Squats have been called "The king of leg exercises" - and rightfully so! To get the most out of your squats, you have to perform them with proper procedure.
If you now, or eventually, want more of a challenge...
Cycling Application: Increased power to pedal stroke and increased strength for the lower back.
Muscles worked with squats: Thighs, buttocks and lower back; Hips extensors, spinal erectors, quadriceps and gluteals.
Practice Proper Form
- Keep feet shoulder-width apart.
- Shift your body weight to your heels, not your toes.
- Bend your knees but do not allow them to bend to an angle less than 90 degrees.
- Keep your back straight and your weight in your heels.
How to perform The Squat Exercise:
- Preparation: From a resting-place atop a squat rack, place barbell on upper back muscles (trapezius). Stand up, step back one or two steps. If using heavy weights you should have a spotter or have pins placed in the rack that will catch the weight if you loose your balance.
- Description: Slowly bend ankles, knees, and hips to lower body until thighs are parallel to the floor. Do not lean forward excessively. Keep fleet flat on floor and if you have poor flexibility in your Achilles tendon which causes your heal to come off the ground use a thin board under heels to help keep your balance. Straighten legs and return to starting position.
- Stand 12 to 18 inches from a wall; lean against it and slowly bend knees until thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold 20 to 30 seconds (longer as it gets easier), then slowly raise; repeat three times.
Remember: Go Low!
People who focus on nailing range of motion during squats and lunges - which means a 90-degree bend in the knees - became stronger and lost an average of 15 percent more fat than those who added extra weight but shortened the movement. There was a metabolism benefit, too. Those who got to 90-degrees retained more lean muscle mass after a month-long hiatus. Source: Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Plie Squat with Upright Row
Get a lot of bang for your muscles with the combo exercise! Works the thighs, shoulders, butt, core and hamstrings.
This is a combination exercise that works several large muscle groups at one time. It's great for a time crunch or just an extra challenge to add to your regime. We recommend this be used for those days when you're in a time crunch and a shorter exercise routine is in order.
How to perform The Plie Squat with Upright Row:
- Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward. Hold a 3 to 5 pound dumbbell in each hand in front of your thighs, palms facing inward. Squat and drop your arms straight down toward the floor until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs (do not lift your heels). Return to standing.
Note: You can also use just one weight if you're a beginner or just want a lighter workout. See illustration below.
- Point your elbows away from your body, keep your shoulders down, and draw the dumbbells up your chest as if zipping a jacket, keeping the weights close to your body. Lower your arms to complete the repetition.
- Do as many reps as you can in four minutes (about 20 to 40).
The non-locking out squats could be the default form of squatting if your are seeking recomposition versus simply getting better at the squat.
You can also up the intensity by locking out once movement becomes almost impossible in that continuous fashion, then doing standard reps with a few breaths in between to draw out a set even further.
How to perform The Non-Lockout Squat Exercise:
- Set a bar on a squat rack and step under it so the bar rests across your upper back. Pull your shoulders back as you grab the bar with an overhand grip. It should sit comfortably on your upper trapezius muscles.
- Lift the bar off the rack and step back. Set your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your knees slightly bent, back straight, and eyes focused straight ahead.
- Slowly lower your body as if you were sitting back into a chair, keeping your back in its natural alignment and your lower legs nearly perpendicular to the floor.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, pause and return to the starting position, without completely straightening your legs.
- Repeat the exercise without ever pausing at the top of the movement.
How to perform The Jump Squat Exercise:
- Hold a *barbell across the back of your shoulders and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Sit back into a squat.
- Jump up to the starting position.
- Land with your knees bent to absorb the impact.
- Pause, reset your body and repeat.
The first image below is a jump squat using just your body weight, the second using dumbbells.
*Note: You could also hold a dumbbell, 5 or 10 pounds, if you're new to this exercise. If totally new, try this without any weight at first, until you're comfortable with the movements and feel ready to add some weights.
Body Weight Squats
Last but certainly not least, the body weight squat is perhaps the best lower body exercise a person can do.
It basically works all the major muscle groups of the thighs, glutes and hamstrings. This exercise will firm up your legs and build strength to help you with everyday activities.
Important Note: If you have any knee, hip or ankle injuries or any other ailments that can cause discomfort or worsen any existing injuries, please do not perform this exercise without consulting a physician or fitness professional.
How to perform the Body Weight Squats:
- Position your feet slightly wider then hip-width apart with your toes slightly turned out
- Hold your hands out in front of you at shoulder height. This will counter balance your weight and help you keep your balance
- Slowly and under control bend your knees and lower yourself down as far as you can without lifting your heels off the floor and then after a brief pause at the bottom push your weight back up until you are back at the starting position
- Do 10 to 15 repetitions to finish one set before resting. You can repeat the set, but use your own discretion as to how much you can manage
Ballet Body Squat
Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart and knees and toes turned out. With hands on your hips and feet flat on the floor, slowly squat, making sure your knees don't go past your toes and keeping your back straight. When your thighs are nearly parrallel to the floor, pause and lift your heels. Slowly lower your heels and return to standing to complete the repetition. Work up to 25 reps.
Trainer tip: Hold on to a chair for balance if you need to.
Extra: Squat Punch Exercise
Targets butt, thighs, core, shoulders, arms
Stand with feet slightly more than hip-width apart, one weight in each hand. Bend elbows and raise weights to shoulder height, palms facing forward. Hinge at hips to lower into a squat. Straighten legs to stand and twist torso to right, coming onto the ball of left foot and extending left arm at shoulder height. Lower into another squat and repeat punch on opposite side. Alternate sides with each rep.
Make it easier: Ditch the weights; imagine punching through thick, dense air to create resistance.
Did You Know?
17,000 Trainers Must be Right! In a nationwide survey of 17,000 certified trainers (including yours-truly) conducted by the American Council on Exercise, the squat was voted the overwhelming favorite exercise because it strengthens all of the major muscles of the lower body. Other top trainer choices for a well-rounded fitness program include abdominal exercises, yoga, running, lunges, walking and push-ups.
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