So squats… what exactly are they are all about, how should you do them and why all the hype? The squat is possibly the most popular exercise when it comes to womens magazines, social media posts, gym programmes and your personal training set up. They feature in everything from the ‘legs, bums and tums’ classes to bikini body workouts to your all signing all dancing serious strength training programme. So what’s so great about the Squat and should you be including it in your exercise regime?
First off the squat is not a new movement. It isn’t the latest craze nor miracle pill to create a Kim Kardashian butt. We’ve been squatting since we were babies and we’ve all looked on enviously when a toddler crouches with ease to pick up their toy. This ‘ass to grass’ squat feels completely natural to them and this ‘third world squat’ as it’s sometimes called is still common practice in many countries. In some parts of the world people sit like this all day over using chairs and the squat-and-drop holes are used over ‘the throne’ when it comes to doing our business. So with this in mind just where did the ‘no lower than 90 degrees’ come from when it comes to squatting and is it good practice? We will come to this all in good time, but first of all let’s break the squat down. What are you actually working when you squat, how exactly should you perform it and when should you avoid squatting…
What are you actually working when you squat
The squat is a mammoth movement, but in technical terms it is known as a compound movement as it crosses two joints – the knee and the hip. It predominantly works the glutes, quads and hamstrings, which are all huge muscles requiring a lot of energy to fire. If you consider the bodyweight squat and then add a kettle bell or dumbbell then you’ll also need to engage your core, arms, shoulders and back to perform the movement making this arguably one of the best exercises there is for an all over body workout. On it’s own it uses a huge amount of muscles to execute require a large amount of energy i.e. calorie burn. Therefore, given you maximum bang for your buck. So all in all, the squat is an all round fabulous exercise. Whether it’s body weight, with added weight such as a kettle bell or a fully loaded bar as part of a strength training programme.How do you perform the squat properly
Firstly let’s start with the execution of the squat before we get into the details surrounding the depth.
- Start with you feet just a little wider than hip width apart and turn your toes slightly out maybe 5-20 degrees or number 1 on a clock face
- Look straight ahead finding a spot on the wall you can look at through the movement, so you don’t look down or up when performing the movement
- Engage through the abdominals keeping a tight core and put your arms out in front parallel to the floor). Chest lifted proud and back straight
- Lead with the hips and send these backwards and then down thinking about pivoting around the knees rather than bending the knees. The hips lead this movement. Keep your chest lifted and abs engaged. Try not to fold forward during the movement. Always make sure your knees are in line with your toes, so not flaring out or rolling in.
- Aim for your hips to reach parallel with the knee joint to get a full range of movement and a full squat
- Drive through the heels and push up with the hips to straighten the leg and bring you back to standing position
- REMEMBER: Breathe throughout the movement. We suggest you exhale as you push through the heels and come back into standing. Don’t hold your breathe!
Once you’ve mastered the body weight squat only then would you start to add weights. You can add dumbbells, a kettlebell, a bar or a dog! Really it’s whatever is handy! (Baxter loves being part of my squat practice!)
Why do people say “No Lower than 90 Degrees with your Knees”?
This is an interesting one and I believe it comes from the 80’s boom in aerobics. Going no lower than 90 degrees became the ‘standard’ delivery as group exercise classes took off. It was a ‘safety’ cue to cater to the masses as instructors were no longer supervising individual technique. However, hovering at the 90 degree angle actually puts pressure on the knee, as you’re not fully engaging your hamstrings. As we grow older developing leg strength and practicing squating is so important. How many old people do you see who can’t get out of a chair? Because our soft cushioned chairs take our bottoms lower than 90 degrees and we slouch back and have no ability to activate the muscles to get us up from this position. But what if you have bad knees? To squat or not to squat? Well, on occasions if your knee pain is too bad or your arthritis has crippled the joint them perhaps squatting isn’t for you and you’d need to find an alternative to strengthen the leg. However, if you can sit on the toilet, sit in a chair, sit in a car, sit to eat dinner and have drinks then you can squat… and you’re doing it every day, so there’s no reason why under supervision you shouldn’t be squatting. There are a host of ways to develop the squat technique and strength from using suspension as support to body weight to balance boards. So… give it a go.