Whenever I’m confronted by the question: “what’s the best way to increase strength,” the answer, without hesitation is always, “squats.” In fact, anyone who has spent some time weight training knows that the squat is the king of all exercises.
Squats are one of the most effective growth stimulating, compound movements you can include in your workout routine. They effectively target the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. Proper squatting technique also promotes core stability and strength.
The muscles used when performing squats are some of the largest in the human body; thus squats will force your body to release higher amounts of important anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone, compared to other exercise movements.
Apart from directly increasing lower body mass and size, entire upper body strength will also be stimulated through the “anabolic knock-on” effect. This means that the increased release of testosterone and growth hormone will also result in strength gains of upper body muscles such as chest and shoulders.
I only started seeing real strength gains after perfecting my squatting technique and whenever I hit a plateau in my bench or shoulder press, I know that it’s time to concentrate my efforts on boosting my squatting weight in order to benefit from the “anabolic knock-on.”
The benefits gained from squatting are not only limited to increased muscle size and strength. Squats are also valuable for:
- Weight loss: As a major compound movement, squats place a massive caloric demand on the body. The release of anabolic hormones will also ramp up your fat burning ability.
- Joint protection: Squatting (with proper technique) is a great way to protect your knees. It is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your VMO muscles (inner quads) and prevent dislocation of the knee cap, especially in runners. Squats also strengthen the tendons and ligaments around the knee, leading to greater stability. Squats protect against degenerative knee change (osteoarthritis), as stronger muscles around the knee actually slightly “separate” the bones of the knee joint at rest and allow synovial joint fluid to replenish and repair the knee cartilage.
- Complete body sculpting: Squats are not only meant for men, but women too. Quite often women steer clear of squatting in fear of becoming “too muscular.” Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Although squats do trigger the release of anabolic hormones, women do not naturally produce enough testosterone for regular squatting to result in big, bulging muscles. It is however one of the most effective ways to sculpt firm, shapely thighs and an enviable posterior.
Unfortunately, many people have yet to experience the multiple benefits of squatting. This is because squatting requires huge amounts of discipline and willpower, and can be a challenging exercise to master from a technical standpoint. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about after you have completed a set of squats to complete muscular failure.
For most people, walking up to a squat rack in the gym for the first time can be rather intimidating. It seems that most people will come up with just about any excuse possible to avoid this scenario. Let’s ease into things by examining good squatting technique.
For safety reasons it is advisable to always perform your squats in a power rack or cage. Ask a personal trainer or experienced weight lifter to demonstrate proper technique and form.
Throughout the squat, your head should be pulled back, your chest raised, your core tightened and you should have a slight arch in your lower back. Always look straight ahead and at no time should you be leaning too far forward, or be looking up or down.
Step up to the bar, placing your hands at about the same width as a bench press. Before clearing the bar, make sure it is placed evenly along your trapezius muscles (upper back/shoulders). Place your feet about shoulder width apart or slightly wider, pointed out at a 45-degree angle.
Clear the bar, take a big, deep breath, and slowly make your descent. During the descent, imagine sitting down in a chair behind you. At all times your knees must remain in line with your feet, and they should never point inwards. Lower yourself slowly until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground (the bottom position).
As soon as you have reached the bottom position, rise up immediately by driving up through your heels and exhaling slowly. Do not fully lock your knees once upright. This will help maintain maximum stress on your quadriceps muscles. Once upright, take another deep breath and continue the exercise until you have completed the desired number of reps.
This exercise can also be performed without a barbell weight (air-squats), by keeping your arms stretched forward and kept parallel with the ground throughout the movement.
So there you have it. You have every reason to add squats to your routine, so go ahead and do it! Squats are appropriate for everyone bodybuilders, athletes and ballerinas alike, they are indeed the KING of all exercises.