No matter what your workout goals are, you absolutely have to squat. That is what every trainer will tell you. There are many variations and when you begin you will feel that you have worked out your muscles. Especially the next day! But enjoy the sweet pain of knowing your muscles are becoming stronger.
What is Squat Exercise?
So what exactly is a squat exercise. It is a strength building exercise in which you lower your hips until they almost touch the ground and then stand back up. Sounds easy, right? But there are some things you have to be careful about to get the maximum benefit from doing squats (discussed below). When you move down your knee and hip joints flex and when you move back up they extend. And it is not just these two joints. Your ankles also do a lot of work in this simple movement.
Squats are also the foundational exercise for building size and strength in the lower body as well as the core which works to stabilize you. The primary muscles used are the quads which are located in the front of your thighs, the adductor magnus which are located in the side of the thigh and the glutes which are the hip muscles. While it may not look it you also use muscles around your spine and in your abdomen by keeping your back straight and keeping your stomach tight while you move.
How to do Squat Exercise?
To do a basic squat you do not need any extra equipment. All you have to do is stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor hip distance apart. Your feet should not go beyond your shoulders. Your toes should be slightly turned outwards. With your spine straight, shoulders back, and chest up, send your hips back. Then bend your knees as you lower even more until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Make sure your spine stays neutral, your chest should not be collapsing inwards nor should your lower back be arched. Press through your heels to stand back up and then repeat. Use a mirror to check if your form is correct.
To help keep your balance you can hold your hands clasped together close to your chest or extending straight ahead parallel to the ground.
When it comes to strength training there are two basic ways of determining how often and how many sets of exercises you should do. If your goal is to build endurance then you should do squats using your bodyweight or lighter weights. You can do 3 to 4 sets of 12 reps 3 to 4 times a week. But if you want to build strength then you keep increasing weights while doing squats and do sets of maximum 6 reps. You can do this 2 to 3 times a week so that you give your muscles plenty of time to recover. If you keep taxing them everyday it might lead to injury. Your muscles repair and become stronger during the rest period.
Tools Used for Squat Exercise
As said above, the basic squat does not require any equipment. That is the beauty of it. But you can add weights depending on your goals. The most common is a padded barbell on your shoulders while you squat. But if you don’t want to put pressure on your shoulders then you can instead hold a kettlebell or a dumbbell in your hands in front of you while you do it.
Squat Exercise Variations
There are many squat variations so that you never get bored or run out of challenges. From the sumo squat to the pistol squat you will always have something to aim for. To start you can add weights by doing a dumbbell or a goblet squat. The latter involves holding a dumbbell vertically or a kettlebell between your hands near your chest as you do the squats while in the former you hold a dumbbell towards your face in each hand with elbows bent at a right angle.
If you want variations without weights there is the jump squat in which after you move back into an upright position you raise your arms and jump in place and then move back down into a squat. The deep squat is the same as a basic squat except you move your feet wider than your shoulders which makes it a bit easier on your knees to do a squat.
Most Effective Squat Warm-up (Pre Workout, Post Workout)
For warm up specifically for squats there are a couple of exercises you can do. For instance, a glute bridge will help activate your glutes. Lay on the ground with your knees bent and feet close to your body. Lift your hips off the floor and squeeze your glutes. At this stage your body should form a diagonal line from the knees to shoulders. Slowly lower back to the floor. Repeat this ten times. You can level up by keeping one leg elevated and hold the bridge with one leg. Alternate between the legs.
Another warm up exercise you can do is tabletop hip extension. Start with your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders and your knees on the floor directly under your hips. Pull your belly up towards the spine and keep your spine in a neutral position. Activate your glutes and lift one leg and the opposite arm simultaneously. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat ten times before switching to the other leg and arm.
For cooling down after workout you should do some stretches. Here are a few:
Start with a raised plank and then lift your hips up into the air. Keep your arms and legs extended and hold your head between your arms, peering at your feet. Hold for 30 seconds.
Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms outstretched horizontally. Move your right leg over the left with your thighs making a right angle. To deepen the stretch, turn your head to look at your right side. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch to the other leg.
Standing quad stretch
This is the most common stretch you may have seen runners do before they start jogging. You simply use your hand to press your feet into your glutes, knee bent completely. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Squat Safety Precautions
While we live in the age of YouTube tutorials if you are a beginner it will be helpful to have a trainer especially if you want to incorporate weights. If a trainer is unavailable ask a friend to spot you when you are first starting to use heavier weights using a barbell on your shoulders. You should avoid any jerky movements and instead keep the motion as smooth and controlled as possible. Holding muscle tension and staying concentrated on your lift will also help increase squat safety.
Squat Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Warming up before any exercise is important but particularly so for those involving weights. Warm up could include running or light cardio. Just keep RAMP in mind. RAMP stands for:
R: Raise body temperature and heart rate.
A: Activate key muscle groups.
M: Mobilize joints.
P: Potentiate—perform the exercise at 10% intensity for a brief span as preparation for the actual exercise
- Make sure you start your squat by moving your hips back and not moving the knees down. This increases risk of knee injury and puts more pressure on the quads instead of the glutes.
- Throughout your movement your knees should never go beyond your toes.
- If you do squats with heavy weights it is recommended that you hold your breath while rising and exhale when you’re fully upright. This helps core stability and protects the spine when holding heavy loads.
Squat Exercise Pre & Post Workout Recovery
Resting between strength training is important. So before you jump into another workout see if you have put at least 24 hours between the last time you worked out those muscles. During this resting time a calf massager as a post workout recovery tool works wonders. You can also include a foam roller in your cool down routine to decrease soreness and cramps.
Apart from this you should ensure you’re hydrated pre and post workout. While your muscles repair they need protein as well as carbohydrates so don’t skip out on meals.
Squat Exercise is Good For
…basically your entire body but particularly for your lower body. It helps joint mobility so that even in older age your risk of joint problems will be reduced. It’s not just bodybuilders who do squats but most athletes do these especially runners. For people who spend a lot of time sitting down, our glutes are actually becoming weaker so it’s great for people who have desk jobs to include squats in their lives.