It may surprise you to hear, but squats may be the most functional exercise that you can perform. Why? Well, because without even realizing it, you are constantly squatting throughout the day. Whether you are simply sitting down in a chair or performing routine tasks like picking up your shopping, if you are doing it correctly, you are using your muscles to squat.
Squats are not only useful in everyday life, but they are also one of the best exercises to develop strength and muscle growth in your legs and core. If you are someone who moves on a daily basis, then you should definitely be incorporating them into your workout routine. Plus, just like walking, squats can be done anywhere, anytime, and require no equipment.
- 1 5 reasons why squats are the best functional exercises
- 2 How Do You Squat
- 3 Equipment
- 4 Where Next?
5 reasons why squats are the best functional exercises
Are you curious to know more? Good, because in this article we are going to cover 5 reasons why squats are one of the best functional exercises you can start doing regularly.
Increased muscle and fat burn
Even though you may think that squats focus only on your legs, in reality, it requires almost your entire body to perform them. Since it absorbs so much energy to perform one simple movement, imagine how much it takes to do squats repetitively throughout your day. In fact, squats are great at igniting the hormones responsible for muscle growth and development such as testosterone and growth hormone, and keeping them firing for long periods. This is important if you want to bulk up, lift, or tone because with an increase in hormones, comes an increase in muscle tissue. Plus, the harder you body has to work to repair and maintain those muscles, the higher your constant steady state rate of fat burning becomes — even when you’re resting!
Better Mobility and Balance
With squats, you are forced to engage your core, your abs, and your back muscles all at once in order to maintain a proper position during the movement. When you are able to keep the correct position, you will engage many joints including your hips, knees and ankles, and guide them through their full range of movement which will increase their stability and your mobility.
Tone and Shape your butt
The answer to every but in a gym should be: Squat! Seriously, there is nothing better for a butt than a squat. Both females and males who want to know how to shape and lift their bum often get told: start squatting. Few exercises deliver a more amazing glute workout to help tone and lift your tush than a squat.
Improved athletic performance
Professional power lifter, Layne Norton has one rule when it comes to working out. He says, “Don’t go to the gym with chicken legs.” If you’re being told that by the professionals, then there must be something to it. Squatting is not only the best way to build leg muscle, but due to its constant core engagement, it is one of the best ways to improve your overall athletic performance.
Squatting requires you to learn how to regulate your breath, which is beneficial in many exercises when you need to keep consistency and pace. Breathing regularly and with purpose also helps you engage your core, and, as you probably know, having an engaged core works you from top to bottom giving you an overall improved workout.
Reduces your chance of Injury
No one wants to endure injury unnecessarily, so strengthen your ligaments and stabilize your muscles by adding some functional training squats to your routine. Squatting in combination with improving your flexibility and mobility will significantly lower your chances of injury. In fact, there are many stories from personal trainers and athletes alike who have suffered from everything from knee pain to back pain, and swear that squats helped them heal. In fact, one of our trainers here suffered from a prolapsed disc many years ago and will now look you in the eye and tell you that squats were the key to helping him keep his lower back strong and healthy after his recovery. In fact, he will go further to say that if he skips squatting, there is an almost immediate return to back pain.
Have we said enough? By now it should be clear that squatting is an exercise you should prioritize.
How Do You Squat
So now that we’ve covered why you should be squatting during your gym workouts, we’re going to cover howyou should be doing them because there is no reason you should add such a valuable exercise to your routine only to injury yourself.
Learning to squat correctly is an effective tool to teach you how your body moves. It is also one of the most natural and primitive movements we can do, and therefore a good barometer to see how in tune you are with your body. When you perfect your squatting, you are learning how your muscles operate both individually and in tandem, which will help you improve your form with many other exercises.
Squats have a bad reputation for causing injury. Since they are a difficult exercise to execute correctly, it takes many repetitions and a lot of close coaching to make sure that you are properly squatting. However, once you have the basics down, you will have one all-around killer exercise to amp up your routine.
So let’s get started by going over what you need in order to successfully begin squatting.
Setup the Squat
Now that you have taken the time to cover all the preliminaries, it is time to prepare to squat. No matter how many times you do a squat, you need to take your time every timeand make sure that you plan out your movements carefully. If you practice squatting incorrectly, eventually it will become muscle memory and much harder to retroactively correct
To do a correct squat you first need to check and see if the middle of your foot is inline with your center of gravity. That means that you should have a straight line from the arch of your foot to the crown of your head.
