• Emily Drakes

5 reasons why you need squats in your life


Squats are known as the king of exercises as they cover so many training goals and translate to multiple day to day movements and sports. Many people are put off by them either as they seem scary or don't think they will offer anything. Well I'm here to convince you otherwise! Here are the top 5 reasons squats should be a staple of your routine whatever your age or training level:

1. They burn tonnes of calories

With my target audience being women, I know this is a popular reason to train! If you are trying to lose body fat, squats give you a lot of 'bang for your buck' as they use so many muscle groups. Classed as a compound movement they raise your metabolic rate so your burn more calories even at rest.

2. They shape and strengthen your legs

The most obvious reason to squat is that they strengthen your thighs, butt, calves giving you a better shape and making you stronger. The bonus feature of squats is that they also strengthen your back and core as they are needed to stabilise the movement.

3. Day to day movements get easier

Picking things up off the floor, getting up from chairs, climbing stairs...the list can go on and on to what squats can improve in your day to day life. They don't just make them easier, having strength in the squat makes you more robust to injuries.

4. They improve your balance and flexibility

Squats require a combination of hip, knee, ankle and back mobility to be successful. By doing them or drills to improve them you will work on the flexibility of these joints. The balance needed to squat without falling over involves lots of stability muscles and is a skill in itself! This is where the smith machine (fixed bar) in the gym isn't a good place to practice squats as it takes the balance and core work away.

5. They make you better at other things

Squats transfer over to improved performance in multiple sports and movements. There are tonnes of articles to prove its strong correlation to sporting performance such as making you a faster runner, able to jump higher, be better at football etc.

But wait won't they make my legs really bulky?

NO!! This is my biggest bug bear! Unless you are eating lots of protein, taking supplements and training heavy (rep range 8-12 builds muscle bulk) you will not pack on muscle. We've all seen the dudes in the gym desperate to get rid of their 'chicken legs' it's pretty tough to bulk unless you mean to!

but aren't they bad for your knees?

There is no proven link between squats and knee pain. The basis that squats might be bad for your knees comes from outdated concepts and poor techniques. No cause effect relationship has been established. If your knees hurt when you squat drop the weight, get your technique and flexibility checked.

but you shouldn't squat all the way to the floor right?

Well that depends. If you are using it for a sport/movement that needs a lot of depth i.e. picking you kids off the floor then yes it's good to go to full depth. If not then you don't have to. They key is to go through the range you can do with best technique as a lot of people lose form past 90 degrees.

Ok ok I believe you, how do I get started?

I understand not everyone is comfortable grabbing a bar off the rack and bashing out a back squat so here are some good exercises to build up to it:

Body weight squats - very simple but good to get the brain tuned in to what a squat should be like

Box squats - I prescribe this a lot to stop the common mistake of the knees coming too far forwards (being quads dominant). It helps cue the glutes into play and get the sit back movement ingrained

Front squats - Sometimes a front squat is a good starting point if your upper back is stiff. It is easier to stay more upright and maintain balance

Goblet squat holds - a front squat variation, by holding in the bottom of the squat your back and core get used to maintaining a good posture as well as your legs getting a stretch

If you are keen to go heavier but you're not convinced you have it right, seek advice from a good trainer. Squats are difficult to get perfect to start with so it's worth getting someone to look at your technique every now and then. These are the common mistakes:

Your knees come too far forwards

This is an issue for the knees as it puts more load through them and means you're not using the glutes enough. It can be due to poor movement habits or balance issues in the back squat. Try the box squat above and the goblet squat holds to practice.

You bend your back

I see this a lot in the gym and it makes me wince. The squat is predominantly a leg exercise therefore you should move the legs first. The back stays 'in neutral' throughout meaning it doesn't bend. This can happen when your hamstrings or upper back are tight so doing some stretches can work on this. A quick fix is often to put your heels on weight plates (as if in high heels) which can take the pressure off.

Your knees collapse inwards

This is a definite no no and is often just a cueing issue or improper set up. If you can do it with a mirror in front you will see if you knee comes in more than your foot width. This can mean the load is going through your knee and you won't be using your glutes effectively. Simply thinking knees out and watching that they don't come in is often enough. You can use an exercise band around the knees to make this area stronger.

Summary

Squats are an amazing exercise that shouldn't be overlooked. If you are new to them learn to squat without weight first to ensure you are happy with the technique or use a trainer to get you started. Once you get into squats you'll soon see the benefits both in day to day life and the shape and power of your legs. As always make sure the weight is enough to challenge you and you will reap the rewards.

References

  • Bishop & Turner. (2017) Integrated Approach to Correcting the High-Bar Back Squat From “Excessive Forward Leaning”. Strength and Conditioning Journal 39:6, pages 46-53.

  • Cressey, E. M., West, C. A., Tiberio, D. P., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M.(2007). The effects of ten weeks of lower-body unstable surface training on markers of athletic performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21, 561–567

  • Fairchild, D., Hill, B., Ritchie, M., & Socher, D. (1993). Common technique errors in the back squat. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 15, 20–27

  • Legg, Glaister, Cleather & Goodwin The effect of weightlifting shoes on the kinetics and kinematics of the back squat Journal of Sports Sciences Vol. 35, Iss. 5, 2017

  • Sleivert, G. & Taingahue, M. Eur J Appl Physiol (2004) 91: 46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-003-0941-0

  • Wisløff U, Castagna C, Helgerud J, et al Strong correlation of maximal squat strength with sprint performance and vertical jump height in elite soccer players British Journal of Sports Medicine 2004;38:285-288.

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