Fitness Friday – The Perfect Squat
Happy Fitness Friday!! Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend lined up :) I’ve got some fun things in store, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Ohno. For today is the day of all things fitness here on The Great Balancing Act. Or it is for the next 55 minutes until the clock strikes midnight… better get to it!
The Perfect Squat.
When old-school weight lifting moves are being discussed, an Arnold photo is a must ;)
Much like the push up and plank, a squat is a very difficult move to execute perfectly. In order to hit all the proper muscles without injuring yourself, it’s imperative that you get the motion of the squat down.
I like to start people on a wall squat with a ball. Rolling down with the ball on your back allows you to get your butt back and keeps your chest up without having to try as hard. Plus, it’s much better on your knees than a regular squat. A squat essentially works your butt and thighs, with the emphasis on your glutes and quadriceps.
Another way to learn proper squat form is to sit back on to a step or chair to learn just how far back your butt needs to be and feel what muscles should be engaged in your legs.
Things to remember when performing a squat:
- Get that butt back!!! I don’t care how silly you feel, pop out your behind and pretend like you’re sitting back on an invisible chair.
- Lock your feet and heels to the ground. Your heels should never raise off the ground. I repeat, your heels should never raise. Rocking up to your toes as you bring your bodyweight up feels easier, which means you’re cheating yourself out of the exercise.
- Keep your shoulders back & down and chest up proud. People have a tendency to round their shoulders and back, but this is a squat, not a forward fold.
- Whoever told you to point your toes outward was lying. Pointing your toes to opposite walls is not natural to our body mechanics. When beginning, keep your toes hip-width apart and facing forward.
- Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Deep squats are an advanced move, don’t compromise your knees and form to get your ass to the grass.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat without a ball, you can add some weight for added resistance. Some people prefer to hold dumbbells at their side.
Or you can grab a body bar and place it on the “shelf” of your back (what I like to call the “sweet spot”).
Eventually, even that will get too easy. Then it will be time to graduate to the squat rack.
I’m surprised by how many people don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “squat rack.” This is one of the most basic pieces equipment for any gym. Do not confuse it with a smith machine. A squat rack has a removable olympic bar that rests on adjustable pegs. The olympic bar is just a really long silver bar that weighs 45 lbs. Be sure you can squat with 45 lbs before using it!
All you have to do is set the bar slightly lower that shoulder-height. Add your plates and don’t forget the metal pins that slide on either side in case you lose it and the plates fall off. Find that “sweet spot” between your shoulders, lift the bar using your legs, and step out from the rack.
From there, you are good to go until you have just enough energy to get the bar back on the pegs (a clank and a grunt are welcome here ;) )
And that my friends is your basic squat! As with any weightlifting move, there are a ton of variations.
Here are some notable notables…
The plie squat/sumo squat. This can be done with a heavy dumbbell between your legs, or with a barbell on your back. Same rules apply here, except it targets your quads and inner thighs a little more. You’ll notice the feet are very wide and the toes are pointing outward. I said not to do this. There is debate as to whether or not this is good for your body mechanics. I say, do them sparingly and with lighter weights.
Split squat. Gosh, these are brutal. Looks almost like a stationary lunge, except the top of one foot is behind you on a bench, and you squat down on your front leg. You can also do this with dumbbells at your side or a plate/ball at your chest. This one really hits your quads.
Single-leg squat. Aka “the butt crusher.” One day after doing this exercise, it is guaranteed I will wince in pain every time I sit! :P Raise one leg off the ground either in front or behind you, and squat down on your standing leg in the usual form. Clearly, this one is for the glutes ;)
Remember that while throwing a pate-loaded bar on your back may look cool, it’s important you get the form and movement down to reap the benefits of a squat! Practice in front of the mirror every now and then to check in with yourself. And all you girls who are afraid that these will give you “thunder thighs,” I encourage you to give them a shot! You can burn some serious calories by adding squats to your strength training routine, and you’ll rock those daisy dukes like none other ;)