Many people do not realise the importance of squatting. It is one of the few exercises that requires your whole body to work and no, it is not just for your legs. If you are not sure on the correct technique to perform a squat then it can be quite daunting. This is why we have created this step by step blog to guide you.
Why are squats good for you?
Firstly, a squat is a compound movement which is defined as ‘Any exercise that engages two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups and, indeed, multiple muscles.’ This means that squats are not only targeting your legs, they are working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, arms, back, shoulders – everything! On top of being a great full body workout, they are also great at strengthening your hips and knees. By performing squats on a regular basis, not only will it help to tone and reduce body fat, but it will also help prevent injuries which may occur at certain joints.
Knowing how to squat properly and performing them with the correct form will help you throughout your daily life. Throughout the day we are constantly changing levels – picking up items from the floor, tying our shoes, placing and unloading food shopping bags from the floor, the list is endless. Despite this constant demand of a squatting motion, many people will bend and lift with their back. Not only can this cause an injury, it also puts a lot of strain on all parts of your body. Therefore, squatting with the correct technique is a must and is something that we should all know how to perform correctly.
How do you do a perfect squat?
Firstly it is extremely important to perfect the bodyweight squat first. Once you have the correct form you will then be able to move onto weighted squats.
To perform a perfect squat you should:
Stand with your feet hip width apart,
Turn your feet so they are at a 5-15 degree angle, pointing outwards,
Place your hands parallel in front,
Then inhale and slowly bend your knees, ensuring that you are squatting down and backwards to ensure that your knees do not go in front of your feet,
Bend at the hip and keep pushing your hips back as your knees begin to bend,
Squat down until your hips are parallel (or lower) than your knees.
Now exhale whilst keeping everything tight, push the weight through your heels and return to a standing position.
What is the correct squat technique?
Now that you have the know-how on how to squat, it is important to look out for common mistakes to really make sure that you are performing the correct squat technique.
Firstly, when people start squatting there is a tendency to bring the knees in close.You should focus on pushing your knees outwards in order to keep them inline with your toes and hips.
Another common fault many people make is standing on tiptoes whilst squatting. This results in your knees coming forward, so it is especially important to be driving your weight through your heels and balls of the feet.
We see many clients who over hyperextend/ arch their backs, this puts strain on a lot of areas.To avoid this, ensure that your spine is in a neutral position; breathing correctly also helps with your posture.
The last thing to think about is your head position, it is important to keep focusing on a spot in front of you, that way you will not hurt your neck/back.
How to squat with weights?
Now that you have mastered the bodyweight squat, it is a great time to move onto adding resistance. It is very important that you are performing squats with the correct technique because when adding weights, you are upping the resistance and workload, so it is crucial to have perfect form. There are many variations you can do to add weight to your squats.
Back Barbell Squat
Firstly, find yourself a squat rack/stand.
It is important to practice and get comfortable using the bar without adding weights. As you get stronger you can add weight slowly.
Set the bar so it is at your collar bone height, and step underneath it.
Then ensure the bar is on the top of your shoulders and make sure it is NOT resting on your neck or spine, as this can cause a lot of damage.
Now you want to perform the squat using the same principles above; feet turned slightly outwards, bend at the hips, knees keeping behind & inline with the toes,
As you come up, exhale and return to standing.
Front Barbell Squat
Perform this squat within a squat rack for safety. Set the bar at shoulder height, when facing the bar place your arms under the bar ensuring the bar sits on top of your deltoids.
Cross your arms and hold the bar with your elbows high and arms parallel to the ground.
Lift the bar away from the rack and adopt the same standing position as before.
Keep your head up and facing forward for optimal balance and ensuring that you have a neutral spine.
Once again inhale whilst bending at the knees and continue pushing the hips back until the angle between your knees and calves becomes 90-degrees or less.
Exhale and begin to straighten your legs whilst pushing through your heels and the balls of your feet.
Hold two dumbbells either side of your body, your palms should be facing your body.
Remember not to go too heavy whilst perfecting the move, you can always increase the weight or the repetitions.
Using all the same pointers as the body weight squat, perform the motion.
Whilst performing this squat make sure that your shoulders do not hunch forward as you lower to the ground. Keep your chest up and your gaze forward.
Do squats tone your stomach?
Yes they certainly do! Squats are known as the king of all exercises, primarily due to the fact that they use a lot of muscle groups whilst performing them. By keeping your abdominals tight throughout the exercise, this really helps to maintain good posture whilst strengthening and toning your abs at the same time. As well as engaged abdominal muscles, you will also be using your core muscles. These are a group of muscles which are located deep within your abdominal area. They enable small and large movements whilst also protecting the spine.
By working these muscles, you will be improving your posture and also decreasing the risk of obtaining a back injury. If you are squatting with weights, this not only adds resistance, but it can also help to speed up your metabolic rate. Squats are great at building muscle all over the entire body. If your abdominal area has a lot of adipose (fat) tissue then a faster metabolism will help to burn off those fat cells, allowing toned muscle to show through.
Why Squats are Perfect for Women
As previously stated, squats are a great all rounder. But they are the perfect exercise for women for many reasons. Firstly, they work more muscles than most other exercises, they are also extremely versatile and you can complete them anywhere, at home, at the gym or in a park. Whilst you squat you are working your quads, thighs, claves and your abdominals all at the same time, so not only are you burning fat on your bum, you are also toning and shaping your thighs and abdominal area. You can easily adapt this exercise as you get stronger, by adding weights or resistance bands, this will really raise your heart rate and help you to burn more calories.
As well as increasing the blood flow around your body, it also gets blood pumping to your thighs. This is particularly useful for women who have cellulite in this area, as cellulite is normally caused by poor circulation and a build up of fatty pockets. Doing squats can help to reverse this process, by reducing your overall body fat. By adding squats into your daily routine, whether you want tone your legs and bum for summer or look good in a tight dress, squats are the way to go!
How to adapt a squat when pregnant?
Whilst pregnant there are many adaptations which you can do to maintain your training schedule throughout your pregnancy. It is very important that you firstly get the go ahead from your doctor. MotivatePT has many Pre & Post Natal Qualified Personal Trainers, contact us if you would like some more information or guidance.
Firstly, as your bump begins to grow your centre of gravity begins to shift, this will cause your balance to decrease. I would recommend that you avoid using weights, as the risk of dropping the weight is a lot higher. I would also suggest holding onto something e.g. a railing or chair, for extra balance.
Remember, you are already carrying a lot of extra weight, so I would replace weights with resistance bands, as these are a great alternative.
Also remember to drink plenty of fluids and it is crucial that you take breaks and do not get too hot.
How to adapt squats for the elderly?
As we get older our balance and strength begins to decrease. However, squats are a great way of keeping the hips and knees mobile and also will help to maintain strength throughout the body.
Firstly, ensure that you are warm and that the muscles are prepared for work. It is very important to ensure the synovial fluid is warm in order to lubricate the joints, especially in the elderly population.
Also a great adaption is to use a chair, this reduces the risk of falling and offers support if you need it.
I would advise against using heavy weights, using 1kg weights will help to increase bone density, however, you can also increase the repetitions to increase the overload.
Now you have everything you need to know about squats – go and try them! They’re really one of the best exercises you can do.