The benefits of squats.

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Although the concept of training your lower body is wasted on some, others will rightly tell you that you should never skip leg day. Training the lower body is good for both men and women, and here’s 3 quick reasons why:

1. It promotes fat oxidation. I’m not saying you have a big bum, but your leg and bum muscle sets (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, etc.) are some pretty big muscle groups. When you train them with heavy weights, you can actually speed up your metabolism. Studies also provide evidence to say that your metabolism will stay high for hours after a good leg workout, meaning you are still burning calories after your session [1].

2. Lifting heavy on leg day will increase muscle-building hormones. Ok, I know this one is typically a goal of the men but remember – the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be and the more calories you will burn. A study on squatting concluded that lifting heavy on your squat will increase natural testosterone, which in turn increases your muscle-building potential [2].

3. Training lower body is essential for power. Nearly every sport relies on the ability to generate power from the lower limbs (e.g. sprinting, football, hockey). Therefore, a well developed lower body will allow you to be faster and more explosive when needed. Lower body strength training is also essential for distance runners as they need to endure 4x their body weight coming down on their lower limbs at each footfall.

So how do you do a barbell squat?

The best way to learn to squat is to get a qualified instructor to guide you through the process. However, if that’s not an option, I have the basic stages here and will link a ‘good form’ video in at the end. I always recommend practicing with an empty bar at most, leave the weight plates off until you get the form right.

Stage 1: The setup

  • Make sure the bar is at a comfortable height in the rack so you can easily take it off without going up on to your tip toes. Middle-chest height works for most people.
  • Your hand position will depend on you flexibility, but they should be tucked in relatively close.
  • During a high bar squat, the bar should rest across the top of the traps – not on the neck or spine!
  • Keep your body tight when removing the bar from the rack, your chest should be up and your elbows down.
  • Everyone is different when it comes to stance but I like to have my feet directly below my shoulders with my toes pointing slightly outwards.

Stage 2: The squat

  • Always keep your full foot planted on the ground. Some people tend to raise their heels, so imagine you’re trying to drive a stake into the ground with them and keep them down!
  • The weight should be centred over your mid foot, as can be seen in the illustration (right).
  • When discussing squat depth, there is no right answer. You should go as low as you are comfortably able to, preferably just below parallel (also seen in illustration).
  • Keep your whole body tight throughout the lift. This is very important in keeping you stable and allowing you to lift properly.
  • From the bottom of the rep, squeeze your glutes (bum) and press back up to the top.
  • Don’t fully lock out the knees at the top of the movement.
  • Last tip, practice, practice, practice. Also, do your research. I recommend Starting Strength by M. Rippetoe.

Why are squats such a good lower body exercise?

Obviously there are loads of different lower body exercises, so you may be asking ‘what is so special about squats?’

Well the thing about barbell squats is that they aren’t just a lower body exercise, they are a full body exercise. To squat successfully you have to fully engage your whole body, from your arms, through your core and all the way to the ground. Because of this, squats are highly regarded as a great core strengthener and should be a staple in your workout routine.

As well as strengthening muscle, squats also strengthen your joints and even promote flexibility, especially at the hip. Because of this, you will become more efficient in your day-to-day tasks. They are a functional exercise, and if you think about it we do bodyweight squats quite regularly (e.g. sitting down and standing up!).

I could go on and on about squatting, but we will keep the post short for now. However, if you have any questions or comments, as usual use the box below and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks for reading and check out the video below for extra tips on good form.

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About Author

As a physical education graduate and qualified personal trainer, Mathew is very knowledgable when it comes to fitness. Outdoor training is a personal favourite of Mathew’s but he also has a high degree of gym based experience.
Location: Carlisle

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