If you want great legs, strong butt muscles and an iron core, you need to squat. Squats hit your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abdominals and lower back, but to get the most out of squats you need to squat deep. Contrary to popular belief, squatting below parallel (the point at which your hips are level with your knees) is not bad for your knees, claims Sally Moss, strength coach at Ultimate Performance in London. In fact, the lower you squat, the more you engage your hamstrings and glutes. Attaining proper depth can be tough, so you'll need a series of drills to perfect your technique.
Stretch your calves, hip flexors and upper back every day. Tight muscles are one of the main causes of poor squat flexibility, according to strength coach John Leyva of BuiltLean.com. To stretch your calves, stand with your toes on a step and push your heels toward the floor. For hip flexors, assume a half-kneeling position with your left knee on the floor and right leg out in front and push your hips forward. For your upper back, reach out in front as if you're trying to hug a tree. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and do them once in the morning, once during the day and again before you go to bed.
Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell and hold it in front of your chest. Squat as low as you can while keeping your back straight; aim to go until your elbows touch your knees. Goblet squats increase upper-back strength and teach you to keep an upright posture when squatting, notes Julia Ladewski, powerlifter and strength coach at the University of Buffalo. Do three sets of 10 repetitions using a light dumbbell as a warm-up and on your rest days.
Place weight plates under your heels when you squat. This slight elevation will allow you to squat deeper. You'll see this demonstrated with Olympic weightlifters who wear shoes with a raised heel, which helps them squat lower when they catch the bar in the clean and jerk. Start with 45-pound plates and gradually decrease the size of the plates while still squatting to proper depth.
- Ask an experienced trainer to check your form and take a video of your next squat workout to determine whether you're going deep enough.
- Consult your health care provider before participating in a weight-training program.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.