The squat is an excellent exercise for working your lower body. It is a bodyweight move which engages large muscle groups in a movement that replicates something you’d do in everyday life. That gives it a functional quality and makes it a worthy addition to your routine. But as with all exercises, proper form is essential to avoid injury and to get the most out of it.
There’s no doubt that it’s a power move that can improve your athletic performance. However, it’s not without its controversy. Some sports medicine doctors have questioned its value due to its effects on the knee joint. Research has shown the opposite is true as scientists from the University of Florida concluded. It comes back to technique and form.
How the Squat Works
The traditional squat targets the quadriceps muscle primarily. It will also engage your glutes and hamstrings. Your abs will help you maintain your balance. The soleus and the gastrocnemius muscles in your calves will keep you upright. All this muscle involvement means that you’ll get a good calorie burn from doing this exercise.
You can do the squat as a bodyweight exercise or with a barbell or kettlebell for greater intensity. In the front squat, you keep the weight near your chest. You’ll place a barbell over your head for a back squat. The former is a better option if you have weak knees. Beginners should start with the body squat.
To perform this exercise, begin by standing tall. You can start akimbo or extend your arms in front of you. You can also cross your arms, genie-style. Don’t hold your breath. Rather, inhale as you bend your knees and lower your body to the floor. Exhale as you return to the starting position. Using your breath will help you perform this exercise and keep a steady rhythm.
The benefits of including squats in your exercise routine are many. It targets several muscles so that you can optimize your time working out. You may find that it helps with everyday tasks. It’s easy to do. And since it’s a bodyweight move, you can do it anywhere. The best way to take advantage of these things is by doing the movement properly.
Several factors come into play with deciding how low to go with a squat. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) advises going “through a full range of motion.” For this exercise, that means lowering down to the point where your thighs are parallel or just below, the so-called parallel depth.
This level ensures that you’ve engaged your hamstrings. After all, the point of any exercise is to get all the benefits it can offer. If you don’t go low enough, you’re only working your quads and missing out on whatever else the move can do for you. Then, there’s the question of risk. Critics of the squat had a valid point. Not going down far enough can increase knee instability.
The concern involves a painful knee injury known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It is the most common cause in both athletes and non-athletes. If you think about it, the caution makes sense. If you go too low, you’re more likely to lose your balance in this unnatural position, especially if you’re using weights.
There are a few other things to keep in mind. When you do a squat, keep your back straight. That will help avoid strain. You should face forward throughout the move. Also, make sure that your knees point in the same direction as your feet so that you don’t place unnecessary tension on your ankles.
Because of the risks of injury, you should consider having a spotter present if you’re new to doing this exercise. It’s essential that you move in a slow, steady manner to avoid falling. But there are other factors to consider when it comes to form.
Variations of the Squat
The question of how to go differs with the type of squat. A full or deep squat involves going below parallel. That variant is more difficult, especially if your thighs aren’t strong enough to handle the load. It’s something more appropriate for an advanced user than a beginner.
The sumo squat is similar in form except you’ll place your legs farther apart with your feet pointing outward. This variation also qualifies as a deep squat, and again, is something for the trained individual.
The single-leg squat is a more challenging exercise. With this move, you extend one leg in front of you. Then, lower yourself with the other while keeping your back straight, and your arms extended. You probably won’t get down to the parallel level until you build some solid muscle. That makes this variation the exception to the rule with squats.
Improving Your Performance
You can improve your technique and reduce your risk of injury by increasing your mobility and range of motion with the muscles that are engaged when doing squats. Stretching exercises that target your ankles, calves, and hips will give you the necessary flexibility to perform this move correctly.
You might also consider using weights after you’ve mastered the body squat form. You should be able to perform it easily while maintaining your balance. Then, you’ll be ready for the challenge of making the exercise harder.
The goblet squat, for example, involves using a single kettlebell that you hold in front of you at chest level. You can try it with dumbbells too for better balance. These variations will allow you to build strength in your thighs to help you maintain proper form. Start slowly with lighter weights. As always, listen to your body.
The squat when done right is an effective way to target multiple muscles in your lower body. To get the full benefits of it, you should lower your body to a point when your thighs are just below parallel to the floor to engage your lower body fully. With time, you’ll get that sculpted look you’ve been working to get safely and injury-free.
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