One of the best exercises for you, whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight (or both) HAS to be the squat.
However, it’s also one of the most difficult exercises to do properly unless you actually know what you’re doing.
Let’s take a look at why this exercise is so great, and then how to perform it properly for maximum results and minimal chance of injury. I’ll quickly go over exactly why squats are so damn important to have in your workout.
If your goals are to:
- Build muscle and get stronger, squats will get you there faster.
- Lose weight and get ‘toned,’ squats will get you there faster.
- Look better naked, squats will get you there faster.
- Get healthier and happier, squats will get you there faster.
Long story short: squats will make every part of your life better. And that’s why we’re going to dig into them with this article. By the end of it, my goal will be to make you a squat enthusiast (or at least make you interested in learning more and maybe trying them out).
Squats are Amazing
But they need to be done correctly for maximum effectiveness! Every day in the gym I see people doing squats, and I would estimate that 90% of people do them incorrectly. We’ve set out to right this wrong and help people like you do real squats correctly, and use them them in your workout program to get you results!
If you’re worried that you’re in the 90% of people that do squats incorrectly, if you’re not sure how often you should be squatting, or if you’re not sure how to incorporate them into your training program, you’re not alone!
Squats are one of the most foundational functional movements in our lives.
We’ve been squatting since we were babies – it’s probably the most natural position we can pick; as we get older and sit in unnatural positions all day – our squat form goes from perfect, to us not knowing how to squat correctly at all.
In some countries, not only do they continue to sit in a full squat (sometimes called a “third world squat”), but instead of sitting on a toilet, they squat over it.
Before modern day furniture and technology you didn’t stop sitting in a full squat once you got older like we do today…you continued squatting your entire life.
Squats are a compound movement
A simple bodyweight squat workout uses almost every muscle group in the body – and if you add a dumbbell or barbell into the equation, I would even argue that they use every single major muscle group to complete. Just think about it – in addition to your “legs,” you need your hips, your back and core, your shoulders and arms. Nothing is left out with this monster movement.
Squats will help strengthen your entire body, both your bones and your muscles (and your knees!), and increase flexibility.
Because of the utilization of a large amount of muscle groups, they cause your body to increase our anabolic hormone production (in turn, helping us lose fat and gain muscle).
Increasing the strength in your knees and hips (and entire body) reduces your chance of injury while doing both athletic movements and everyday life things (such as shoveling the driveway or standing up and sitting down).
In short, squats are amazing.
They are one of the biggest bangs for your buck in terms of time, which is why most good strength programs will have you squatting 2-3x a week.
Let’s start off by taking a look at the bodyweight squat – the first move you should master before you add weight.
The Bodyweight Squat
The setup for the squat exercise is incredibly simple. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward – about 5 to 20 degrees outward.
Look straight ahead and pick a spot on the wall in front of you. You’ll want to look at this spot the entire time you squat, not looking down at the floor or up at the ceiling.
For a bodyweight squat, I put my arms straight out in front of me, parallel to the ground. Keep your spine in a neutral position. This means don’t round your back, but also don’t hyper extend and over accentuate the natural arch of your back.
Think about where your weight is on your feet – it should be on the heels and the balls of your feet, as if you were pasted to the ground. You should be able to wiggle your toes the entire movement (though that’s not a part of squatting!).
Keep your entire body tight the entire time.
Now, breathe in, break at your hip and push your butt back. Keep sending your hips backwards as your knees begin to bend. It’s important that you start with your hips back, and not by bending your knees.
Keep your back straight, with your neutral spine, and your chest and shoulders up. Keep looking straight ahead at that spot on the wall.
As you squat down, focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet. Many new lifters need to focus on pushing their knees out so they track with their feet. So, watch you knees! When they start to come inside the toes, push them out (but not wider than your feet). Think about it like this: if you were to attach a laser to the end of each of your knees, the laser would track between your second and fourth toes. Make sure your knees are out!
Squat down until your hip joint is lower than your knees (what we call parallel). We are looking at your hip joint here, not your thighs. Depending on the size of your thighs, your squat may appear to be less deep than it truly is. You can go deeper than this, however, anything less than parallel is a partial squat.
That’s a power curtsy.
We don’t do those at NF. We do full squats!
Once at the bottom, it’s time to stand back up!
Keeping everything tight, breathe out and drive through your heels (keep the balls of your feet on the ground as well).
Drive your knees out the same way you did on the way down, and squeeze your butt at the top to make sure you’re using your glutes.
Remember: keep your body and core tight the entire time. This is important now, but will be especially important once we start adding weight to the equation.
Note: Due to the fact that all of our bodies are different, none of our “perfect” squats will look exactly the same – someone with a longer femur, for example, will squat slightly different than someone with a shorter femur. Also, the majority of the population has some sort of mobility issue (including myself!) that they are working on fixing – so if your squat looks different than the person next to you, that does not mean you’re doing it wrong!