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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Chai Power-Packed Green Smooth

 

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Pack your shopping cart full of greens this weekend and blend up this super smoothie. This recipe features Chai seeds which deliver a powerful punch of antioxidants and protein.

What you need
2 cups organic kale
10 ounces almond milk / coconut water / liquid of choice
Handful of fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp Chia seeds
1 cup frozen mango
1 organic cucumber, with skin

Soak your chai seeds in 1/2 cup water for at least 10 minutes and no more than overnight. The chai seeds will take a gel mold consistency after absorbing the water and will blend into the other smoothie ingredients.

Put all the ingredients in the blender, blend on high until smooth, pour into a mason jar and enjoy!

Gracious Greens: Smoothies for Energy

Happy Friday to everyone! Recently, one of my clients told me they wanted more energy and were clueless on how to get there without the aid of coffee and red bull. The first thing that I wanted to ask her was “Do you drink greens?”

Here’s my recipe for an energizing smoothie packed full of plant proteins and essential vitamins and minerals.

Gracious Green Goddess
2 cups organic spinach
8 ounces almond milk/coconut water or similar liquid
4-6 fresh mint leaves
Handful of frozen mixed berries
1 organic cucumber,  with skin

Place all your ingredients in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Drink immediately.

Add these items to your shopping list this weekend and set yourself up for a healthy, feel-good energy week!

Satya: How To Show Up With Truthfulness

When we run from life, try to manage life, or leave our energy scattered here and there, we feel differently than when our whole self shows up with our thoughts, words, and actions congruent and unified. When we center in the moment, we can fully meet the ordinariness of life as well as the challenges of life. Dishes are met with the same contact as are arguments as are hugs

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In The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, Deborah Adele focuses on the second yama of Satya or Truthfulness. When we SHOW UP for our lives, in each and every moment, we are being true to ourselves and those around us. This week, pay attention and go slow enough that you show up for everything in your life, and do things “right the first time;” never too rushed, hurried or lacking mindfulness so that you have to backtrack, apologize, or correct mistakes. Don’t run from hard tasks that present themselves. Face each moment of your life with clarity and courage.

The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele is a must read for anyone and everyone, not just yogi’s and yogini’s. Viewed as a value system for mindful living off the mat, Adele teaches the yogic principles of nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess, and nonpossessiveness. She sheds light on how we do these things to ourselves and others. Each Yama and Niyama is broken into short, readable sections followed by Questions For Exploration. The contemplative exercises at the end of each chapter are intended to be a way readers live with the questions. By taking time for reflection, it allows the insights to come into your life.

Yoga Masters

University Launches first Yoga Masters Program in US

As most of you know, I’m finishing up my Master’s in Art History early next year. I plan on looking into yoga teacher training in addition to integrative nutritional training with the end hopes of being a certified holistic life coach (while running or Co-running a gallery, and teaching young minds about the history of art). Dream BIG!

This Master’s program in Yoga is the first of its kind to be offered here in the United States.

namaste

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Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or One-Legged King Pigeon Pose. love.

 

 

 

 

 

A 5 step guide to mindfulness

If you have been in a FUNK, or thinking to yourself, SOMETHING needs to change AKA I NEED to change well, I think you are at the right place.

My weeks have been full of AH HA  moments lately and in those moments I become more and more aware. In becoming more aware, it solidifies the things in my life which fuel me, my life, and my growth. I want to share some of those things with YOU today!

5 mindful practices to change your life. Starting today.  

Yoga:  It comes to me when I know I need to be still with my mind. To stretch my body and tap INTO my inner voice by listening and feeling every square inch of my body through intentional movements. Setting my daily yoga intention to BE in every moment my practice gives me. I know yoga can changes lives, because it has mine

Meditation: Practicing mindfulness. Sitting in silence. Sit. in. Silence. HOW TO: COMMITTING to a practice of 10 minutes a day, for 30 days. After 30 days of mindful meditation, reflect. Have you felt an overall improvement in your moods, your energy levels? Have you experienced heightened periods of consciousness? I promise you the answer to all of those questions will be YES. If you find in the beginning of your practice your mind tends to wonder, be gentle with it. Guided meditation can help you with your practice. Here is a resource: http://www.meditationoasis.com/

Exercise:  Daily. Tap INTO the POWER you harness by USING your body, by DEVELOPING the muscles in your being. Your body is THE VEHICLE which carries you throughout your journey. How to: COMMIT to working out 3-5 times a week, for 6 weeks. Apply the reflection process for exercise as you did for your meditation practice. If you don’t know where to start in regards to exercising, here is a step-by-step guide to get you started (yes, for women, but plenty of resources on there for men as well): http://www.simplyshredded.com/the-ultimate-female-training-guide.html

Laughter:  Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. Do not forget that. Keep a light mind, heart, and spirit with you. Laugh with the heart of a child. ENJOY your LIFE, RIGHT NOW. It is not about “When I get the big promotion, when HE/SHE asks me out, when I lose the 20 pounds” I will be happy. It is about NOW. The quote that rings true here: “It is about the journey, not the destination.” It is not in the end result, in the finish line, in the ‘accomplishment’ that we are after, it is the period in which we spend in-between the beginning and the end of our individual goals in life in which we are truly living. Divinely. We can not forget that IN THIS MOMENT we are THE BEST we can be.

 Love: I heard something a long time ago that has stuck, “Love the things which are easy to love, and stretch to love the things that are hard.” Love your career, love your smile, love your friends, love your enemies, love YOURSELF, PHEW- isn’t this one sometimes the hardest?! Do not harden your heart to its given power, to its DIVINE purpose which is to LOVE. When you look at your life with LOVING intentions, you FEEL the energy of love PULSING throughout your body. Keep this with you and use it to remind you to love, always.

its the journey

As I was writing this I sat and watched a ladybug land on my hand. As I gently moved my hand over, back and forth, allowing myself to watch this TINY BEAUTIFUL creature navigate its way around the surface of my hand, I felt its tiny little legs crawling over my skin, saw its vibrant red shell bobbing all around my hand. I noticed my breathing slowing down, I noticed the crickets, grasshoppers, birds and the LIFE buzzing ALL AROUND ME, RIGHT NOW, with this tiny little insect navigating its life, ON MY BODY. And just like that, its wings opened up, and it fluttered away. I strive to experience life, every moment, as intensely as this one. Life is about BAZILLIONS of these tiny little moments.

Do not forget that this life is here today as a gift meant to be lived, loved, cherished and released from us just a easily as it came to us.