Once your body is in line, it is time to unrack. Before you unrack, take a deep breath in to engage your core and squeeze your glutes forward. Doing this prepares your body to take the weight of the bar and pop it out of the rack. When you shoulder the weight you don’t want to “quad” it out of the rack by using your thighs to shove the weight upwards and onto your shoulders. Instead, engage your strongest muscle groups (your hips, glutes, and core) to smoothly transition the bar from the rack onto your shoulders.
When you practice unracking, try using both the high and low-bar positions to figure out which is more comfortable. Each requires a slightly different positioning of the bar, so it is better to know which way you prefer before you begin squatting rather than changing your mind mid squat.
What Is The Difference Between a Low Bar and High Bar Squat?
So how do you decide between a high and low-bar squat?
A high-bar position is the classic “Olympic” style that hits the quads more than a low bar. It also keeps the body far more upright making it a much better style for people with lower back issues. This style tends to be the preference of people who have shorter legs and longer torsos. For people with that body type, having the bar sit right on top of your trapezius muscles makes it easier to stand upright when squatting. Plus, having your bar on your shoulders is a more comfortable position.
For a low-bar position, the bar will sit a little lower and rest on your delts instead of on your trapezius and utilities a wider stance. The low-bar position changes the exercise from quadriceps to hips focused exercise. Keeping the bar resting on your delts also engages more muscles including the posterior chain (your back essentially) As this uses more muscle groups the low-bar position means that you can lift more weight making it ideal for power-lifter. This style tends to be a less comfortable position for most people, but it can be more comfortable for people who have longer legs than torsos.
Executing a Squat
Most people think of a squat as an up and down movement, but it’s not. Actually, a squat requires you to move your hips and glutes slightly from side to side. This sideways movement occurs naturally as you push through your feet to drive your weight up and lock out your squat.
If you are squatting properly, you should be concentrating on your hip movements because how intentionally you activate your hips and lead with them determines how well you will squat. When you begin your squat and descend, imagine that you are driving your hips back and trying to sit between your legs. This will help you achieve the proper depth and allow you to avoid improper positioning which could cause you to stop a squat before it is complete.
Once you’ve achieved depth you should come back up naturally. When you begin to rise back up, drive your hips forward to help you maintain balance and lock out your squat.
During the entire squat, remembering your breath is key. You will generate the most force during your squat by holding your air in your abs to brace yourself. Think of the automatic reaction you would have if someone were to punch you. That is the sensation you should duplicate. Bracing not only increases your force, but it helps keep your lower back neutral and protected by keeping you upright.
What do you do with your knees? This is an important question to consider because these joints are what allow you to squat in the first place. Make sure you treat them nicely! To do that, always remember that you want your knees no further forward than your toes.
When you squat slowly drive your knees forward concentrating on keeping them moving in a straight line so that they track above your ankles and feet and don’t splay out. If you relax your form and allow your knees to drop in or flop out, it can cause them to tighten which will shorten your range of motion causing you to fold forward and your form to collapse.
Keep Your Back Straight
Heavily influenced by your knees, your back’s position is the last part of a squat execution that you need to consider. Unlike the depth of your squat and the tracking of your knees, the angle of your back will be different for everyone. Just like every person is built uniquely, everyone will have a very individual angle to which their back can bend. While you should still strive to squat as upright as you can, due to the lengths of femurs and torsos, everyone will look slightly different as they squat.
They key is to maintain spine neutrality, or keep your back straight. When you keep yourself upright you are working to avoid flexion. Flexion is the result of leaning too far forward and bending your spine unnaturally. This is unsurprisingly bad for you back, and the heavier you lift the more dangerous it becomes. When your back contorts with so much weight pressing down on it, your spinal discs will become unevenly compressed and cause them to rub together which can damage cartilage and leave you injured.
Putting it All Together
So now that you know all the components that work together to make a perfect squat, it’s time to put it into practice.
The number one thing to remember when you begin squatting is that you need to make sure to go deep enough. That means that your hip joint should go below the knee joint. If you cannot reach that far now, don’t worry, if you keep practicing, you will. In the meantime, make sure that you are at least parallel to your knees at the bottom of your squat.
The most important thing to remember is: the more consistently you maintain a correct form, the fewer the deviations from your center line you will have, and the easier and more effective your squats will be.
The goal is to be able to squat heavy, safely, and efficiently. However, don’t be surprised if you aren’t perfect the first time. It’s a skill, and skills are developed through repetition. Therefore, even if you aren’t lifting heavy now, do not neglect your form. If you treat light weight like it’s heavy, then pretty soon, you will be treating heavy weight like it’s light.
Like most fitness related activities, there is equipment involved in performing an exercise. Although with squats you don’t technicallyneed to have anything other than your person to perform them, if you choose to add weight or just want to improve your efficiency, you will want certain tools.
