The Ultimate Total Body Exercise:
If you’re looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and get some serious results fast, look no further than the squat exercise. Squats are the one exercise that should be a part of everyone’s routine, as they’re relatively simple to perform, require no equipment, and can be done just about anywhere. More importantly, although most people associate squats as being a leg exercises, they actually offer many benefits that make them one of the best total body exercises.
The Benefits of Squats
So what exactly is it about squats that make them such a great and necessary exercise?
Squats Build Muscle Throughout The Entire Body
While squats will obviously help to build your leg muscles (including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves), they can also create what’s referred to as an anabolic environment, which promotes body-wide muscle building. In fact, when done properly, squats can trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, which are needed for muscle growth and will help improve muscle mass when you train other areas of your body. All this means squats can help you improve both your upper and lower body strength.
Squats Make Everyday Activities Easier
You’ve all heard the term, “Functional Fitness.” This simply refers to exercises that carry over into everyday life and help your body move and function better. Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there, as humans have been squatting forever. When you perform squats, you build muscle and help your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promote mobility and balance. All of these benefits translate into your body moving more efficiently in the real world too.
Squats Burn More Fat
One of the most time-efficient ways to burn more calories (and fat) is to actually have more muscle! For every pound of additional muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day. So, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle, you will automatically burn 500-700 more calories per day than you did before.
Squats Aid in Mobility and Balance
Strong legs are a big factor in staying mobile as you get older, and squats are great for increasing leg strength. Proper squats also aid in working the body’s core and other stabilizing muscles, which helps maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscles.
Squats Help Prevent Injuries
Most athletic injuries are the result of weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues – all of which squats will help strengthen. They also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility (squats improve the range of motion in your ankles and hips) and balance, as mentioned above.
Squats Can Improve Athleticism
Whether you’re the occasional “weekend warrior” type athlete or a parent who chases after a toddler, you’ll be interested to know that studies have linked squatting strength with athletic ability. Squatting helped athletes run faster and jump higher, which is why this exercise is part of virtually every advanced athlete’s training program.
Squats Strengthen and Firm Your Glutes and Abs
Few exercises work as many muscles as the squat, so it’s an excellent multi-purpose activity useful for strengthening and tightening your glutes, abs and legs. In addition, squats build your muscles, and these muscles participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
What’s the Proper Way to Perform a Squat?
Squats have long been blamed for being destructive to your knees, but research shows that when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue. Here’s a quick step-by step approach to a proper squat:
- Warm up
- Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart
- Keep your back in a neutral position, and keep your knees centered over your feet
- Be sure to keep your head up and chest out
- Slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle
- Imagine pushing your hips and butt back while keeping your weight loaded into the heels and outer foot
- Return to starting position using the heels to push into the floor — repeat 15-20 times, for 3-4 sets for beginners (do this two or three times a week)
- Breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you return to starting position
While I recommend all beginner exercisers simply start out with bodyweight squats, there are many variations and challenging ways to make squats one of the best exercises for all fitness levels.
About the writer: Ken Grall is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and owns and operates an Edge Fitness in Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Ken.