Squats: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The squat; a functional, compound exercise that hits the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, abdominals and lower back.  Squatting has a huge array of benefits, for a start it builds muscle, and not just the ones listed previously.  With so many muscles recruited in the exercise the body creates an anabolic environment (building tissue) releasing testosterone and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which both contribute to building muscle throughout the body. Squats also of course burn calories and thus contribute to weight loss. Circulation is also improved which is directly linked to reducing cellulite.

This is an exercise that must be done correctly.  No one seems to ask for help with squat technique and form, yet we see some atrocious “squats” on a daily basis in the Health Club.

Let’s Get Down to Business – Positioning

  • Make sure you warm up those muscles, a good 5 minutes on the cross trainer is perfect and a few dynamic stretches. Check the area is clear from water bottles, weights, journals etc. this sounds really silly but any trips with a weighted bar on your back could be disastrous.
  • Approach the bar with feet shoulder width apart, point your toes forwards or at a slight outwards angle.
  • Before you lift the bar put a light bend in your knees, this will ensure the muscles take the weight and not your joints. It is good practise to never lock out your knees.
  • Pop yourself under the bar and rest it upon your traps. If you can, try not to use soft pads on the bar (they can cause the bar to rock and unbalance you), you will build up a tolerance to the naked bar.  Hold the bar just past shoulder width or wherever is comfortable and raise your elbows forwards.
  • Push your chest out keeping your upper back tight.
  • Keep your chin up and look forwards.
  • Your back should be almost totally straight except the natural curve of your spine (lordotic curve).
  • Engage your core muscles, this will support your spine.
  • Lift the bar and take one step backwards.

The Eccentric Movement – Getting Down Low

  • Throughout the exercise keep the above teaching points in mind.
  • Initiate movement at the hips and push your glutes out, bending at the knees.
  • Sit back into the squat, do not lean forwards.
  • Try not to let your knees pass in front of your toes and control the weight at all times and try to lower yourself to reach a 90-degree angle with your knees. If this is uncomfortable don’t push it, gradually work on increasing your depth.
  • Don’t bounce up from this position, try to kill the weight (stop it dead) and pause for a heartbeat before pushing back up.

The Concentric Movement – The Lift

  • Push up through your heels and activate your glutes by squeezing together
  • Keep your chin up and exhale as you preform the movement.
  • Return to your starting position

Teaching Points

  • Do not let your heels lift off the floor, this will mean you are leaning onto your toes.
  • Try not to let your head drop, especially at the bottom of the exercise as you will find yourself looking down to check your form.
  • Do not let your knees buckle inwards, imagine you are trying to push the floor apart laterally with your feet, this will stabilise your knees and engage your glutes.
  • If available use the safety rails on your squat rack to ensure if anything does go wrong the weights will not fall on you.
  • For beginners you may want to practice squatting with no weight and/or using a bench or seat behind you to sit onto when you squat. Sitting back into a squat can feel very unnatural of you are not used to the movement, using a bench to sit back onto will give you the knowledge that you won’t fall backwards and is also a great way of measuring your squat depth.
  • Finally, if you do not have a spotter don’t ever feel embarrassed to ask a fitness professional for help – its what they are there for!