Squats 101

The squat is one of the most essential strength training skills.  It is considered the “king” of all lifts because it is a total body, functional movement. You cannot get strong without a good squat.

Here are some benefits of learning to squat properly:

¨     Improved hip and knee flexibility. Hip and knee flexibility is essential for just about every movement in life. Squatting in a full range of motion helps achieve this.

¨     Increased strength. There are a lot of muscles in your lower half. Squats aren’t just about the quadriceps. Your glutes, hamstrings, and adductor (inner thigh) muscles are involved in facilitating the movement.

¨     Increased overall functional strength. Walking, running, sitting, climbing stairs, carrying heavy loads are everyday movements that become easier the more you squat.

¨     Aesthetics. Let’s face it – a tight, muscular butt just plain looks good.

If having a nice rear end doesn’t convince you that you need to squat, then you can stop reading now. 

While the squat may be the king of lifts it is also the king of controversy and myth. Let’s discuss a couple here:

1. “My doctor told me squats are bad for my knees.” Frankly the doctor who suggests squats are bad for the knees is an idiot. How does this doctor get on and off the toilet? Just asking. Proper squat technique strengthens the knees because it engages the quads, glutes, hamstrings and the oft neglected adductors. The adductors are located on the inside of your thigh and help pull your leg across the front of your body. Strong adductors are essential in keeping the knee joint stable. Full range of motion squats strengthens your adductors more effectively than those stupid inner thigh machines. This conveniently brings us to our next myth.

 2. “My trainer told me to squat only half way because full squats are too dangerous.” And the idiot trainer award goes to… Actually there are a lot of “highly educated” trainers with science and kinetics degrees who screw this one up big time. Half squats actually cause knee pain over time because the knee is forced to stop the downward movement. That’s a lot of pressure on a very unstable joint. Conversely, in a full range of motion squat, where the crease of the hips drop to just below the knee, the powerful hips take the brunt of the downward pressure away from the knees. In half squats only the quadriceps are emphasized, potentially leading to muscular imbalances. Deep squats work the quads, hamstrings, glutes and adductors.

Proper Technique

Want to see proper squat technique in action? Watch a toddler. Little kids sit naturally in the bottom of the squat. They have perfect depth, the knees are over the feet, feet are shoulder width apart, and, if they aren’t picking at things on the floor, their chest is up. Everything you need to learn about the squat you can learn from a two-year-old!

Ok, maybe not. Here are some pointers from a 37-year-old:

¨     Stand up tall. In the start you want to keep your chest lifted, your eyes forward and up slightly. You don’t want to strain your neck by looking at the ceiling.

¨     Your feet are shoulder width or slightly wider apart with toes turned out slightly. This isn’t a wide ballet style stance.

¨     Pull your stomach in tight. Imagine sucking your belly button into your spine.

¨     Keep your weight in your heels as if they were cemented to the floor.

¨     As you descend into the bottom of the squat keep the chest lifted and eyes up.

¨     At the bottom of the squat the crease of your hips are below your knees. Your knees are over your feet. Pushing your knees out while in the bottom position will prevent them from rolling inward.

¨     Activate your glutes and keep pushing your knees out as you stand.

¨     Maintain a lifted chest with your eyes up.

¨     Stand tall at the top of the movement with hips fully extended.

 If you are deconditioned or have had the misfortune of learning bad technique it will take time to master the squat. We start beginners by having them sit on a box at the bottom of the squat. Depending on flexibility we’ll start with a 16” box and gradually work our way down to the proper depth for that person. Don’t worry about barbells and one rep maximums yet. Loading a bar and squatting with bad form is an injury waiting to happen.

 Squats should be the foundation of any strength training program. When you’ve mastered the basic squat you can challenge yourself with front squats and overhead squats. These variations help build core strength, balance and upper body strength.

 Now get your squat on!

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