Those who regularly integrate squats into their workout regime get the benefits of a full-body, comprehensive workout, which target numerous muscle groups and can increase strength and muscle mass in the lower body. In their most basic form, squats are an exercise that involves slowly squatting down to varying depths, maintaining your balance, and returning to a standing position, all while bearing additional weight. The weight can come in the form of dumbbells held in the hands or a weight bar over the back of the shoulders.
Thanks to the force of gravity on the additional weight, there is an increased resistance on muscles throughout the abdominals, back, gluteal muscles and legs as you return to a standing position. Squats are some of the most popular exercise varieties in workout regimens and are also a popular measurement of strength in bodybuilding competitions. Although squats are very popular and hugely effective, they also pose a certain amount of risk if they are not performed properly. Using a correct form is essential when performing squats, so many people use a mirror to self-regulate their form or rely on a personal trainer to coach them into performing this seemingly simple exercise properly.
Types of Squats
While squats seem relatively simple, there are different types, including the body-weight squat, dumbbell split squat, braced squat, pistol squat, overhead squat and the barbell front squat, among others.
Dumbbell Split Squat
You begin this exercise standing with your feet slightly apart, as though you’ve taken a medium-sized step forward. Hold your dumbbells in each hand. By flexing the knee and hip of your front leg, you can lower your body until your back knee nearly touches the ground. Allow your back heel to pull up from the ground as you descend. Slowly raise yourself back to your original position. Alternate between legs after every 10-12 reps.
This squat variation requires a good balance and control and is recommended for those who have mastered basic squats. Begin in a standing position, with your weight slightly on your active foot – the one that will remain on the floor. As you descend, typically with your arms straight out in front of you, straighten your non-active leg parallel to the floor. This one-legged variation of a traditional squat requires balance, strength and mobility, specifically flexibility and strength in your ankles.
Barbell Front Squat
With a barbell in your hands, position it in front of your shoulders, or brace the bar on your crossed arms, resting slightly on your shoulders. Then perform a normal squat, keeping the weight centered over your feet as your hips push back and your knees bend. Perform this exercise slowly to prevent any injury and increase the tone and muscle control.
Holding a dumbbell or a weight ring out in front of you with two hands, perform a standard squat. The additional weight of the ring will shift your center of balance, and will, therefore, work out different muscles than a traditional squat.
This is a particularly important exercise for bodybuilders and weightlifters, as it is ideal for perfecting the “clean and jerk” maneuver. However, it can also be helpful for building shoulder, triceps, core and forearm strength. Beginning in a standing position, you will remove a barbell from a weight rack and hold it above your head. Your arms should be at roughly a 130-degree angle, forming a wide grip. Then, perform a traditional squat, keeping the bar (or a weighted bar) stable over your head.
How to Squat Properly?
As mentioned above, squats can be dangerous when performed improperly. So, when you are first starting out with this exercise, pay careful attention to mastering the basic form, before moving on to more advanced techniques, like those mentioned above. In their simplest form, squats can be performed with your body weight alone, without the need for increasing the difficulty with dumbbells or weight bars.
The perfect squat form can be achieved through the following steps:
- Begin from a standing position, with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Move your hips back as you bend your knees, leaning forward slightly to maintain a balance.
- Extend your arms out in front of you as you reach the bottom of the squat.
- Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Hold the squat for 1 second before slowly rising back to a standing position.
The depth of your squat may differ, with some people choosing to descend until their hips are below their knees. These “deep” squats should be performed with caution, particularly when you are using weights, as this puts a large amount of strain on the knees and tendons around that joint.
What Muscles do Squats Work Out?
When you perform squats, multiple muscle groups in the body are engaged, specifically the thigh, buttocks, hips, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Additionally, these exercises will strengthen the tendons, ligaments, and bones in the legs, giving you greater stability and muscle control. Furthermore, squats can effectively strengthen your abdominal muscles and the lower back, which boosts your core in a major way. Depending on the type of squat you are doing, you can also involve your arms and shoulders into the workout.
Squats Benefits for Men & Women
The most notable benefits of squats for men and women include their ability to increase lean muscle mass, stimulate the metabolism, burn calories and improve balance. Squats also help to increase flexibility, boost circulation, tone your buttocks, prevent injury, improve sex drive and aid endurance, among others.
Increased Muscle Mass
Squats are primarily known as a means to increase muscle mass, particularly in the legs, buttocks, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Increasing the amount of muscle in the body means that you have less fat, and your body’s metabolism will function at a higher level. This development of lean muscle is an excellent foundation for further muscle growth or maintenance of your desired body type. For women who struggle with their upper thighs and buttocks, this exercise is excellent for tightening those areas.
The impact that squats have on your balance is remarkable, considering that you will need to maintain your balance from beginning to end in this exercise. This control of your balance is focused in your core, which gets an intense workout during properly performed squats.
Increased Sex Drive
Research has suggested that the rapid and intense increase in blood flow and heart rate that occurs during squats can help stimulate circulation to the reproductive organs, boosting the libido and addressing issues of infertility and virility in men.
For people who run, bike or swim, endurance is an important quality to have, and squats can significantly improve your lasting ability. Strengthening all the muscles in the legs simultaneously, during a low-impact workout, is an ideal break from traditional cardiovascular exercises that build up lean muscle tone in the legs.
The body requires movement to stimulate the circulatory system, and squats are known to get the blood moving quickly in the body. The high-intensity muscle use in your quads and legs will drive blood flow to those areas of the body, helping to provide more energy and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles that need it the most.
If you want to get your gluteal muscles in shape, there are a few exercises highly recommended. The gluteus maximus muscle can be very hard to target and effectively shape, but deep squats are linked to measurable increases in tone and strength of this muscle, as much as 25% more muscle tone for those who regularly try these challenging exercises.
When you increase your overall muscle mass in the body, the metabolism is kicked into a high gear. Maintaining a single pound of muscle is much more energy-intensive than maintaining a pound of fat. This means that the metabolism needs to work faster and burn more calories. This can increase the amount of weight you lose, both while working out and in the form of passive fat burning.
The problem with many popular forms of exercise is that they are high-impact. For example, when you are running, jumping or playing many different sports, the constant impact of your feet on the ground can weaken your joints over time, even as you work out to strengthen the muscles and ligaments around those joints. Squats are low-impact exercises, so doing them improperly can lead to injury, they can help to strengthen your legs and joints in a healthy and long-lasting way.