Of all the exercises you can choose from, arguably the best of the bunch is the squat. Performed with a barbell, dumbbells or even with just your bodyweight, squats offer more benefits than just about any other exercise. You only have to consider the number of muscles utilized in the squat to realise that this exercise reigns supreme as the king of exercises! I would list the muscles used in squats but a) some of them have very long and hard to spell names and b) I don’t want to bore you anymore than absolutely necessary. Needless to say, squats work just about every muscle in your lower body and a great many in your upper body. The bottom line, pun intended, is if you want a lower body worth showing off, you gotta squat!
In sports, the squatting movement forms the foundation of almost every lower body action including jumping, running, throwing and sprinting. The muscles used in squats are the very same ones that propel you skywards when trying (unsuccessfully in my case) to dunk a basket ball or sprint in a breakaway in cycling. Squats are a cornerstone of almost every athletes training programme and are also a superior strength and muscle mass building tool. Workout programmes have long relied on heavy squats for packing muscle onto skinny frames. High repetition squats combined with heavy weights and a high milk intake was THE workout of choice long before Bodypump came on the scene.
Squats aren’t just a super-duper exercise – squatting is also a primal movement pattern that’s part of many physical tasks you perform throughout the day. From the moment you get up in the morning to when you finally fall into bed, your day is a long series of squats, squats and yet more squats. Picture yourself getting out of bed, walking down stairs, sitting in your chair, getting in and out of your car, bending down to pick up your kids…now do you see what I mean?!
Hot to Squat
So if squats are so great, why do relatively few exercisers actually perform them? We’ve seen that they are an essential daily movement pattern and that performing squats as an exercise can condition just about every muscle in your lower body so why, when I go to the gym, are more people doing biceps curls in my beloved squat rack (a crime punishable by banishment in some countries) than actually squatting? I think there are a number of reasons for this…
Squats are hard to learn and teaching someone to squat effectively and well requires experience, patience and time – something many gym staff are severely lacking. The squat is a technically demanding exercise and, when push comes to shove, it’s easier to hop on the leg press and get an instant workout than spend a few weeks mastering a more complex albeit effective exercise. Then there is the worry about squats and injury, to which I say TOSH! If performed properly, squats will actually enhance knee and lower back health. Squats, properly performed, are not bad for your knees or back. Yes, squatting 250 kilos is not without risks but if you are lifting this much weigh t, you are squatting for a whole different reason than the average gym goer. For the rest of us mere mortals, squats with a moderate weight are enhancing and not detrimental to health. Finally, squats are hard work! A high rep set of squats will have your heart pumping and lungs heaving. There is no such thing as an easy squat workout.
So, you are coming around to my way of thinking and want to either start squatting or want to make sure you are squatting properly. Follow these instructions and focus on technique before you worry about loading. The BOLD texts are teaching cues that you should say to yourself as you squat to help cement the correct techniques in your brain. I’m focusing on the barbell back squat as it is the most challenging of the commonly performed squatting variations…
- Rest the barbell on your upper back, on or below your trapezius muscles – never rest the bar on your neck. Lower is better when it comes to barbell placement in the back squat
- Hold the bar with as narrow a grip as your shoulder flexibility allows. This makes your upper back muscles bunch up and provides additional support and cushioning
- Pull the bar down onto your shoulders and hold it tightly!
- Step back out of the squat rack and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes slightly outwards
- Lift your chest, tightly arch your lower back, and squeeze your abs!
- Push your knees out and try to “spread the floor” with your feet!
- Distribute your weight evenly between your heels and forefoot
- Hips then knees!
- Push your hips back, bend your knees and descend until your hips are approximately level with your knees. Do not let your lower back arch. Look directly forwards at all times
- Drive down through your heels and keep your chest up!
- Extend your knees and hips while initially maintaining the angle of your torso and then standing upright
- Exhale once you have returned to the start position, reset and repeat
Needless to say, I’d love to teach each and every one of you how to squat personally but alas, my super power is the ability to eat multiple packets of biscuits and not inter-dimensional time travel. There are, however, plenty of good books, online videos and instructional articles on the web if you feel you need more information on the squat. You could always ask your local PT or gym instructor to show you how to perform this exercise but if they fail to use at least some of teaching cues listed above, I suggest going elsewhere. In the “old days”, the squat was a compulsory lift taught in most if not all fitness qualifications but sadly, this is no longer the case.
Right, I’m off to squat. I hope, at least once in the next seven days, you’ll be joining me!
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