If you are one of those determined fitness freaks who is in search of resources to boost the overall fitness levels and attain massive results, you are at the right place.
Look no ahead than Squats! Aren’t leg muscles the least trained in the gym?
We see so many amateur gymmers who focus on having a wider back and showing off those guns, but who ignore the leg muscles completely.
Squats perhaps are the most misunderstood exercise out there. Not only do they work your quads and hamstrings, but benefit the overall body and core too.
Benefits of Doing Squats
1. Squats help build muscle throughout the entire body, not just limited to the leg muscles
Squats help build an anabolic environment; that is so crucial for building muscle mass.
Hormones that are important for building muscles, such as testosterone and other growth hormones, are released by doing such total body exercises. Because of the secretion of these hormones, muscle mass in other areas of the body is increased too.
Testosterone helps build lean muscle mass and increase the bone density too. It is rather tempting for gymmers to focus on bicep curls and lat pull downs more, but weighted squats will fetch better and faster results.
2. Core of the body is strengthened
These days, the concept of a strong core has been hyped so much that it is easy to fall into the trap of looking for “strong core in a few weeks” workouts. The fundamental rule of building a strong core is: activating the core muscles.
Squats is a type of exercise that requires stabilization and the core ensures that the posture is maintained.
Keeping the core tight while performing weight squats helps increase the midsection strength.
3. Weight squats help increase flexibility of the body
Doing squats requires great form. Not doing them perfectly only increases the probability of causing a lower back injury. You are going to use a full body motion range to perform one rep.
Significant amount of hip and ankle flexibility is required to complete the exercise. The benefit is: reduced back pain woes and more strength.
4. Chances of injury is lower
When the muscles adjacent to your legs and knees get stronger, the chances of injury while running, skipping, and doing other activities involving the leg muscles get lower.
Indeed, there are other leg muscle building exercises such as the leg presses, hamstring curls and quad extensions. But no other exercise involves all the muscle groups of the legs as a squat does.
Another benefit of squats over other machine dependent exercises is, it builds great stability and real leg strength.
5. Squats aid fat loss
Squats is the best strength training exercise that works out all the muscles in the body. To lose weight, the muscle mass has to increase.
As mentioned above, squats help build more muscles mass than most other exercises. An increase in muscle mass aids higher metabolism that leads to more fat loss.
Activating the muscle fibers burns additional calories. Mix them with cardio workouts and see the results for yourself. Also, the overall health is bolstered too, with the release of fluids and excretion of waste from the body.
A guide to different types of squat exercises:
1) Body weight Squats: This exercise is for beginners in general. Just like push ups build the strength in the pectoral chest muscles, body weight squats are great to build strength in the leg muscles for men. For women, body weight squats are instrumental in toning the legs.
The most basic form of a body weight squat is, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Placing the hands on the neck is optional.
Flex the knees and start the movement. Keeping your head and chest up, gradually sit back with the hips till the thighs are parallel to the floor. Go down only till the point where the burn in the muscles is felt, going too down will only encourage injury.
You can use a Swiss ball against the wall initially for correct form. These warm up your muscles well and build strength so that they are ready for weighted squats.
There are some variants of this exercise too. For instance, you can try Sumo squats where the legs are slightly wider instance than in the traditional body weight squats.
Also, the quads muscles in this exercise are hit in a more intense manner.
2) Barbell Squats: This is perhaps the best muscle builder on the legs. To start the reps, make sure that the barbell is well supported on the rack. Assume the initial position, where the legs are spaced out slightly more than the shoulder width.
Grasp the barbell to its sides, with appropriate plate weights on it and support the barbell on your traps. Squat down slowly, making sure that the knees bend forward.
Go down till the point where your thighs are totally parallel to the floor. Do not aim for more range of motion when going down, as that will only cause injury to your knees.
Quadriceps are the primary muscles targeted in this exercise, but the glutes and hamstrings are worked out well too.
Most people cannot bear the free barbell weight. In this case, a Smith machine comes to use. You can start doing weight squats using the Smith machine barbell. The stabilizer muscles are not used so much in this exercise variant.
Start with a comfortable weight and keep the points mentioned above in mind while doing reps. Done correctly, this exercise will add huge mass to your leg muscles.
3) Front Squats: You may have noticed front squat variations used in CrossFit training. This exercise is one of the best out there to build leg strength, strengthen the core and the upper back.
Place the barbell with appropriate weight in front of your body, on the anterior deltoids, keep your chest up and squat down till the thighs are parallel to the ground floor. This exercise works the upper back and quadriceps more intensely as compared to the back squat.
Another way of doing this exercise is, gripping the barbell with a width slightly more than the shoulder width so that the undue pressure on shoulders and traps is eliminated.
Ensure that your wrists are in line with the elbow, because you will be working with heavy weights. Front squats are better for athletes.
4) Zercher squats: One of the most uncommon workout exercises for legs. To build a strong upper back and lower body, it is one of the best leg exercises. It has a strong resemblance to the traditional deadlifts that work the core so hard.
