Squats are a natural movement that you do all the time. If you think about it, you perform a squat when getting in and out of the car or when sitting or rising out of a chair. We’ve been squatting since we were aboriginals, as we tended the fire or made our tools. There’s even an exercise called the “caveman squat” because of this.
Many people who work out “forget” or simply don’t want to do squats. Or maybe they just don’t know how good squats are for them. If you are in the latter category, read on to learn why. You’ll also get tips on how to do squats, proper squat form, and an idea of some of the many types of squats that you can incorporate into your strength workout.
Why Do Squats?
There are many reasons to do squats. Here are three big ones:
1) Get a Whole Body Workout
In one form or another, the squat is often called the “King of All Exercises.” This is because the best complete body-strengthening move is the squat. Squats can provide more muscle growth across the whole body than any other movement.
2) Age-Proof Your Body
As we get older, keeping the ability to perform squats is vital to living independently. Consider that when you’re in advanced years, you’ll need to squat so that you can get off the toilet and in and out of chairs. Leg strength (which squats help develop) is critical to keeping up your strength and mobility as you get older. Also, doing squats with weights can help you build bone density, which is essential as you age.
3) Do Any Activity Better
Doing squats regularly will help you build muscles in the legs for running and other sports. They can also improve your balance, flexibility, endurance, and posture. The stronger your legs and back are, the better you’ll be able to avoid injury—whether while training or in everyday lifting.
How to Do a Squat
There are many types of squats! In fact, you can read about 45 different variations on the squat if you like. But we’ll start with the basics: the body squat.
Body squats are the simplest form of a squat as an exercise (as opposed to a squat as an everyday movement). They can also be called “air squats” or “bodyweight squats.” No added weight is used, and they’re pretty easy to understand.
Just do the following:
- Stand with your feet about shoulders’ width apart, just slightly turned out.
- Place your hands on the back of your head, fingertips spread.
- Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then return to the starting position.
Squats with Weights
Combine the basic squat with many types of weights, and you’ll start to see how the variations will multiply. Weighted squats can be done with barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, a medicine ball, and more. Add to that the variations on position with types of weights…Well, you get the picture. Let’s look at what’s probably the most common way to add weights to a squat: back squats.
The Back Squat
This universally known squat is done with a barbell held behind the neck. (Incidentally, a barbell squat can also be done as a “front squat” or an “overhead squat”). Barbell squats especially work the lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The barbell back squat has a couple of variations: the more common “high-bar back squat” and the “low bar back squat,” which are self-explanatory. The latter requires a higher degree of hip hinge mobility.
How to Squat Without Injury—Squat Do’s and Don’ts
Whatever squat you’re doing, you want to perform squats with good technique. Any exercise done improperly can lead to injury, but it’s vital to learn proper technique when working with weights. If you have poor technique when doing squats with weights, you will add too much stress on your lower back.
- Get someone to spot you for proper squat form and do squats in front of a mirrored wall. Or, if you can’t do that, at the very least, view trainers on YouTube explaining the right way to do a particular squat.
- In general, engage your “core,” especially during the descent phase of the squat.
- Keep your chest stretching forward. Think about your sternum and point it straight ahead.
- Don’t do “partial squats” with weights, as they may wind up limiting your range of motion and increasing your risk of injury. According to many trainers, at the deepest part of the squat, your hamstrings should slightly touch the back of your calves.
- Put your weight on the middle of your feet or on your heels rather than on your toes.
- Don’t rush your depth of squat or weight as you progress with squats. As you start out, know your limits.
- Do watch for joint pain to correct your form. For example, if you feel joint pain in your knees, you may be going too low. Hip pain may signal that you are not doing enough turn out with your toes or knees. In fact, for good form, the lower you squat, the further apart your knees should end up, going from around a foot apart to about a foot and a half, for example.
Now you know a lot about this full-body workout and that doing squats can improve your overall fitness and strength. You may even find that not only does your energy rise from doing squats regularly, but your mood may improve as you master this challenging but rewarding part of your workout.
How will you know when you’ve “squatted” enough? Believe us, you’ll feel it!