If you are a serious gym goer then the word Squat will most probably be up there in the top three words in your vocabulary. If you’re new to weight training and don’t know where to start then this article has been written for you.
The common Squat exercise has many different variations. Some intended and some un-intended. With proper form and good execution, Squats will massively further your progress whether you’re looking for shape or strength. When training for a specific purpose, the manipulation of sets and reps is what must differ but perfect technique must never change. It will take time and patience to nail the technique but the saying is true – Practise makes perfect!
Why should I squat?
Whilst Squatting has been named the King (or Queen for the ladies) of all exercises, it sure does live up to its reputation as being one of the most productive exercises there is! It doesn’t just work your legs; it works your whole body! From all the major muscles such as your Quadriceps and Glutes right through to the tiny Stabilising muscles running up the spine and right across the abdominal region. The exercise is intense and tricky to master so my top tip would be to practise with an empty Olympic bar or if that is too heavy, use a 10kg barbell. You need a little weight for your body to have some resistance to work against. Start low and work your way up.
The major benefits in a nutshell of Squatting are:
- Muscle Hypertrophy: Building muscle is a long process and as we all know, it can only really be done with the accompaniment of a clean, protein enriched diet. As the two go hand in hand, it would be rude not to include Squats in to your workout regime after working so hard in the kitchen! Whether you are looking for size or strength, these two also go hand in hand. Want to get stronger? Squat! Want to get leaner? Squat!
- Strength Gains: By working your legs through a full range of motion will only benefit you in and outside the gym too! The Squat (when performed correctly through the full ROM) will strengthen your legs but will also protect your body, specifically the Spine and knee joint, so no more leaning over or breaking your back to reach for that object on the floor – just Squat!
- Increase Flexibility: Along with manually stretching out your muscles both static and dynamically, Squatting will help to maintain your flexibility and aid tight muscles if you tend to sit down a lot due to a sedentary lifestyle. The more you squat the deeper you will be able to go. The lower you go the more muscles you will recruit, therefore burning more calories and building more lean muscle – Genius!
- Strengthening of the Knee joint: Whilst squatting with improper form and poor technique will only hinder your progress, lead to injury and cause you a lot of pain. On the other hand, when Squatting correctly, the exercise will only strengthen your muscles and ligaments surrounding your knee joint and also eliminate knee pain if the cause was from incorrect execution.
- Many well-known exercise programmes used across the world have added to the controversy surrounding squats and how they should be performed. These “half way” squats will only lead to injury, injury that can easily be avoided if performed correctly. By Squatting “partially” you cause muscle imbalances by placing extra emphasis on your Quadriceps, neglecting your Hamstrings and Glutes. The knee joint is at its strongest in either a fully flexed or fully extended position – not halfway. This will only cause damage when executed chronically.
How to avoid injury
It is always best to Squat in the power rack. The prongs/ horizontal bars either side are there to rack the bar, but also in case of a failure. The rack can be fallen into and the prongs/ horizontal bars will catch the bar as you fall forward. This is very unlikely to happen unless you train without a spotter or you’re somebody training for that ego boost but in case of an emergency always fall forward.
If the bar is putting too much pressure on Traps and upper back, use a foam pad that will attach around the bar and make the stance more comfortable. You could also use a rolled up gym towel if a bar pad isn’t available. Some say this will only add un-stability to your squat as is incorrectly balancing over a small surface area of your back. Another way to avoid discomfort is to add some extra mass to your Trapezius!
Set up your bar correctly. Don’t go too heavy – start comfortably then work your way up through the weight. Always warm up with an empty bar then add plates accordingly.
Rack and un-rack the bar correctly. Setting up your bar is as important as taking it off. Set it to around mid-chest level then position your feet underneath. They should be just outside your hips with your toes slightly turned out. Duck under the bar and position it onto your Trapezius. As you lift up, tighten the grip of your hands, taking one leg back and then the other. Double check your positioning then – Squat.
The Perfect Squat
There are so many things you need to think about when performing a Squat, such as the positioning of your feet, the length of your stance, your spine alignment and weight selection. Follow the simple steps below in order to correctly perform a Squat;
- Keep your head up and looking ahead at all times
- Make sure your chest is up, out and proud – Never let it drop
- Your buttocks are the first thing to move in the squat – Let your Glutes lead the way
- As you squat keep your knees in line with your toes – Don’t let them buckle in at any time
- Keep your abs braced and core tight – Remember this is a full body workout so switch on your stomach and squeeze
- Keep your shoulder blades pulled back as this gives the bar a solid base to balance upon – Remember it is your back supporting the weight, not your hands
- Keep on going down under! Once you hit parallel don’t stop, keep going as low as you can. The deeper the squat the better. If you feel your chest beginning to fall forward that is the time to squat back up. Your full Range of Movement (ROM) will improve with practise
- As you rise, squeeze your glutes as the top of the movement, this will keep your lower back safe and secure
So they are my top tips for a perfect Squat. Remember, if you’re not squatting you should be but never compromise your form over an ego boost – Quality over Quantity!
Rayner Jordan – Women’s Fitness Specialist