Weightlifting 101: Why Should I Do Squats In The First Place?
The squat, otherwise known as the king of weightlifting exercises, is arguably the most imperative exercise in your weightlifting routine. While the exercise mainly strengthens the muscles in your legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, etc.), squats engage muscles throughout your entire body! Done properly, squats engage your back muscles, abdominal muscles, and even your shoulders. So squats not improve your lower body strength, but your upper body strength as well.
As we grow older we begin to lose mobility and balance; everyday activities that once seemed so easy, like bending over to tie your shoes, begin to become more difficult. We squat everyday, often with improper forms. The basic movements of squats strengthen the muscles in your body and improve your functional fitness. When you build muscle, you help your muscles work more efficiently, thus promoting mobility and balance, giving you a leg-up on the aging process.
Squats are a necessary component of any weightlifting routine. But, without proper form, you open yourself up to injury.
Weightlifting 101: How To Do Traditional Squats
Before starting anything, make sure you stretch out your legs thoroughly beforehand. Stretching not only gives you a chance to limber up, it's also an opportunity to identify any red flags, or problem areas, in your body that may inhibit your squat abilities. Stretching is always the first lesson of weightlifting 101.
The best way to think about the exercise is as if you were going to sit in a chair placed behind you. This ensures you are driving your hips back. Once fully stretched, you can begin to warm up.
- Stand with your feet just a bit over shoulder width apart, keeping your feet straight.
- Keep your back in a neutral position, with your knees centered over your feet.
- Be sure to keep your head up and chest pushed out.
- Slowly bend your knees, hips, and ankles, and go as deep as you can comfortably. Lower yourself until you reach a 90-degree angle. If you have knee issues, be conscious of how deep you go.
- Sit into a squat position while keeping your heels and toes on the ground, chest up and shoulders back.
- Press into your heels and straighten your legs to return to a standing position.
- Breathe in as you lower and breathe out as you stand.
Repeat this motion for the remainder of your set. Squats can be done without a barbell or with one. It is recommended beginners start off without weights to perfect the form and then move onto weights as they feel more comfortable.
Squats 101: How To Avoid Injuries
While going through your squat motions, it's easy to slip up and injure yourself if you don't adhere to proper form. When squatting, just keep in mind the following tips:
- Keep your knees in line with your toes—If your knees cave in or go past your toes, you're putting yourself at risk of injury. Instead, press your knees outward so they stay aligned with your feet as you squat down.
- Allow your torso to tilt naturally—If your torso is too erect, your hips will not be able to release properly, which will place too much strain on your knees.
- Use your arms to press the barbell into your shoulders—When the weight shifts mid-rep, your body is more prone to over-extension and imbalance. Engaging your arms will not only keep the barbell safely in place, it will also keep your back muscles more engaged and burn more calories.
How Do I Know If My Squats Are Correct?
It's weightlifting 101, the best way to find out is by waiting until the next day: if your legs are sore tomorrow then you've done this exercise correctly. If your whole body is sore, then you've excelled with your squats.
But, rather than waiting a full day to find out, focus on your form during the exercise and ask yourself how it feels. Are your knees caving inwards? Are you maintaining a correct spinal position? Are you overextending your lower back? These are just a few common mistakes to look for:
- Looking up—Keep your eyes looking straight ahead, this keeps your spine straight and safe.
- Shoulders leaning forward—This can put too much emphasis on your upper back and can result in injury.
- Shallow squat—How close are you to 90-degrees? Keep pushing yourself to go deeper.
I've Got The Form. What's Next?
There is a plethora of squat variations out there that help you hone in on other muscle groups and challenge yourself even more. Here are just a few variations to try:
- Single-Leg Squat: Balance yourself on only one leg at a time.
- Goblet Squat: Out-turn your feet and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands at the center of your chest.
- Front Squat: Start like a back squat, except hold the loaded barbell in front of your chest, elbows pointing down. Great alternative for those with knee problems.
Regardless of the variation, focusing on form is essential to this exercise. Injury can occur very easily, so be especially cognizant of any strain you feel in your lower back and legs. Just like anything, learning how to do a proper squat takes practice.
If you're looking for more help to learn how to do a squat or improve your workout routine, contact Whole Intent today. Our personal training is customized specifically to the individual's skill level so that you can achieve your goals safely and effectively.
Keep your eyes out for future Weightlifting 101 blog posts!