Squats are without a doubt the best all round movement for anybody looking to change their physique. Primarily involving the legs, the entire body is placed under stress when you perform this exercise, and this causes the largest release of fat burning, muscle building hormones, compared to any other movement! When performed with sloppy form however, the squat becomes an accident waiting to happen. I have seen some nasty injuries caused by guys using too much weight, and trying to force out reps with little control. Be very careful and focused before you attempt to squat!
Benefits of Squatting
When used with respect, squats build strength and muscle in the quads, hamstrings, lower, middle and upper back, abdominals, calves, shoulders and biceps, as well as training your cardiovascular muscles all at the same time! I followed a study in to hormone production in men, which proved that the 'squat exercise' when performed with perfect bio-mechanics, released 28% more testosterone than dead lifts, the second highest testosterone producing exercise. I like to include bodyweight squats in all my workouts, even as a warm up. Switching between bodyweight and weighted squats is beneficial as weighted squats will tire the body very quickly, and you will find you are unable to focus on your target muscle group for the day.
When doing sets of squats it is vital you warm up correctly and stretch THE ENTIRE BODY, as you are at higher risk of injury during this exercise than any other. As mentioned before you will be using almost all the muscles in your body, and if even one muscle is unable to cope, you could end up with avoidable yet costly injuries!! I find the best way to warm up to squatting is 'static exercises' for example star jumps, burpees/squat thrusts, jogging on the spot with high knees also works well. A full body stretch for 4-6 minutes will provide you the flexibility you need to squat.
Breathing is another key factor to consider as oxygen will be necessary to complete the high rep sets you will perform. Breathing squats by name are more a cardiovascular exercise than muscle builder, but will pack masses of strength on to your entire core. Breathing in deeply on the way down, and 'releasing your power' (my way of describing breathing out), on the way up. DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH at any point. You must keep the oxygen flowing in order to perform optimally. I have seen guys actually FAINT while doing squats because they simply did not breathe!!! You have been warned!
Squatting with perfect form is the key to success. Keep your back straight and shoulders up, driving with your legs and sending your body up and down in a straight line towards the sky. DO NOT lock your knees at the top of the exercise!! This places unnatural stress on the knee joint and is one of the main reasons for injury while performing squats. Keeping your knees slightly bent will ensure the stress stays on the target muscles, the quadriceps and hamstrings, and keep you safe. Look forward and keep your head high, this will prevent you from toppling over!
I recommend a variation of leg positions for the number of sets performed. Methodically you could do the first set with your feet together, second set with shoulder width feet, and third set with wide feet or 'sumo' stance. This will vary the intensity of the workout 'during the set' which is a principle I recommend to everybody I train.
If you are new to squatting, take time to practise the perfect form with your own bodyweight. A good way to start out is wall squats. Position your back flat against a wall and and slide downwards towards the ground, bending your knees slowly and pushing in to the wall with your lower back. Extend your legs until you reach the standing position and repeat, remembering to exhale on the way up and keep your abs tensed throughout. Many people, even guys and girls who regularly go to the gym, seem to become lazy when it comes to squatting. If you are one of these people today is the day you change your bad habits! You now know that The Squat is the Number 1 Compound Exercise for building your entire body, training your cardiovascular system, releasing fat burning muscle building hormones, improving posture and core stability strengthening. Now get out there and start SQUATTING!!!