Contrary to popular belief, squatting is not just for bodybuilders, powerlifters or even athletes. It doesn’t have to be about building muscle either. Squatting is, and should be, for everyone. Whilst going to the gym and seeing a crowd around the free weight section can be intimidating, it’s important to understand the benefits of squats. Squats can be done anywhere, anytime! Discover how to do squats properly and why everyone should be doing them.
What are squats?
Squats replicate everyday movement – Bending down to pick up the groceries, putting your shoes on, grabbing something you’ve dropped on the ground; all of these are the same movement. Squatting allows you to complete this motion with ease as well as prevent injury whilst doing so.
What muscles are worked in a squat?
Squats are a great exercise if you’re pressed for time because they work out a range of different muscles. These include your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Along with muscles in the lower body, when done properly, squats also activate your core. In addition, if you’re doing weighted squats your upper body will be used to stabilise and you will activate your arms, chest, shoulders and back.
1. Increase speed
There have been multiple studies done that show a correlation between squat strength and speed. Essentially, the science says that the more you’re able to squat, the more force you can exert into the ground, which in turn means the more power you get behind your acceleration.
2. Build muscle AND burn calories
Often, we see workouts targeted at either strengthening OR calorie scorching. Squats are a compound movement, meaning they work several muscles while simultaneously burning calories.
3. Prevent injuries
Squats aid in minimising injury by strengthening surrounding ligaments, connective tissues and stabiliser muscles. In addition, they help improve mobility which allows a greater range of motion.*
4. Anywhere, anytime
One of the greatest benefits of squats is that you can do them anywhere, anytime, at no cost! It’s one of the most efficient exercises that targets multiple muscles yet doesn’t require any equipment.
5. Improve overall posture
Sitting down all day can take a toll on your posture. Learning how to squat and increasing the weight in which you do will directly translate to performing your daily activities with that same form. So, if you want to combat the effects of poor posture, pause your TV show, hop up and do a few squats!
6. Increase flexibility
We all know our muscles, tendons and ligaments become less flexible with age. Squatting can help keep you limber as the exercise involves the bending and stretching of different muscle groups.
7. Maintain balance and stability
As well as developing leg strength, squats work your core which is essential for stability. During a squat, your body works hard to not fall over. This in turn strengthens your whole core, including your lower back and obliques. Amazing balance and stability might not be on your mind right now, but your future self will thank you when you’re older.
8. Improve joint health
You’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘use it or lose it’. The same applies to your joints. When you do a squat, you engage your knees, hips and ankles which not just builds muscle but also improves the strength of the tendons, bones and ligaments that make up your joints.
9. Speed-up your digestion
In the same way that shaking your leg gets rid of pins and needles, when you exercise your leg muscles, fluids travel through your body faster. Improved circulation allows more nutrients to move through your organs and can make your small intestine more efficient.
10. Look good and feel even better!
Squats help to tone by targeting both your glute and thigh muscles. Whether you’re running up a flight of stairs to catch a train or dropping it like it’s hot on the dance floor, increased leg strength can improve your confidence and make everyday activities feel just that bit easier.
How to do a proper squat
Before you put on your gym shoes and get the tunes pumping, let’s go over the basics of how to do squats properly:
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly turned out. A mirror can be useful here.
2. Channel a zombie and put your arms straight out in front of you.
3. Bend your knees to push your hips backward whilst keeping your torso upright. Maintain your posture and don’t bend your back. It should feel like you’re going to sit back down in a chair.
4. Once your legs are at a 90 degree angle (or lower if you’re doing a deep squat), use your muscles to push back up through your feet and return to straight legs.
5. Repeat and feel the burn!
Squat safety tips
Remember, safety first! Here are a few tips to ensure you are doing squats safely and without risk of injury:
• Keep your knees in line with your feet
• Move through the balls of your feet to maintain balance
• Don’t let your heels leave the floor
• Make sure your back is nice and straight
• Only go as low as you comfortably can without discomfort in your hips or knees
• Engage your core to improve stability and enhance your workout
• Keep your head and neck in a neutral position
• Look straight ahead to keep an eye on your form (hey, looking good!)
There are quite a few variations on the classic squat described above. Depending on whether you’re weight training at the gym or have a spare two minutes whilst you brush your teeth, there’s a squat for every lifestyle. Here are a few of the most popular types of squats.
This type of squat is great because it combines sitting down with exercise! Win win! Just like it says in the name, wall squats are a regular squat that is performed against a wall held for several seconds. The longer the hold the stronger the burn!
Add a cardio element to your workout by adding jump squats to the routine. Once you get to the bottom of your squat, push up with force until you are in the air. When you land, bend your knees and you’re ready for the next one!
To do a box squat, you will need to find a box or bench. You can also use a chair if you’re working out at home. Just make sure it won’t slip out from underneath you. Stand in front of the box or chair, facing away from it. Squat down until you make contact with the box. Push yourself back up again slowly and repeat.
Goblet squats are regular squats performed whilst holding a weight in front of your chest. The weight doesn’t have to be a kettlebell, it could be a dumbbell held vertically, a heavy book or a can of soup!
Now that you know how to go up and down, we’re switching gears and going side to side. Lateral squats target the hip abductors and are great for improving balance and flexibility. Start with your feet slightly wider apart than hip-width, with your toes pointing forward. Bend your right knee and move your weight on top of it, whilst pushing your hips backwards, like in a regular squat. Keep your left leg straight. As in a regular squat, make sure your knees are directly over your toes. If you feel wobbly, hold your arms out to maintain balance. Move through your right heel to come back to standing position. Repeat on the left side.
Arguably the trickiest of the squat variations, the pistol squat is an advanced exercise that targets several muscles. Begin in your normal squatting position and extend the left leg out in front of you with the heel hovering just above the floor. Clasp your hands together and bend the right leg into a squat. Go as low as you comfortably can and then push through the right leg to return to standing. Repeat on the other side with your right leg out front.
How does social media affect body image
Following fitness influencers on social media can help with motivation and seeing proper squats in action. However, it’s important to remember that every one’s body and level of ability is different. No matter how many squats you can do, the fact you’re doing them deserves a big pat on the back. Go, you! If you find that you are comparing yourself to others either at the gym or online, try to practice some exercises for self-compassion. For ideas you can put into action, read Self-Care: Seven Areas to Feed Your Mind, Body and Soul.
Make no mistake, squats are challenging! But the more you do them, the more you’ll strengthen your physical and mental endurance.
The benefits of squats are endless and can serve a different purpose to everyone doing them. If you find yourself stuck in a stale gym routine, squats are a great exercise to throw in as they can be altered and modified several different ways. Get squatting!
How many squats should you do a day?
The number of squats you do in a day depends on your individual ability and goals. We recommend beginners start with 3 sets of 12-15 reps of one type of squat. Try out each of the above variations to see what works best for you. If you’re unsure, ask one of our personal trainers or friendly gym staff for advice in club at your local Anytime Fitness.
Why do my knees hurt when I squat?
Pain or discomfort in your knees during a squat is usually caused by poor technique. For example, allowing your knees to move forward so that your heels come off the ground places stress on the knees. To minimise the risk of injury, try performing box squats. In this variation, you sit back a little further in your squat which reduces loading on your quads.
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