When you squat, with your heels firmly on the ground and your back nice and straight, you will feel your hamstrings, quads, achilles tendons, lower back, and groin gently release all the tension of being a member of today’s chair-sitting, heel-wearing society.
Squatting is one of the best movements that you can do with your body because it hits so many different muscle groups. The obvious muscle groups are the quads, hamstrings, and glutes but don’t forget the core and trunk muscles that have to stabilize your torso and help you maintain a nice neutral spine.
By simply getting into a squat position you can stay loose and mobile as well as undo some of the mobility and strength issues we see from sitting in chairs much of our day.
According to a study called Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat, the mighty squat is a complicated movement that allows all of your body parts to work together and grow stronger as a single unit. When compared to something like a single arm bicep curl, the squat makes a much more significant impact on your body and can increase a greater variety of performance parameters.
You don’t even have to do a weighted squat to see these benefits either. By simply getting down into a squat position you can stay loose and mobile as well as undo some of the mobility and strength issues we get from sitting in chairs the majority of our day.
So don’t get scared off thinking this article is going to be all about squatting “the exercise” that is often characterized by a large man with an enormous barbell across his back. I actually hesitate to call squatting an "exercise" at all—unless, of course, you are that large man with that enormous barbell across your back. Aside from that, the squat (and simply squatting) can be as natural as taking a seat.
I’m not kidding. The vast majority of the world engages in squatting as a way to pick stuff off the floor, go to the bathroom, eat a meal, drink tea, or chat with friends. For them (and you, should you accept this challenge) squatting is an extremely basic act.
The first thing I want you to remember is that you should squat in whatever way feels most comfortable for you. As you get better at the squatting movement, your aim should be to improve your form and positioning but do not force your body into any position that it isn’t ready for. That might mean that you squat with a narrow stance or (like me) a wider stance. Maybe your toes are pointing straight forward or maybe (like me) they’re rotated outward a bit. Let your skeleton be your guide.
The second thing I want you to remember is to focus on your range of motion, rather than immediately trying to squat a heavy load. As long as you can maintain good form (and don’t have to fudge it just to get yourself lower), squatting deeper with a lighter barbell, kettlebell, or nothing at all is better for you. It also produces greater muscular and tendon adaptations than when your squat is shallow but with huge heavy plates on the barbell.
Although weighted squats will make you strong, it is not the only way to do it. A Japanese study on the effects of body mass-based squat training found that an eight-week program that had its participants do 100 bodyweight squats each day increased lean mass, vertical jump, and knee muscle strength while also lowering the participant's body fat percentage.
Next, unless you are a powerlifter preparing for a competition, a study on wearing knee wraps suggested that wearing any type of knee brace can actually change the mechanics of the squat. It also alters the targeted musculature and can compromise the integrity of the knee joint. That is exactly the opposite of what we are aiming for. We want to build you up, not break you down. So, I encourage you to avoid using those knee wraps and instead focus on making your body stronger and more stable.
If you are having a lot of trouble getting into a squat, single leg squat variations (split squats and lunges) are very effective replacements or alternatives which target the same muscles groups and even result in similar hormonal responses. One of the fit-folks who I coach experiences knee pain when she squats but can do lunges all day long. So, while we sort out what is going wrong in her knee, she is seeing some real gains from performing the alternatives.
They Can Double As Cardio
Body weight exercises like squats, push-ups, and pull-ups are also incredibly energy intensive which makes them a great tool for driving your heart rate up and getting some metabolic conditioning.
One of the things that I love about body weight exercises like squats, push-ups, and pull-ups is that they are also incredibly energy intensive which makes them a great tool for driving your heart rate up and getting some metabolic conditioning. An article called Do We Systematically Underestimate the Energetic Costs of Push-Ups, Pull Ups, Squats & Co detailed how some new studies say that anaerobic exercises actually burn twice as much energy as we had previously thought.
This means that for a fellow with a body weight of 175 pounds, 30 minutes of body weight exercises doesn't consume the 288 calories we previously would have calculated. It actually consumes more like 576 calories which is a lot more than 30 minutes of running on a treadmill would consume (~400 calories).