SKWAAAAATS!! The “King” of all strength exercises. But, why is that? For many reasons that I’m not going to list, but some reasons that I will talk about in this post.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Everyone should squat, but not everyone should squat. What does that mean? It means that everyone should have the ability to squat with some sort of external load/weight attached to their frame in some fashion. What it also means is that, not everyone is ready to do that on Day 1. That’s OK.
Let’s start with the benefits of squats. I’ll list them below with a very brief reasoning.
Spinal loading – it sounds scary but it’s the best way to strengthen the muscles around the spine to better protect it against outside forces
Testosterone production – by loading the spine, you automatically work the most muscle mass and cause a big hormonal response
Side note: Testosterone is not bad for women, you won’t get huge…I promise
Lower body strength – There’s no other exercise that strengthens the lower body as efficiently, quickly, and thoroughly
Calories burned – refer back to #2, the more muscle you work the more calories you burn
Nervous system – strength is very much driven by the nervous system, squats allow us to drive a ton of nervous system activity because of the “holy crap this heavy weight is literally on top of me” effect
It actually helps your knees – I know, I know, some doctors say it will destroy your knees. Heck, your knee caps might literally explode off your legs like little bone bullets. This has widely been disproven, just Google it.
Now, let’s talk about getting started with squats.
There are about 150,000 different ways to do squats. There’s really only one way of doing it that matters, and that is as close to full range of motion as possible. Regardless of the “style” of squat, you need to get a large range of motion. You’ll see the greatest benefits of each of the points listed above, but also it’s just simply a basic need for humans (and many other creatures/primates).
Starting out, I would go bodyweight only or very light weights. Even doing squats with some sort of support in the beginning, such as Suspension Trainers in the gym or a countertop at home, can help someone get to a range of motion and improve their bodyweight strength. Once those become nearly effortless, remove the support.
Now you’ve got bodyweight squats that you can do until you’re either so good at them it’s as easy as breathing, or you’re so bored you can’t take it. Once you’ve had enough of those, start adding weight. Hold something in your hands, either at your sides, up at your chest, or on your back. Doesn’t matter, just take it slow and get it right.
I believe in a very slow, gradual progression that allows someone to master the technique long before they try to set any real PR’s (Personal Records). Now let’s talk a little bit about technique.
First off you need to make sure your feet and ankles are set properly. Very basic, feet slightly wider than hips. Toes pretty straight forward, like the front tires on your car.
Next, you need to learn how to brace to keep the spine in its’ natural position especially when loaded.
Keep your torso fairly vertical.
Now, you don’t just drop down and bounce back up. “Sit back and down, and just stand up right?” NO. You need to control your hips down into position, keeping your weight and center of gravity balanced in the middle of your foot. If you played high school football, then you’re probably freaking out right now. Hear this, YOU DON’T WANT TO PUSH YOUR HIPS BACK AS FAR AS POSSIBLE! You need to keep balanced, and sit your hips slightly and “pull” them down until your femur is at least parallel to the floor. Anything lower than that is great, but not completely necessary. Anything higher than that is just simply not good enough.
If you don’t go all the way down due to mobility/flexibility restrictions, then continue to squat but work on your limitations until you can get all the way down. You’re simply leaving progress on the table by not using that full range of motion.
If it’s not a mobility problem, it’s probably a discipline or fear issue. Get over it, I don’t know what else to tell you.
While performing the squat, the knee caps need to face the exact same direction as your toes. Think about it like this, your feet are your front tires and your knees are your headlights. You want them facing the same direction. If you’ve ever driven a junker vehicle that isn’t aligned as such, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, congrats…but you’re probably spoiled.
Once you’ve reached the bottom of your squat, you’re going to drive your legs through the floor in order to stand up. Don’t think about lifting the weight, think about pushing the ground away from you. Same movement, different intention, much better technique and muscular activation.
Now, this is a very quick and basic write up on doing squats. If you feel that you’ve tried everything and can’t get it right, or are just too afraid to really try it please reach out to us. There are so many people I know that simply cannot perform this basic task efficiently. If you’re thinking “I don’t need squats” then explain to me how you get down and up off the couch, car seat, or toilet. I’m not saying you couldn’t do those things without squats, but I think it would a lot harder to figure out.