for their toned, powerful legs, and doing lots of pliés could be part of the reason why. The plié squat is an effective total leg exercise that you can do anywhere and anytime; no weights required.

There are also lots of exercises you can do as well as or instead of plié squats, so your workouts need never be repetitive or boring.

Squats should be part of everybody’s workout, but that doesn’t have to mean barbell back squats. Use plié squats to train your legs and develop better balance and mobility at the same time.

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