You don’t have to be into health and fitness to have heard about squats. Have you ever wondered about the magic behind one of the most foundational exercises in fitness? Squats, often hailed as the king of exercises, offer remarkable benefits that go beyond just building strong muscles. In this comprehensive guide we get tips from our fitness expert to help us understand the transformative power of squats, showcasing their benefits and various forms that can be adapted to fit everyone’s fitness journey.
The Anatomy of a Squat
Firstly, we’re going to take a deep dive into the anatomy of the squat to give you an overview of the muscles and joints involved to perform the movement and then a step-by-step walkthrough of how to execute a squat effectively to ensure you get the most out of the movement.
- Primary muscles:
– Glutes: made up of your gluteus maximus, medius and minimus which make up the muscles of your bum which are used in hip extension, lateral stability, and abduction of your legs.
– Quadriceps: Broken into 4 muscles which make up the front of your thighs the quads are used in flexing / extending the knee joint
- Secondary Muscles (synergists):
– Hamstrings: Located at the back of your thighs and act as extenders and stabilisers of the knee joint.
– Adductors: responsible for pulling your thigh bone (femur) into the midline towards the body important for how you walk / run (gait cycle)
– Calves: Made up of the gastrocnemius and soleus
– Core: Squatting requires a huge degree of internal stability which comes from the core muscles including the rectus abdominis, obliques, erector spinalis group to provide stability to the trunk during the movement
Joints and Bones Involved:
- Hips: The hip joint undergoes flexion as you descend and extension as you rise.
- Knees: The knee joint also undergoes flexion and extension as you move through the squat, moving in sync with the hips.
- Ankles: As you descend in the squat your ankles dorsiflex and then they plantarflex as you push upwards.
How to Nail a Perfect Squat
- Starting position:
– Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider.
– Toes can point straight ahead or slightly outwards, depending on your anatomy and what feels comfortable for you.
– Brace your core by pulling your belly button towards your spine.
- The Descent:
– To start the squat descent, start by pushing your hips back as if you’re about to sit onto a chair.
– Bend and flex at the knees while keeping them in line with your feet, do not let your knees cave inwards.
– Ensure your torso maintains upright and think “chest up” whilst maintaining a neutral spine (ribcage stacked on pelvis). Avoid rounding your spine as this could cause it to be loaded.
– Go to a depth your degree of mobility and flexibility will allow whilst maintaining good form. Ideally the hips are parallel to the ground or slightly lower.
– Push through the heels maintaining full foot pressure to stand back up, extending the hips and knees.
– Keep the chest lifted and the core engaged.
– Drive your knees out to ensure the knees don’t buckle inwards; they should ideally track over the toes.
- Coaching tips:
– Keep the weight evenly distributed through your feet. Your heels or toes shouldn’t be lifting off the ground at any given point of the movement.
– Visualise pushing the ground away from you as you rise.
– Squat depth can vary among individuals due to differences in anatomy, strength, and flexibility. Listen to your body.
– Learning the skill of the squat takes time, starting with a bodyweight squat then progressing to load using a dumbbell in a goblet squat position allows you to maintain an upright torso with core engaged before progressing onto more challenging variations such as the front squat then barbell back squat.
Understanding the anatomy and technique behind a squat is crucial for maximising its benefits and ensuring safety. Exercise execution and good form minimises the risk of injuries and ensures that tension is put across the intended muscles effectively and joints or structure aren’t loaded. As with any exercise, it’s a good idea to start with bodyweight or lighter loads to effectively learn the skill of the squat movement before progressively increasing the stimulus.
The Benefits of Squats
They are named king of exercises for a reason, hosting a whole heap of benefits from muscle building, fat burning, athletic development, core strength and stability. Not to mention you can squat anywhere without any equipment, you already do multiple things every day in your daily life every time you sit down on a chair and get back up again. Mastering the squat movement and getting strong performing them is a great goal to have. As mentioned above in the anatomy breakdown you can see a whole host of muscles are utilised during the squat which is known as muscular co-contractions meaning that multiple muscles are working synergistically to perform the movement. Developing and improving core strength leads to better posture and balance enhancing functional fitness and improving daily activities including a lot of cross over to sports performance. Want to build lower body strength to become more powerful in a footie or rugby game? Squats are your new best friend.
If you’re not an athlete don’t worry, some of us just want to build a good set of glutes, I get it, since Kim Kardashian became a well-known icon, glute exercises became mainstream fitness media’s focus. Building a peach, you can be proud of in the gym with a good glute workout should involve squats, how often you may ask? Due to the nature of the exercise being classed as a “stretcher” exercise means that the movement takes a couple of days to recover from so starting with twice a week seems to be a good place to start and as you become more competent and able to handle more volume moving to three times a week may be doable for some.
How to Avoid Injuries
If I say it enough then hopefully it’ll stick, exercise execution is key when it comes to avoiding injuries as well as not being the ego lifter and biting off more than you can chew when it comes to adding weight to the bar. Slow and steady wins the race which requires learning the skill of the lift progressing from goblet squat, to double front rack kettlebell squat, front barbell squat and then barbell high bar back squat finally low bar.. I know, it’s a mouthful but if you progress through the movement continuum before running before you can walk you will not only perfect your squat form you’ll avoid injury at the same time.. It’s a win win! If you’re not sure about where to start with your squat or you want one of our coaches to take a look next time you’re in just have a chat with our friendly reception staff next time you’re in a Crunch fitness club and we’ll be happy to help.
There are a few other things we need to consider to avoid injuries, mobility, stability then strength. Having adequate hip mobility allows for internal / external rotation of the hips as well as hip flexion / extension allowing good positioning of the pelvis and movement of the lower limbs. These three exercises cover your main glute stretches and quad stretches to mobilise the muscles around the hips. Pigeon stretch, frog stretch and then finally everyone’s favourite the couch stretch. Do each of these movements for 6-8 deep long breaths on each side of the pigeon stretch and couch and 6-8 breaths as you rock forward and backwards into the frog stretch position.
Once we are mobile then we need to be stable, incorporating a squat specific warm up to activate the glutes, hamstrings, adductors and core prior to squatting is going to aid in maintaining a stable, strong position when performing the squat under load. A simple warm-up could include some dynamic lunges to single leg Romanian deadlifts, hamstring curls, adductor planks (Copenhagen) and deadbugs cover your bases to activate all the necessary muscles used in squatting again if you’re not sure what any of these exercises are or need help in performing them speak to one of our coaches.
Strengthening your squat pattern takes consistent, intent and effort not just a haphazard approach, as the squat is very much a skill based movement due to the lack of external stability you get from performing an exercise on a machine or bench you can use machines such as a leg press for glutes as accessory work to strengthen the muscles, if you want to bias the glutes more opting for a glute focused leg press which involves your feet in a slightly higher position will aid in putting more tension across these fibres aid in glute muscle development and adding some extras kgs to your squat strength.
Staying safe when performing squats is important, if you’re loading the barbell heavy ensure you have safety bars up in case you fail and make sure clips are on the ends of the bar, the last thing you want is a weight to slide off or offset your balance and throw yourself off completely, don’t be hero and ask for help or a spot from one of our staff and always be mindful of people around you in the gym when using free weights. Start small, progressively build up your strength with a periodised training programme and if you want to ensure you’re executing the exercise correctly or not sure where to start when it comes to the squat continuum speak to our front desk and one of our coaches can take you through a thorough movement assessment and point you in the right direction.
Stay Safe! Happy Squatting!
Crunch Fitness Virtual Assistant