The squat is the absolute foundational movement of a human body. We are designed to squat. A squat is the natural human seated position, where we see small children able to play, work, and even answer the call of nature!
It uses an incredible number of muscles in one go, along with many joints. The exercise is a part of any comprehensive training program, regardless of goals. Whether for your grandmother or young son or daughter, squats are safe, natural and should be performed at least twice per week. A squat can be performed with no weight at all, a little weight or a huge load, once well trained.
We will go over the benefits of squatting in detail in a moment. For now, let’s look at how to do a proper squat.
How to do a Proper Squat
A squat is performed with the feet at a comfortable width apart. Stance is unique to each person because it depends on the angle of the hip joint, as well as the degree of external rotation of the hip-bone. A person with a wider hip angle will be more comfortable wider. Similarly, a person with a more externally rotated hip will be more comfortable with their toes pointed out. To determine your ideal stance, try a few difference angles and find out at which point you are able to descend the deepest, with the most ease, while also keeping the toes and knees in the same vertical line.
The descent into a squat should always start with the hips drawing back slightly, followed by knee flexion. Imagine descending to sit in a very low chair. Keep the chest up, the eyes fixed ahead, and spine as straight as possible.
As you descend, try to remain on flat feet, with your heels in contact with the floor. You are finished when you can no longer descend any further! The old myth of stopping when your knees look like they might “pass” your toes is just that… a myth! Work into the lowest range you can (with feet flat and back straight) before pushing up again. There should be no pause at the bottom of the range.
Breathing should be as follows (this is especially important on loaded squats):
Start: deep inhale, block air in your chest, using it to keep your back straight
Descend: hold onto breath
Ascent: exhale as you push upwards and return to the start position again.
Benefits of Squatting
Squatting benefits the upper and lower body alike. Regardless of the variation of squat you decide to do, you will be hitting nearly all of the muscles in the body. The posterior chain is includes muscles of the upper and lower back, the erector spinae, the glutes, the hamstrings and gastrocnemius muscles. The anterior chain of muscles includes the abdominals, quadriceps, and tibialis anterior. There are more muscles working, but these are the major players in a squat.
Squats that are loaded will get you the most benefit for the time. They demand more than nearly every other classic exercise in terms of mobility, flexibility, strength and coordination. If you find yourself short on exercise time, squats should be the exercise of choice!
Variations of Squat
This is a classic barbell squat, with the barbell placed on the upper traps. The barbell should start in a rack. Center yourself under the bar and place hands as close to your shoulders as possible. The exercise focuses more on the posterior chain of muscles than anterior chain.
These are the classic ‘front rack’ version of a barbell squat. If you have weak abs, use this exercise to get more out of your abs and legs, getting the anterior chain to work especially hard. Start with the barbell in a rack, place the hands facing forwards on the bar, and then lift the elbows up to have the bar rest on the anterior deltoids and across the collar bone. Keep the elbows up as high as possible while performing a deep squat. If you have limited back and shoulder flexibility, you will find this particularly difficult. Some mobility work may be required!
This version is also known as one of the best abdominal exercises you can do! The weight of the barbell (or dumbbells) will be lighter than you would usually be able to because of the balance required, as well as the shoulder, back and hip mobility. To perform an overhead squat, use a barbell in a rack. Use a very wide grip, and start with the bar on the traps. Once out of the rack, push press the bar up into a locked position. Perform your squat with your chest up and as deep as possible.
These are typically performed with a kettlebell upside-down. The hands should be scooped under the ball, on either side of the handle, holding it as it if were a goblet. This can also be done with a dumbbell, with hands in a similar position. With elbows up and the weight in contact with your chest, perform a squat. This requires extra stability in the abs with the weight being further in front of the central line of gravity than most squats.
A slightly advanced squat used by powerlifters is the zercher squat. The squat is performed with a barbell resting inside of the elbows, which are positioned like they would be for a bicep curl (palms forwards and elbows flexed). This position is awkward, and limits the depth of the squat, but also works the biceps, the traps and the quads.
Simply add a little jump to a normal squat. These are usually performed if you have no weight available to move, but advanced lifters also do tiny jump squats with back squats to change up the stimulus from time to time. This adds power and explosiveness to your training and burns more energy.
Barbell Hack squat
This less common squat is performed with a barbell in the hands behind the body. it is the opposite of a zercher squat, and places all the emphases on the glutes and hamstrings to perform the work. There are also stability muscles of the core at work, and a bit more coordination than usual. Squatting until the thighs are parallel to the floor brings most bars nearly all the way to the floor.
Step into a lunge position, with one leg forward and the other backwards. Both feet should be pointed forwards or slightly inwards for stability. Maintain a vertical shin on the front foot and descend until the back knee touches the floor. Squeeze from the glutes to extend upwards and repeat without moving feet placement until you switch to the other side. Here, you’ll focus more on glutes. You can do this exercise with a bar in the front or back positions, or with a weight in front as with goblet style, or dumbbells at your side.
Squat is the absolute foundational movement of a human body. We have been designed to squat. We have been squatting since the prehistoric times and then we discovered chairs and everybody forgot how to squat.
Currently the world record for heaviest squat is 575KG or 1268pounds, can you believe it, just to give you a reference this will be equivalent to squatting with an bison on your back.
Authors: FD Bulsara and Rahul Yadav