Squats are one of the best exercises to do for a number of goals. If you want an improvement in at least one aspect of your life, squats can probably help.
So why should you do squats?
Firstly ask yourself, are you 100% happy with your fitness and health? I’ll take a bet you want an improvement in at least one aspect of your life, be it health, fitness, motivation, work or personal life.
Irrespective of their goal, people will make a change and start a fitness programme when the pain of not embarking on a training programme exceeds the pain of taking action and following a plan.
No matter what your motivation to exercise is, if you’re looking for an improvement in your life, exercise probably holds part of the solution. And if there’s just one single exercise that we are meant to perform, it is the squat. Before we look at why to squat, lets consider why people want to improve, and why they might exercise.
Why Exercise and Why Should I Squat?
Why Do You Need A Workout Plan?
People exercise for a whole host of reasons and since most people don’t actually enjoy exercise, are sedentary with only very low level exercise that is often more of an obligation than anything because you ‘know you should’, nine times out of ten results in disappointment.
Most people give up exercise after 4 weeks because they just don’t get the results they desire. So what would be the point in continuing this uncomfortable activity if you aren’t getting results?
Having a workout plan that is doable, fun and effective will help to ensure you stick to the plan, and you enjoy it (even if you dread exercise).
Most people would like to lose weight. I’d rather call it fat loss, but the multimillion dollar ‘weight loss’ industry is not only a reflection of the vast number of people who want to lose weight, but it is also a reflection of the poor results most people get and the failure the industry is based on resulting in slimmers’ jumping from one fad to the next.
Since there is no passion to exercise from most slimmers, and it is purely a means to a result, it is imperative to get rapid results from short workouts. The one single exercise that will give you anabolic response and rapid gains is indeed the squat!
Self Esteem And Image
So what happens to a slimmer once they reach their goal? Their entire life improves. They are confident, look and feel fab. They look in shop windows at their reflection with pride, and they are happy in their own skin. They are happy, and fundamentally, if they are my client at least, they will have been squatting at a basis for their results.
Weight training, and specifically squatting has been shown to improve the self-image and self esteem of the exerciser, specifically in women, and specifically lifting moderate to heavy weights.
Squatting makes you happy!
Squat For Better Sports Performance
Passionate sports people who have intrinsic motivations are driven and love to exercise and ‘train’ for their chosen sport. With a need to improve and the drive to succeed it is imperative the athlete performs effective training.
Other’s looking for sports performance might include inactive sedentary adults who have been inspired by something like the Olympics or the Tour De France, or by watching a friend or family member perform in a sporting event. They might have been roped into a charity marathon run or they may have hit a milestone birthday that has motivated them to do a challenge.
Whatever the reason, effective exercise has to get results, otherwise the exerciser will get bored, lose interest and quit. So what is the one exercise that has been shown consistently to improve endurance sports performance?
And what single exercise is fundamental to power athletes’ performance?
Yes, it’s the squat!
Injury Prevention And Injury Rehab
A result of ineffective training programmes, age, overuse, RSI, acute trauma or chronic lifestyle choices, injury and muscular skeletal pain, stiffness, and immobility can be traumatic, ongoing and can affect the mental and physical wellbeing of the injured person.
For the exerciser or rehabilitation patient therefore it is essential to get rapid gains. Guess what one of the most effective exercises for rapid gains is… the squat!
Squatting Helps Build Muscle Mass
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass) as a goal for better sports performance, injury prevention, body building, to prevent atrophy (muscle wasting) -important for over 30’s, but especially 50+ year olds who become quite catabolic naturally.
For this goal bilateral, stable exercises that recruit prime mover muscles is essential, and of all the bilateral exercises, the squat is one exercise that recruits the most. The result if you squat deep and heavy weights is an anabolic response of hGH hormone in the blood after your workout, and yes muscle gains and a happy exerciser. Even if you want bigger biceps, squatting will help you build muscle mass as a result of elevated hGH and other hormones.
15 Reasons To Squat
The list is not definitive, but some other reasons to squat include:
- Offset and reverse osteoporosis
- Improved everyday movements (function),
- Better posture
- Better looks
- Better blood lipid profile
- Improved blood pressure
- Reduced stress,
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Stronger ligaments and connective tissue
- Reduced lower back pain
- Injury prevention and rehab
- Sciatica rehab
- You can lift your shopping bags, lawn mower, wheel barrow, child, rucksack better
- Your life gets better
Why Is The Squat So Good?
Many Muscle Fibres Are Recruited
Muscles activated by the squat include prime movers, stabilisers and synergist muscles. The squat is not considered to be a ‘core exercise’ by many people, but I would describe it as one of the best core exercises.
Below are just a few of the muscles the squat recruits, and highlighted are the key prime movers that ensure the fast gains that the squat is famous for.
