If you’re looking for a simple way to transform your workouts and build total-body strength, then you need to start squatting.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, squats are one of the most effective strength building exercises in existence. Not only do they tone the muscles of the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves, but they also strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, improve bone and joint health, increase mobility, and decrease your risk of injury during sports and everyday life.
The best part? All of this is available to you for free. While some squat variations require gym equipment, the simple bodyweight squat can be done anywhere. You don’t even need to belong to a gym in order to reap total-body benefits.
In spite of these benefits, many people avoid squats. They might hate how challenging they are or they’ve been scared off of them because of joint pain caused by improper form. But for people without contraindicating issues, it’s seriously worth adding squats back into your fitness routine.
When you practice squats with proper form, you’ll be able to reap all the benefits described above sans pain. While I can’t promise that squats will get any easier, I can assure you they’re one of the best ways to transform your workouts.
1. Foot position
Whatever foot position you adopt for your squat, it should be comfortable, and it’s worth noting that every person’s foot position will look a little different because of minor anatomical differences. In general, aim to stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips with your toes pointed slightly outward. Then engage your feet muscles so your arches don’t collapse inward. (You’ll want to press through the outer edges of your feet as you rise back up, not through the arches.) Try to distribute your weight evenly through both the heels and balls of your feet, and avoid gripping with your toes.
2. Trunk position
Because it’s an exercise that primarily targets the lower body, a lot of people focus exclusively on the position of their lower body when squatting. But in reality, what you’re doing above the waist is just as important. To maintain the correct trunk position in a squat, straighten your spine, raise your chest, and pull back your shoulders. Extending your arms in front of you (parallel to the floor) can help you maintain this correct posture as you move through the exercise. Also be sure to keep your core engaged throughout the entire range of movement.
3. Head position
Just as it’s important to keep your back in a neutral position while squatting, it’s also important to keep your neck straight. To help ensure your head stays upright during your squats, choose a spot on the wall and fix your gaze there throughout the entire range of motion.
4. Knee position
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to proper knee position. For starters, aim to keep your knees in line with your feet. This will probably require focusing on pushing your knees outward, because most people’s knees will naturally collapse inward as they lower down (although maintaining the foot position described above should help minimize this). Then, when it comes time to lower down, make sure your knees don’t track forward past your toes. This will help you avoid placing undue stress on your knee joints.
5. Hip, butt, and thigh position
As you start to lower, hinge your hips so your butt sticks out behind you. (Do this even before you’ve started bending your knees. Just remember to keep your back muscles engaged, your spine straight, and your chest lifted as you do so.) The depth of your squat will vary depending on how much flexibility you have in your hips. The general rule of thumb is to aim for lowering until your hamstrings are parallel to the floor. Engage your glutes throughout the entire range of motion.
Now that you know how to safely perform the exercise, it’s time to incorporate squats into your routine. Using a squat calculator can help you develop a healthy routine and track your progress over time. Squats are a challenging exercise, so it might be tough at first. But the more you practice them, the more their results will inspire you to keep squatting.
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