Squat Workshop 101: The How and Why of the Squat

The How and What of the Squat

The squat is a basic, primal movement pattern that humans and our ancestors have been performing for millions of years through activities such as hunting, gathering, harvesting, cooking and eating.

Squats are the number one compound movement you can do to improve strength, athletic performance, reduce instances of injury, burn fat, increase flexibility and improve core strength. Phew. So let me get this straight, this one exercise does everything I’m looking for at the gym?! Yes!  

Squats are hard. Doing hard things, even when you don’t feel like it, trains the muscle between your ears: your mind. This builds discipline and mental fortitude which is crucial to get results in the gym. It also build discipline that transfers in other areas of your life. It helps you sticking to good nutrition habits, doing the work, and so on.

Lifting weights, in general, lowers cholesterol, improves glucose metabolism, improves insulin response and stimulates muscle-building hormones like human growth hormone (HGH). Squats are the best weight training exercise you can do because they work more muscles, over a longer range of motion and with more weight than any other exercise. It’s therefore the best exercise you can do in the gym. It’s the only one you should do if you only have time for one.

squat images

Left: Backsquat positioning Right: Front Squat positioning

Benefits of Squatting

  • Enhanced Core Strength
  • Typical squats are loaded from top to bottom, your core has to work double-time to prevent injury
  • Front Squats target midsection core strength
  • Increase Full Range of Motion and Flexibility
  • Deep squatting moves your body through a full range of motion which boosts flexibility
  • Deep squatting increases your range of motion in the entire hip complex which results in reduced back pain. Translation: squatting helps you get down on the floor and pick up the laundry basket, over and over, without straining your back.
  • Squatting reduces your chance of injury
  • By building the muscles surrounding your knees and hips, you’re less likely to sustain an injury in daily activity like climbing stairs, picking up the laundry basket, or running after a child or grandchild at the park.
  • Muscle strength and development
  • Squatting builds your glutes, hamstrings, and quad muscles – which are primary stabilizing muscles for movement.
  • Why is squatting better than using a leg curl or press machine?
  • Squatting uses every muscle, in unison, in your lower body. This helps build real world strength by using a functional movement to develop functional strength.
  • Still need more convincing?: A leg press or extension locks you into a fixed position, which takes away your body’s natural urge to stabilize itself. This can lead to imbalances between the right and left side of your body.
  • Squats are a full body workout
    • Workout programs that regularly include squats will result in stronger, leaner, toned legs including the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
  • Squats help you Burn Fat
  • You lose fat when your body burns more energy than you eat. Your muscles burn energy to lift weight. Squats burn more energy than any other exercise because they work more muscles and with heavier weights. Heavy Squats also increase your metabolism for hours post workout (EPOC). When you combine this with proper nutrition, Squats will help you burn fat.

But what about my knees, you ask..?

If you’re concerned about your knees, you’d be well-advised to refrain from other leg exercises, such as leg extensions and hack squats. Properly done squats impart far less knee strain than they do.

Leg extensions produce an intense shearing effect on the knees that breaks down knee cartilage. That’s particularly true if you flex your lower legs past the 90 degree angle at the start of the exercise or if you use too heavy a poundage. Leg extensions are an isolation exercise, also known as an “open-chain kinetic” exercise. Because of their biomechanics, they place more stress directly on the knee joints. In contrast, when you do squats, the weight is distributed among several strong muscle groups, including the thighs, hips and glutes, and not being imposed directly on the vulnerable knee joints. This is with the assumption that you do the exercise in good form. That includes not rounding your back; descending in a slow, controlled fashion and not just dropping down; and not bouncing at the bottom. Some trainers advise looking either straight ahead or up, since looking down tends to encourage your body to bend forward, which is tough on the lower back.

As for depth, that is perhaps the greatest controversy about the squat. Early squatting dissidents advised squatting only halfway down, to the point where the thighs are parallel to the floor. The idea was that parallel squats preserved the knees. On the other hand, only full squats fully activate the powerful gluteus maximus, or buttocks muscle, which greatly aids squatting power.

Types of Squats:

  • Front Squat, Back Squat
  • Advanced: Overhead squat
  • Modified Squatting: Goblet Squats, Goblet Squats to a box/bench, Bulgarian split squat, etc.

The front squat primarily develops the muscles of the low body including the; quadriceps, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. The front squat is by nature a more quadriceps dominant exercise than the back squat and requires more mid-line stabilization, and muscle activity in the hips, and spinal erectors.

USA Olympic Weightlifting Team, Kendrick Farris, front squat

USA Olympic Weightlifting Team, Kendrick Farris, front squat


Front Squat Basic Skill Review

  • Take time to find your starting position.
  • Find your natural foot stance with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your toes slightly out so your toes can follow the path of your knees.
  • Find your grip on the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Receive the bar from the rack on the front of the shoulders and step back onto the platform.
  • Keep chest up and raise the elbows high.
  • Stabilize the midline taking in a deep breath.
  • Keep the feet flat on the ground pushing down through the heels.
  • Squat down until the thighs are below parallel.
  • Keep the chest up, back tight, and the elbows high when coming out the squat aggressively drive the elbows up to come out of the bottom pocket.

How To BackSquat

Setup: Bar is level with the shoulder, or just below. Face the bar. Grab it tight with a medium grip shoulder width apart. Put it on the shelf created on your upper back by dipping under the bar.

Raise your chest – open up to the wall in front of you.

Place your feet under your knees – under your shoulders—to lift, straighten your legs.

Step back one stride with your right foot and then your left. Keep feet shoulder width apart, toes facing forward with the potential for you to rotate them outwards no more than 30 degrees.

Take a big breath into your diaphragm. Brace your belly.

Squat: hinge at the hip – imagine spreading the floor in the area between your knees while moving your hips back – like sitting in a chair.

Keep your lower back neutral.

Squat Up. Then Squat back up. 

Keep your knees out and chest up. Lock your hips and knees at the top. Feel the contraction in your glutes. Then break at the hips, push your butt back to the wall behind you, spread the floor (push the area between your knees apart), and squat.

Breathe. Repeat.

Backsquat

Backsquat

Form Tips and Pointers:

How to Squat: Squat in the Power Rack for maximum safety. Set the horizontal safety pins so they can catch the bar if you fail to Squat it.

Happy Squatting!

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