|Muscle Name||Joints Crossed||Action|
|Gastrocnemius||Ankle, Knee||Ankle plantarflexion, Knee flexion|
|Quadriceps – Rectus femoris||Hip and Knee||Hip Flexion, Knee Flexion|
|Quadriceps – Vastus lateralis, intermedius and medialis||Knee||Knee extension|
|Hamstrings – Biceps femoris, semitendonosus, semimembranosus||Hip and knee||Hip extension and knee flexion|
|Adductor group – Pectineus, brevis, longus, magnus, gracilis||Hip except for gracilis which crosses at the knee too||Hip adduction|
|TFL||Hip||Hip abduction, flexion and medial rotation|
|Gluteus Maximus||Hip||Hip extension, lateral rotation|
|Gluteus medius and minimus||Hip||Hip abduction, lateral and medial rotation|
|Abdominal – serratus anterior, external oblique, rectus abdominis||Too numerous to count||Stability, fixators and synergistic|
|Spine – Erector Spinae, multifidis, rotator longi and brevis, spinalis thoracis, quadratus lumborum,||Vertebra||Extension of the spine, fixators and stability|
|Shoulder Girdle – Rhomboid, trapesius||Thoracoscapula, Posterior shoulder girdle||Retraction, elevation and depression of the shoulder girdle|
|Shoulder Joint – rotator cuff, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, Latisimus dorsi, posterior, mid and anterior deltoids||Shoulder||Ab/adduction, rotation, flex and extension|
Bones Stimulated = Stronger Bones
For many, especially older populations, women and even younger women who may have a high risk factor and who wish to maximise bone density with a view to offsetting osteoporosis, the squat is an effective exercise.
The one rule for this kind of goal is that only the bones that are stimulated will be strengthened, and for this reason, the squat gives you the biggest return for your time invested.
How To Squat Part 1
Preparation For Your Perfect Squat
Most of us have lifestyles that result in suboptimal movement patterns from out body. Spending hours ‘triple flexed’ from commuting, driving, computing, watching TV etc will negatively impact your squat. In addition to your dynamic warm up, as part of your preparation you could try the following to activate the gluteus muscles and lengthen specific shortened muscles.
- Supine Bridge – lying on the floor on your back, bend knees and bring feet back to your butt, soles flat on the floor. Push feet into the floor lifting hips high. Try this on your flat feet, toes and heels. 3-5 sets of 10 raises will help.
- Rec-fem stretch – Standing with your hips and abs braced, bend one leg and reach back to hold the foot behind your butt. Pull the foot toward your body stretching the quad muscles at the front of the leg. Push your hips forward to feel a stretch over the hip too. Hold the stretch 3×30 seconds per leg.
Quick Point: This is one of the very few occasions I advocate a ‘static’ stretch before a workout, but since many people have tight quads, rec-fem and psoas muscles that hinder squatting, this along with the glute activation will help you get better form, and better results.
How To Squat Part 2
Perform Your Squat
- Warm up with a dynamic stretch that is multi-planar and specific to your workout. Practice ‘air squats’ or body weight squats that mimic the exercise in the workout. You may even develop your warm up with weighted squats and jumps, especially if you are expecting to be lifting over 85% of your 1RM in training.
- Walk into the squat rack, facing it, and place the bar on your shoulders holding it in place with your hands on the bar and pulling your shoulder gurdle back and down. Let the bar rest on tensed muscles of your shoulders and not your spine.
- Initially lift the bar with your feet just over shoulder width apart, walk it away from the rack, and then experiment with the angle of your toes. Try pointing your toes outwards slightly, so they follow the path of your femur and quadriceps once squatted.
- Keeping your spine in a neutral position, abdomen and core braced and keep your knees ‘soft’ over your feet.
- Moving from the hips first, slowly allow your hips, knees and ankles to bend lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle or greater. Deeper squatting will result in greater gains. Aim to keep your kneed from moving over your toes. If you are unsure how deep to squat, or you lack confidence, place a low bench behind you and aim to reach the bench with your butt, but don’t sit down.
- Return to starting position keeping knees soft and spine neutral.
- This is a quad dominant exercise and so the emphasis is on knee flexion and extension. Try not to lean forward too much as an emphasis on hip flexion with less knee flexion becomes more of a dead lift and hip dominant action.
Squat Variations To Try
There are dozens of squat variations. Try variations of a front squat with the bar in front of you held in your arms and resting on your shoulders. Keep your elbows facing forward. This allows for a much more ‘upright’ body position and is a great core exercise.
- Sumo squats with a kettle bell or dumbbells between your legs, a wide stance and an upright body with both straight arms holding the weight as you lower it like a sumo.
- Partner squats and no squat rack? If you have no bar, try lifting dumbbells, sand bags, or even your training partner. Just yesterday I was lifting my partner in regular piggy-back fashion, and as a ‘front squat’.
Squats In Your Workout
Squat Workout Specific To Your Goal
Depending on your goal you should squat differently. In addition to this, if you always squat the same way, you should mix up your training sessions and periodise your plan, otherwise you will become stale and stop getting results.
The table below shows a squat workout for each goal, however I recommend periodising your programme through all the training phases with more of an emphasis on your particular goal. You could try this in a linear fashion going through endurance – hypertrophy – strength – power, or even try a pendulum method where you swing from one phase to the next and back.
|<67% 1RM||67-85% 1RM||>85% 1RM||10-90% 1RM|
|12-20 Reps||6-12 Reps||1-6 Reps||1-10 Reps|
- Goal: Endurance, Hypertrophy, Strength, Power
- %1RM: 1 Rep Max is the maximum you can lift for 1 lift. You could use a sub maximal prediction table to predict this.
- Reps: The number of reps you perform
- X012 : Four phases of an exercise, with and ‘X’ meaning explosive, and a number meaning the time taken for that phase e.g. endurance, where you could perform a steady paced move taking one second, and hold for zero seconds at the end of the phase. Power will be explosive, possibly even with one phase only if you are projecting a weight, med ball sand bag into the air.
I have tried to demonstrate the reasons to include squats into your workouts. There is lots more to say about the squat, not least that they can be an integral part of a full body workout routine. For now though have a great workout, enjoy including squatting into your balanced exercise programme, and remember that no matter what your goal is, the squat will likely help you achieve it.