The squat might be the king of all exercises. Squats are great for fat burning, athletic performance and for toning and strengthening your entire lower body. They require leg, hip and core strength while at the same time requiring mobility at the hips and ankles. The only problem is that squats tend to get a bad rep. Squats have been known to be “bad for your knees” and is commonly performed wrong in many gyms. So the question remains, should you squat?
To see if you can or should add weight to your squats, try some bodyweight only squats first and if you can, in front of a mirror to check form. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward and extend your arms out in front of you. With your head looking forward, push your hips back and sit back while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Keep knees tracking over your toes, descend until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Then stand straight up. If you experience pain at any time, seek medical advice.
If you can do this 10 times perfectly, with no knee wobble and chest fairly straight up then the world is your oyster my friend: front squats, back squats, overhead squats, you can go for it. However if you can’t do 10 perfect bodyweight ones then dial it back a bit and try some of these exercises to help you improve.
Please note that some people, because of injury, joint structure, mobility and/or age, might not be able to squat deep and that is OK. Nobody said you had to squat, but if that is not the case then these exercises seem to help most people improve their strength and mobility necessary to squatting.
Bench squats: Like the name suggests the bench squat utilizes the bench as an aid to get the person to start the moment with the hips and not the knees, a common mistake. I like to actually start sitting down and just focus on the standing up part of the squat. Make sure your feet are shoulder-width apart and that your lower leg is fairly straight. Then keep your chest up and stand up. With the bench behind you it allows most people to sit back more and bend and the hips first, an important first step.
Supported squats: Hold on to something sturdy and use that for support, a squat rack or pole would work great. This takes some pressure off the body and also makes it easier for people to sit back and use their hips and glutes. This takes pressure off the knees. Chest up, toes pointed slightly outward, head up and descend until roughly parallel. Once you can do 10 with ease, you can move to the unsupported bodyweight weight.
Goblet squats: Sometimes actually adding weight can improve technique. Because the goblet squat has the person holding the weight in front of the body, it forces the core to activate so the person doesn’t fall forward. This trick can help the person keep the chest up during the movement. For the Goblet squat, stand with your legs about shoulder width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. Grab a fairly light dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it against your chest. With a kettlebell, hold the handle, but with a dumbbell just hold it vertical by one end. Squat down with the goal of having your elbows, which are pointed downward because you’re cradling the bell, slide past the inside of your knees. Then squeeze your glutes and quads to standing position.
Start with one of these exercises to help strengthen and grove your squat. A properly performed squat is one of the best exercises you can do. There are very few “bad” exercises out there, it’s just that not everyone is capable or made for every exercise. If you are still having trouble, seek advice of a trained fitness professional and always consult your doctor prior to exercise.
— Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach that trains at Sierra Athletic Club and a training center instructor at Barton Memorial Hospital. Kyler specializes in performance enhancement and rehabilitation after injury. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.