When your goal is to work the major muscle groups in your lower body, you can hit them all in one shot when you add squats to your leg-day routine. If your hesitation to include them in your workout stems from negative comments you've heard about squats, relax and reconsider. As Rob Wagner of U.S.A. Powerlifting points out, any weight training you do is safe and beneficial if it's done properly.
Squats are an efficient exercise for building muscle and strength in your lower body. A squat begins with your thighs bearing most of the initial effort. As you sink down into the squat, the stress moves first to your hamstrings and comes to rest on the glutes as you reach the bottom of the move. So performing squats correctly can promote improvement in each of these muscle groups. According to ExRx.net, in addition to increasing leg power, squat exercises can also decrease knee injury since they strengthen the muscles that support the knees.
The bad reputation squats have gotten over time may be based in fact, but that reputation is not entirely justified. A National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement says that reports of high injury may be based on biased samples and that the injuries reported may have resulted from issues other than the exercise itself. Possible causes for injury include improper technique, pre-existing conditions and excessive training. Knee injuries are the most common complaint as a result of improper squatting. Lower back injuries can also occur if you bend at the waist during a squat without keeping your back straight.
Cop a Proper Squat
Reap all the positive effects of squats and avoid all the negatives by performing the exercise right. When instructing clients on the proper technique for a safe squat, personal trainer Matt Siaperas of Hardbodies Gym in Idaho, starts off with positioning the racked barbell onto the back of your shoulders and grasping it in a wide overhand grip, palms will face outward. Lift the bar from the rack and take a couple of steps back, placing your feet in a shoulder-width stance. Bending your hips back while bending your knees forward, begin lowering yourself down as if you were going to sit on the edge of a bench. Keep your back straight and your knees over your feet. Move down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then extend your knees and straighten your hips to come back to the starting position.
Variations on the Squat
There are a handful of exercises that are essentially squats, but have variations in technique or the equipment used. Siaperas recommends the hack squat machine or the Smith machine to his beginning clients as using these pieces of equipment assist in ensuring proper form. For other free weight squats, try an overhead squat in which you hold a barbell in a wide overhand grip above and slightly behind your head with your elbows straight but not locked. With your toes and knees facing out, bend your knees and hips until you are in a deep squatting position with your thighs just past a parallel position to the floor. Extend your knees and hips to return to the standing starting position. Another squat variation is the barbell split squat that starts out much like a basic barbell squat, but rather than standing with your feet in a wide stance, you place one foot ahead of you and the other behind. This positions you to perform a lunge as you bend your knees and descend until your rear knee almost touches the floor before returning to the starting upright position.
- ExRx.net: Kinesiology: Squats
- The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding; Arnold Schwarzenegger
- USA Powerlifting; The Myths of the Squat and Bench Press; Rob Wagner
- ExRx.net: Overhead Squat
- ExRx.net: Barbell Split Squat
- Matt Siaperas, Personal Trainer; Hardbodies Gym; Blackfoot, Idaho
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.