For squats, besides the actual barbell and weights that you will use to add extra oomph to your squatting routine, all the extra equipment that you need will be worn to help you squat more safely and efficiently.
Cross trainers or tennis shoes seem like the logical footwear to wear to the gym. However, if you are focusing on squatting, then they are exactly what you don’t want to wear. Instead, you should wear flat soled or squat shoes. Why? The short answer is physics. Newton’s claim that every action has an equal, but opposite reaction holds true even for the gym.
When you are balancing heavy weight on your shoulders, you want your feet to be solidly in contact with the ground. That way the force bearing down on you is evenly distributed and when you push up against the bar, the force you exert against the ground will uniformly push back up and you will be able to raise yourself and the bar more smoothly.
Why can’t you do that with cross trainers? Although they are comfortable and great for many other exercises, cross trainers will not distribute the force of the weight evenly. Instead, the large cushion on the sole designed to absorb a lot of impact from activities like running (which is what it is supposed to do!) However, by absorbing the impact, these shoes will dissipate the power that you could have had you been solidly in contact with the ground and can make you unbalanced – not what you want when you have a heavy weight on your shoulders! So while your cross-trainers will be OK for light weights as you get started, it will not take long before you will find yourself needing something better suited to the task.
If you are looking at squatting or dead-lifting any real weight, then there are two types of shoes that meet the right criteria. The first are the Olympic style weight lifting shoes. These are designed with a wide footing and a stiff sole to allow the force from your legs to translate into upward pressure. They are also made with a raised heel which changes the angle of your ankle to allow better better activation of the quads.
The second is the good old Chuck Taylors…yes really, those Chuck Taylor Converse are loved by powerlifters as they offer a wide, stable sole and no restrictions on movement….and they are cheap!
Chuck Taylors or Weight Lifting Shoes?
If you are a beginner or intermediate level squatter, it seems that weight lifting shoes with heel lifts may help you improve squat form. They also engage quadriceps more so may help lifters get bigger quads as well. If your goals are to improve your squats or towards bodybuilding and bigger quads rather than power-lifting, Olympic shoes may be just what you are looking for.
However if you are already lifting heavy weights and your prime aim is lifting more rather than hypertrophy, then your squat is probably hip dominant, with the bar lower on your back with a wider stance. In this case the raised heel of Olympic style shoes will potentially hinder your form rather than help so go with the Chuck’s – you really cannot argue when every time you see someone with a monstrous barbell on their back is wearing a pair of chucks can you?
Weight lifters that you see wearing belts at the gym are not doing so for the sake of fashion. Actually, quite the opposite. They, and you, should be wearing a belt that focuses on helping you squat better. Of course you have likely heard the rumor that squatting with a belt weakens your core. That is not true.
Science shows that belts actually help you increase activation in your core for two reasons. First, belts give your abs something to brace against so that it can remain tight and engaged. Secondly, because your core is so contracted and involved in your movements, you will be able to do more reps, which will help perpetuate the cycle of core activation. Having said this, I do advise that you use the belt while performing the actual exercise you need support doing. You DO NOT need to wear a weight lifting belt while doing bicep curls or while walking between pieces of equipment.
So what should you look for in a belt? If you choose to squat with a belt, you need to have one that is about 10-13 millimeters thick and made out of stiff leather. Anything less may not give you the support you require which will leave your back exposed for potential injury. We’ve found this one to be well made and comfortable and won’t break the bank.
Wraps & Sleeves
For squatting, and weightlifting in general, wrapping vulnerable joints is always a good idea.
For your knees there are two types of wrapping that you can choose from: knee sleeves and knee wraps. Though neither is bad, many people prefer knee sleeves because they are easier to get on and off and because you don’t have to pay attention to the pressure of each wrap. Unlike wraps, sleeves give an all-over consistent amount of pressure every time.
Wrist wraps are not necessary for every squatter. Whether or not you use wraps depends on how you grip the bar (we’ll get to that). If you squat high-bar squats then likely you won’t need to wrap your wrists. However, if you squat low-bar squats. You are going to want to wrap your joints.
When squatting with a low bar, the position of the barbell is such that it puts undue pressure on your wrists at an unnatural angle. Using wraps helps stabilize your wrist joint so that it is easier for you to keep it in a proper position and avoid injury.
Squats are one of the best exercises you can do for both for strength and mobility, but only when done right. So make sure you get a personal trainer or someone that knows what they are doing to get your technique right before you progress beyond light weights.
As you get stronger and better at squats you can tailor the program to your goals – eg pure strength, size or just maintenance. Whatever you do though, make sure your squats are worked and you will make great progress towards any fitness goal you may have.