This post is all about the benefits of one of the most fundamental and primal moves our skeletons are capable of performing; the humble, time-honoured squat. Few exercises compare for their ability to employ so many muscles simultaneously, and few yield such a wealth of physiological benefits. This post details my top 5 reasons to squat! Click MORE to read on…
In my previous post (Find your Legs, here) I discuss the many benefits of training legs in general. In this post, I focus down a little bit, to discuss my top 5 benefits of squatting. It’s a totally gravity-defying, glute-targeting hero exercise, which, aside from delivering aesthetic results, simulate a functional movement which will help with everyday motions well into old age… as well as developing overall fitness, strength and performance. A full-depth squat is a sign of good mobility and strength, and whether or not we realise it, we perform a variation on this exercise every day – sitting on a chair, climbing out of a car, lifting boxes, pulling out weeds from the garden, visiting the bathroom (ahem)… So start light and have someone qualified evaluate your technique (to safeguard your back / knees); there are multiple components to a squat, so my advice would be to absolutely nail the technique first then gradually increase the weight.
Here are my top 5 benefits as to why you should squat!
1) FULL BODY WORKOUT: Squats, performed correctly, activate the largest muscle groups in the body (i.e. the quads, glutes and hamstrings) but also engage a good deal of stabilising muscles too (e.g. transverse abdominus, adductors, gastrocnemius, erector spinae). Training the legs in this fashion, using compound exercises, encourages the release of natural testosterone and other growth hormones, promoting overall strength and mass throughout your whole body, not just the legs.
2) BOOST METABOLISM: Being that they target larger muscle groups, that in turn boosts the operating metabolic rate, encouraging a recovery which consumes more calories; the legs might therefore burn their most calories whilst you’re at rest! Each incremental pound of muscle is generally received to burn an extra 50 calories per day, and whilst I recognise the range of opinion around exactly what that number might be, I do believe that more compound exercise will generally result in a higher basal metabolic rate.
3) CORE REINFORCEMENT: That muscular girdle we all wear around our midsection absorbs so much of our daily flak. The more conditioned we keep these muscles (abdominals, obliques, glutes & spinal fibres), the better we’ll feel. Gone are the days of 30-minute crunches, which strengthen the abs, but nothing else; squats (with correct form) are a fantastic way to engage the whole core, to maintain an upright posture and prevent injury.
4) PERFORMANCE UPLIFT: Squats can help improve performance across a range of sports, as they encourage a more fully conditioned musculoskeletal system. They can help to hone the twitch reflex (as they stimulate our Type IIa fast twitch fibres), facilitate a faster run, a more explosive jump height, and enhanced balance and agility. They tend to be a core part of most athlete’s training regimes.
5. LOWERS INJURY RISK: To perform a full squat calls for strong flexibility at the ankles, knees and hips. It encourages better spine mobility, more robust shoulder stability, and is a fantastic way to improve and strengthen the ligaments. They just happen to be the perfect countermeasure to weak stabiliser muscles, the scourge of most sport practitioners!
The images above show just a few different squat variations; I’ve always believed that it’s good to keep the body guessing, so the addition of more alternatives to the regime stimulates better muscle-adaptation and growth. There are so many different variations to explore – eccentric squats, single-leg squats, barbell squats, overhead squats… all of which can help with sport-specific performance.
HOW TO SQUAT?
1. Sit down and back, as though you’re sitting down onto a chair. Ensure to squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Deeper squats are fabulous at really exhausting the lower body, but are not recommended for those with weak knees!
2. Keep the weight on the heels and try not to extend the knees beyond your toes.
3. Keep you abs tight, roll your shoulders back and stand tall, maintaining a straight back.
5. Exhale with exertion.
6. Keep a soft bend in the knees when you push up. This will keep the work in your legs and not your knee joints.
DON’T FORGET TO STRETCH!
If some of your muscles are tight, it can indeed limit your technique and range of motion. For example make sure to stretch the Piriformis, hip flexors and, if possible, execute a full body stretch as after all you are working pretty much all the significant muscles in your body!
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