SQUATS... EXPLAINED!

What's the big deal with squats?
PHOTO: STUDIO FIRMA/STOCKSY

The squat is one of the primary compound lifts (an exercise that works two or more muscle groups) that recruits mainly the quads, core, hamstrings and glutes. It also strengthens the joints, ligaments and tendons around the knees and hips. The squat’s many benefits make it no wonder that the functional move often appears in the training plans of bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, Crossfitters and many other athletes and sports teams.

Squats, in all forms, have many benefits, and can be used in a number of ways to complement your fitness goals. Due to the recruitment of multiple muscle groups, joints and ligaments; when used in a certain way, squats can help to fire up your metabolism, build muscle, boost strength and more.

When adding the back squat to your training programme, it’s worth considering that the below can all affect your squat form:

  • Core strength and balance
  • Knee stability
  • Hip, ankle and shoulder mobility

So many squats

Most regulars to the gym have performed a squat before, but there’s so much more to squatting than bodyweight squats and back squats. Let’s check out a few variations that can help to spice up your routine.

Goblet squat

Benefits:

  • Great for beginners looking to start adding weighted loads to their bodyweight squats
  • Less compression of the spine than a back squat – a great alternative if you suffer from any lower back injuries
  • Minimal equipment needed (only a kettlebell or dumbbell required)
  • Works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, shoulders and biceps

How to perform:

  • Starting position: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart holding a kettlebell by the horns close to your chest, elbows tucked into your ribs. Keep your weight in your heels, core tight and toes out slightly.
  • Slowly lower your bum towards your heels, keeping an upright torso, until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • At the bottom position, pause, drive your heels into the ground, and extend back up to the starting position.

Barbell back squat

Benefits:

  • Enables you to lift heavier than other variants and therefore can be used to build lean muscle
  • Increases lower body strength, primarily in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings

How to perform:

  • Set up the barbell in the squat rack at the level of your upper traps/top of your shoulders.
  • Place your hands on the bar with a pronated grip, so they are much wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, core tight and weight in the heels.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, and rest the barbell on the ridge of your upper traps – the bar should never rest on your neck. Your hands should be gripping the bar firmly – pull it down as this will create stability in your upper body and spine.
  • Before you lower into the squat, take a deep breath in through your nose and brace your core.
  • Slowly lower your bum towards your heels, keeping an upright torso, until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • At the bottom position, pause, drive your heels into the ground, and extend back up to the starting position, squeezing your glutes at the top.

Bulgarian split squat

Benefits:

  • Places significantly less stress on the spine, lower back and hips than a back squat
  • Builds significant single-leg (unilateral) strength and stability, therefore can help prevent/improve muscle imbalances
  • Challenges mobility
  • Stretches the hip flexors
  • Calls upon more recruitment of the hamstrings

How to perform:

  • Stand in front of a step, bench or any other raised surface around knee height.
  • Get into a forward lunge position with torso upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench. Your leading leg should be half a metre or so in front of the bench.
  • Lower until your back knee is around one inch from the ground, keeping your knee in line with your foot. Don't let your front knee travel beyond your toes.
  • Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position.

Jump squat

Benefits:

  • Improves agility, power and speed
  • Raises the heart rate
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Strengthens knee stabilisers

How to perform:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your chest and head up. Place your weight in your heels, keep your feet parallel and toes slightly outward.
  • Lower yourself into the squat, by hinging hips back and driving your bum towards your heels, while bending your knees. You can bring your arms out in front of you to help balance.
  • Once at the bottom position of the squat, reverse your motion in one quick, explosive movement. Drive hard with your legs as you come up out of the squat, jumping as high as you can. The balls of your feet should be the last part of your body in contact with the ground.
  • Land softly.
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