Squats are an exercise which are included in almost every training program out there, however, without great form and full range of movement, the squat is ineffective. Breaking down the squat into the basic movements and really focussing on the technique will help you progress with the movement, increasing the strength, power, and flexibility throughout. And the benefits don’t stop there.
The squat is the ultimate bilateral (two leg), lower body exercise. This movement requires strong abdominals to maintain posture, and strong muscles in the legs to carry out the movement. The body is required to counter balance itself as you lower your hips, and then re-balance as you stand back up. It is a highly practical movement which can be applied to daily movement – sitting on a chair and standing up. Weighting a squat builds strength in the legs, abdominals, and is one of the most effective ways of boosting the metabolism as the big muscles have large energy demands.
When doing a squat, start standing with tall posture, and your feet just a little wider than hip width apart. Engage your abdominals to help maintain the posture and push your bum back a little as you start to lower your hips. To practice, sit down onto a chair and then stand back up without using your arms to help you. Rather than resting your weight on the chair at the bottom of the movement, just touch the chair and the press back up through the heels and balls of your feet. Now find a lower chair and complete this again. Keep doing so until your hips are coming below the level of your knees. With squats it is important to ensure your weight is going back into your heels and that your knees are not moving forward over your toes. Always keep your abdominals tight and your back flat, which can be achieved by thinking about keeping your chest up.
Those with poor knees or who feel pain or discomfort during the movement need to check their form. Squats are a great exercise for reducing knee pain because they help to strengthen up the quadriceps and hamstrings which are responsible for the positioning of the knee joint. Don’t let the knees come forward and practice lowering and pressing back up with control throughout the movement.
To make the movement more difficult, a squat can be weighted with dumbbells, kettle bells or a barbell and plates. It is important to maintain the same form and a technique with the weight coming back into your heels (your heels must NOT lift up off the floor at any point throughout the movement). For full range of movement, lower the hips down to just below knee height before pressing back up. Do not sacrifice good form and full range of movement for weight, this can increase the risk of injury and lessens the positive effects on your muscles. Remember to keep the chest up, shoulders back and weight back into your heels.
Lastly, squat jumps can be added in. Squat jumps start as a regular squat, taking the weight back and down, instead of just pushing back up as normal, a squat jump requires power from the bottom of the movement to get as high into the air as possible. Make each jump on its own, set up and start again every time. Try to land as soft and gently as possible to keep the weight and pressure out of the knees.
Following squats it is important to consider stretching and foam rolling to ease the muscle tightness. Remember that all of your leg muscles work during this movement so you need to stretch each one afterwards.
Have a read of our foam rolling guide to learn exactly how to self massage your thigh muscles!
Squats are a fantastic strength building exercise which should be part of most work out programs – the benefits gleaned compared to the time spent makes them well worth it. They build strength, improve muscle mass, and help to improve mobility and flexibility. Building strength in your legs, particularly for women, is a slow process and requires patience and dedication, however, the benefits are fantastic in both health and bodyshape.
Connect with The Active Lifestyle today!