Every time I tell someone I’m a fitness trainer, the first thing they tell (or perhaps, ask) me is… My (insert body part) are fat/skinny/flabby (or a derivative of one of those three words).
*Disclaimer: The reason why I say “perhaps, ask” is because of the awkward silence that follows after they tell me that. And then they will go on saying… “So… How do I get that?” thus it becomes a question! Too smart.
And more often than not, the most common body part I get is the abs, thighs and butt. No I do not believe in spot training and it does not work that way but if I tell you right now that there is an exercise that works pretty much every single part of your body, would you buy it? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you, the SQUATS.
Squats, like push ups, targets a lot of different muscles in our body. Apart from working on your leg muscles (hello Captain Obvious!), you are really actually activating the whole body to get yourself in the right balance and position of execution. In fact, you will find that doing a lot of squats is exhausting. Why? Because you are using your whole body. And that’s the great thing about them.
I do squats, at least 3 times a week. Variations of it – body weight, sumo, air, jump – and let me tell you this, after years of training ’em legs and booty, I still
hate dislike days in the gym which involves the squats. In fact, just last week I had a session with my brother and we had to do 30 front squats with a 20kg bar, my glutes and thighs sore for four freakin’ days. Not funny.
The thing about squats is that, you really have to master the form to reap the most benefits out of it. There’s so much into it and if you do it wrongly, you’re not only risking hurting yourself but you’re also wasting time and effort. One time two years ago, I walked up to the squat rack and stacked two 20kg plates, one on each end. Like a boss. I squat alright, but when it was time to get back up, I couldn’t. Lucky someone helped me with it. It was probably the scariest and most embarrassing moment in my gym life, and I do not want you to repeat that cause I care.
Anyway, here’s the deal about squats, and how you can do it safely.
Before you stack any weights on you, or hold on to any dumbbells beside you, I want you to follow the steps below to make sure you get the form and position right.
Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your feet angled out slightly. This ensures you’re in balance. The wider you go, the more balanced you are.
Let your hands hang loose to your side. Relax your head and breathe. Smile if you want here too. The pain is about to begin. Ok, kidding.
General Rule of the Squats
Squeeze your butt.
Completing Your First Squat
If this is your first time doing the squat, try and do it with a bench or a chair behind you. This will help you greatly in getting down to the right position. The most common mistake first-timers do is to squat forwards instead of backwards, and you have to avoid that. You may want to consider using a mirror and looking at your sides. If you see your knee crossing your toes, you’re squatting forwards (and wrongly). Stand back up and imagine you’re having a seat instead, like I’m doing in the picture above.
Once your bum touches the chair slightly, that is considered as one rep. Exhale and squeeze your butt while returning to starting position. As your body gets used to the movement, you can progress ahead to the next stage.
Once you’ve got the movement right, it’s time to get you doing to the bodyweight squats.
Before we go into the nitty gritty, watch this useful video. It’s comprehensive, it tells you the proper cues, and his form is spot on.
Stand shoulder width apart, or slightly wider if you want to. Angle out your feet just slightly and relaxed your shoulder.
Inhale as you lower yourself, dropping your butt and hips back, making sure that your:
– Knees are in line with your big toe at all times. Do not let the knee flop in. Keep it stable.
– You’re driving your weight through your heels.
– You’re keeping your back straight. Do not round your back or arch it.
Keep your chest up and lower yourself till your thighs are parallel with the floor. If you find your knee crossing your toes before your thighs are parallel to the floor, stop at the depth just before it crosses your toes. Over time, you will gain strength and flexibility in your hip flexors to go lower.
And most importantly, squeeze your abs by engaging your core.
Exhale and push yourself right back up using your heel while squeezing your butt up to starting position. And voila! You’ve done your first bodyweight squat!
Squat Racks and Adding Weights
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat with proper precision and form, you may start adding in weight by using a dumbbell or the squat rack at the gym. I suggest you start adding weights 10% of your body weight at a time. Example – if you’re 70 kilos, add in 7 kilos worth of dumbbells and do your squats in good form. If you can do 3 sets of 12-15 reps of that, strong and properly, add in extra weights.
Using the barbell and the squat rack takes extra practice and you may find it difficult to stack something on your back. If you are doing this, make sure you place the barbell on the fleshy part of your upper back and let the tension you feel between your shoulder blades support the bar. Keep an eye on your back making sure you’re not rounding it.
But My Lower Back and Knee Hurts!
If you feel an impingement or sharp pain in your lower back and knee (or any other parts of your body for that matter), ease yourself or stop doing completely. There are several reasons why this might be happening including improper form, joint problems or muscle imbalances. Practice makes perfect so if it’s your first time doing it, take it slow, start with the easiest stage and go on from there!
I Can Do The Squat Perfectly. What Now?
Good stuff, mate. You can challenge yourself at the 30 Day Fitness Challenges website – working your way up to 250 squats or check out The Art of Manliness 35 different variations of this exercise. I am currently working on getting my form doing the front squat. It’s challenging but I know it’ll be a great thing to work for!
The squats is the perfect exercise if you want to burn insane amounts of calories, torch heaps of fats and strengthen multiple muscles at the same time, especially that butt and thighs. Start slow, take note of your form and add in weights when you’re ready.
That’s it from me today.
Do you like doing squats? What are the most common problems you face with squats?
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