Bend your elbows and gently place the barbell with weights on the bent elbows. Squat down until the elbows touch the sides of your thighs. Come back to the initial position.
One of the best advantages of this exercise is: you know how deep you will go when squatting down. This automatically reduces the chances of injury. Also, it is quite simple to execute.
A bodybuilder’s goal is to tear apart the muscle fibers and make sure every repetition counts. As far as form is concerned, Zercher squats can be executed well.
5) Overhead squats: Many Olympic weightlifters perform this exercise. For weight lifters that do not compete professionally, it is a great exercise to build body balance and strengthen the lower body.
Some pointers to keep in mind while performing reps of overhead squats:
a) Make sure that the elbows are completely locked out. Use a closed grip, with the thumb gripping on to the bar tightly.
b) When looking at the exercise reps from a sideways angle, the bar should seem as if it is moving in a vertical motion. The key is to keep the torso as straight and vertical as possible.
c) The load will be too much, at least more than that in back or front squats. Focus on knee break more than the hip break. The range of motion when squatting down is limited to avoid back injuries. For more range of motion, you can gently raise your heels by a few inches.
6) Bulgarian split squats: In order to train overall balance sense, this exercise is the best and for obvious reasons has become one of the most tried out leg exercises at the gym.
The advantage is you do not need too much weights to load the muscles. The primary focus has to be on developing balance, by taking one leg at a time and slowly then increasing the muscle load.
Gently rest one leg on a bench, or a platform. Keeping an upright initial position, push the hips back and squat down. Go down till the point your thighs make a parallel angle with the floor. This is just like the lunges.
A good idea for beginners would be to build quad strength with bodyweight lunges first, followed by one legged lunges, before going to perform Bulgarian split squats. One legged body weight squats will help accentuate the muscle strength and endurance too.
7) Hack Squat: This exercise is more of a deadlift than a squat. Whatever be the nature of the exercise, it is one of the best to build a great lower body. It focuses more on the quadriceps. Starting with a reasonably light load is recommended for beginners.
Place a barbell with weights behind your feet and with your heels raised slightly, grab the barbell. Use an overhand grip to lift the barbell. Keep the chest up and back in an arched position. The final position: a straight body posture.
Some handy tips for squatting:
1) Keep the back stable
Rounding the back is one of the most common problems among squatters. Sometimes, not using the full range of motion and error in squat depth is the issue to be addressed.
To maintain a steady firm grip on the barbell, overall body strength is required. That means a strong shoulders, a strong upper back and traps strength, etc. Keep the lower back tight during, the lower range of motion.
2) Correct squat depth
Squats pose a great challenge to mobility. Hip mobility issues arise when there are back injuries, injuries in the ankle or knee joints, tightness in hamstrings and glutes, etc.
Use a spot initially or a professional trainer to help you reach the exact depth. Anything lesser will not train the muscles effectively, and anything more will only worsen the back.
Push your hips back and abdominal muscles in front. You can use a gym bench as a parameter to know how deep you should squat.
3) Push the knees out, never close them in
Pushing the knees outwards while squatting has two main advantages: first, the strain on the lower back is reduced because glute muscles are activated, second, adductors are activated while squatting.
More the muscles used, lesser are the chances of causing injury to the lower back.
4) Experiment with the stance as you build up squat strength
:Start with a shoulder width stances, and gradually you can increase the width. Do not take a Sumo squat stance though.
5) Be consistent: Consistency is the key when it comes to building leg mass. Many amateur bodybuilders start off very well, but lack of persistence forces them to quit squatting altogether.
Squatting is a gradual process that builds overall muscle mass, so keep practicing. Get it straight; fetching the results on a linear basis is not possible. Also, analyze your workout performance on a daily basis.
Keeping a workout log really helps in the long run. You can track your strength level, the improvement in squat performance, lifting power, etc.
Frequently asked questions:
1) How many times should I squat in a week?
The thumb rule is, every muscle group has to be worked out at least once per week to build mass, maximum twice, not more than that. The muscles need time to recover from the grueling resistance you will provide them with in the gym.
Do not overdo yourself, as long as you are doing just what is needed, you will see the results.
Proper recovery time, consistency and appropriate diet plan is important for building muscle mass. As they say, “Body is built in the kitchen, not the gym.”
2) Should girls squat?
Yes, so what if there is not sufficient testosterone to add mass to the leg muscles. In fact, majority of the best results have been when women squat on a consistent basis.
For a properly toned body and strength, there are few other lower body exercises that improve the posterior effectively. As mentioned before, fat burning is achieved faster when you squat.
3) Soreness in muscles is felt, am I doing it right?
Soreness is a common effect of working out your leg muscles. There is no sign of any injury.
When you do workout, the muscle tissues are torn apart and repair when you feed them with proper nutrition and rest.
Many squatters notice soreness in the knees. As far as it is bearable, soreness is fine, but if it gets unbearable, the chances are that incorrect form may have injured the knees. You can wear knee sleeves for protection.