Squats: you either love them or you hate them. If, like my good self, you have been blessed with ridiculously long limbs then you are probably of the latter persuasion; and if you are are on the smaller side, then you will generally be of the former opinion.
Regardless of your relationship with the humble squat, one thing’s for certain: that is the fact that they remain one of the most beneficial exercises you can do in the gym.
After all, squatting is the most functional movement we can do as part of our training, meaning that performing a squat (among other exercises, of course) directly trains our body to move well in everyday life.
Squats were my absolute nemesis since the start of my fitness journey, largely due to my disgusting height and ridiculous limb-length; and only recently has it been that I have come to love them. Where I would once dread the day of the week when squats were on the menu, I have since learned to look forward to leg day with excitement (yeh, I know I am a bit of a sad case….)
Anyway, since I am now firm friends with the humble Squat, I wanted to write an article on exactly how squatting can benefit you and your fitness, regardless of your goal. So here are 6 reasons why you should stop what you are doing & drop it like it’s hot….
1. Squats Work A Huge Range Of Muscles
Ever heard the phrase ‘compounds are king‘? Well, the squat is one of the best compound exercises you can do; the King of Kings, if you will. When done correctly, any type of squat toasts every major muscle group in the lower body, as well as causing your abs to work double-time in order to keep your torso upright.
Although it is traditionally thought of as a lower body exercise (and they are, of course, an absolute beast when it comes to building rock-solid quads!), squatting with correct form forces most of the muscles in your upper body to work isometrically in order to keep your spine in optimal alignment.
This isometric contraction (i.e. working without actually moving a joint through a range of motion) also explains why squats are better for building core strength than any crunch variation you can do; rather than doing endless reps of crunches and situps to build the chiselled torso you’ve always dreamed of, try integrating squats into your regular workout routine in order to build definition around your midsection.
Just remember to eat right in combination with a sound exercise routine, and you will find yourself on the road to the body of your dreams…
2. Squats Build Functional Strength
A squat is a functional exercise because it trains the muscles used when getting up and down from a chair, or picking up something from the floor. By training your muscles to work the way they do in everyday tasks, you prepare your body to perform well on a daily basis.
Furthermore, one of the reasons that many people choose to exercise is to reduce the impacts of ageing on mobility and general physical wellbeing. By including squats in your regular workout routine, you will prime your body to move well during daily tasks for later in life.
And, as physical deterioration due to age is pretty much inevitable, including functional exercises into your routine when you are younger could be essential in ensuring that you continue to stay fighting fit as you get older.
3. Facilitates Fat Loss
Due to the fact that squats recruit a large number of muscle fibres, including all major muscle groups in the lower body (glutes & quadriceps), they are much more effective in increasing metabolism and energy expenditure during an exercise session than isolation ex3ercises
When a muscle contracts during any exercise, it requires energy from food to work effectively and drive the movement. So, therfore, the more muscles our body uses to complete a given movement, the more fuel our body burns; and, considering there are few (if any) compound exercises that come close to the squat in terms of number of muscle fibres recruited, you can see why choosing the squat over other exercises is a smart choice if you are looking to increase energy expenditure during a training session.
4. Hypertrophy of the Lower Body
There is no exercise more effective than squats, and variations of the squat, in terms of muscle fibre activation in the lower body. What does this mean, you ask? Basically, when you drop it like its hot, you ‘turn on’ pretty much every muscle group in your lower body in order to control the downward phase and drive upwards during the concentric phase of the movement.
Furthermore, there are so many different types of squat variation that serve to target different muscle groups in the lower body (see diagram on the left).
For example, you could take a sumo stance (wide-legged) when doing a barbell back squat to shift the emophasis onto your glutes and adductors (groin), whereas you could do a heels-elevated, narrow-stance goblet squat to shift the emphasis onto your quads.
Don’t bother with lower-body isolation exercises such as leg extensions and abductor machines if you are strapped for time and want to get the most out of your workout. Squat till you drop, and you’ll find your legs looking on point before you know it!
5. Improve Joint & Bone Health
Squats have long since been heralded as a great exercise for runners, largely due to their positive impact on connective tissue strength and joint health, particularly the ankle and knee. Squatting on a regular basis will increase the strength of the ligaments and tendons surrounding the ankle and knee; something which many people will experience issues with over their lifetime.
Even if you are not a runner, or even a sportsman, then having strong ligaments in tendons is still important. Failure to train these parts of your body may result in increased risk of chronic injury around these joints; if you want to avoid getting a knee-job when you are older, then squat!
Furthermore, squatting increases bone density & strength, making your frame much more resilient and able to deal with large external forces placed on the body. As you begin to progress in the gym, you will undoubtedly begin to increase resistance across all of the exercises in your programme, thus placing progressively more strain on your bones and joints.
By squatting with correct form, you will ensure that your bones are able to cope with an increase in resistance without the risk of bone-related injuries such as stress fractures, dislocations and full-blown breaks.
6. Aerobic Fitness Improvements
Loads of peeps think that, in order to improve cardiovascular, you have to invest in some ‘spenny trainers, slip on some lycra, and crack onto the roads for a 1hr run every other day. What they don’t know is that resistance exercises, such as squats, can aid aerobic endurance and stimulate cardiovascular adaptations akin to that of traditional cardio…
As we previously said, squats recruit a whole host of muscle groups which, as well as increasing energy expenditure, also serves to make your heart rate rocket due to the circulatory demand from working muscle groups. Hence why you can feel your heart coming out of your mouth after a heavy set of 6 in the rack….
Furthermore, you can programme set/rep schemes and particular squat variations into a workout in order to stimulate an even greater aerobic training adaptation. For example, you could use the German Volume Training Principle (GVT) at about 60-70% 1RM, which would involve completing 10 sets of 10 reps of Back Squats, with 45-60″ rest between sets (trust me, this is savage….)
Alternatively, you could use more explosive (Plyometric) variations of the squat as part of a CV-HIIT workout, such as Squat Jumps, Lunge Jumps, or Box Jumps, in order to spike your Heart Rate close to max during the short working sets. This type of explosive movement has been proven to significantly improve cardiovascular functioning and increase aerobic fitness.
Cardio doesn’t have to mean running long distances; programme your resistance workouts in a particular way and you will undoubtedly find yourself feeling fitter, healthier, and with a higher level of aerobic endurance.
The Final Word
So there you have it: a few of many reasons why you should be including some type of squat variation in your workout routine. Not only will they help you build rock solid legs like no other exercise, but will also provide you with a huge variety of benefits outside of fitness that willm optimise your daily lifestyle and promote good physical health.
Take it from a lanky b*stard who made the radical change from squat-hater to squat-lover; they may be your worst enemy to begin with, but once you get acquainted with all the different types of squat at your fingertips, I guarentee that you will be able to find a variation that works for you, your body and your goals.
So now go forth; seize the squat rack, and drop it like its hot; whether its Goblets, Fronts, Backs, Hacks, Splits, Tempos, find a variation that works for you and your body, and get ready to reap the plethora of benefits from squatting on a regular basis…
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