Legs are perhaps one of the most neglected bodyparts among novice weight-lifters. Beginners tend to trains ‘showy muscles’ such as the biceps and the chest. It is also true that leg workouts are very taxing on the body, mainly because they constitute such a large group of muscles. For this very reason, neglecting to work the legs thoroughly means neglecting to work up to half the body. Fortunately, with a single exercise, the beginner is able to target his lower body. Welcome the squat.
Squatting for success
The squat is a compound exercise that targets principally the quadriceps and secondarily, not just the rest of the lower body but also the upper body, thus being incredibly a single whole-body exercise. How does it work the upper body when it is supposed to target the legs? It does because the upper body has to keep the bar balanced on top of the shoulders. Thus core muscles are recruited for stability. Additionally, the back muscles have to keep the torso rigid and hard in order to transfer the force from the legs to the loaded barbell. The core muscles and the chest assist in the function of keeping the torso rigid and stabilised.
How is the lower body being targeted? The principle function of the squat is to push the lower leg, the calves, away from the upper leg, the quadriceps. The bum muscles are also recruited to extend the hips into a vertical position. Thus most of the power in the squat comes from the quadriceps followed by the bum muscles. The hamstrings also assist as stabilisers.
To perform the squat, place a barbell on a support slightly lower than shoulder height. A power rack is ideal for this. Place yourself under the loaded bar such that it will rest comfortably on your shoulders whilst squatting. Wrap your arms around the bar from behind in order to keep it stable. Then lift up the bar by straightening your legs while keeping the tension in your back. Take a few steps forward in order to clear the support brackets and place your feet about shoulder width apart as your stance. Bend your knees and squat down while keeping your back flat. You will find that in order to keep your balance, you will have to bend your torso forward at the hips such that the bar lies vertically above your heels. This is absolutely normal and obeys the laws of physics.
In general, you lower yourself as far as your quads are parallel to the floor; any lower is supposed to place excess stress on the knee joints. However, if you are not lifting heavy, then you can squat as deep as you can without fear of injury. A full-motion exercise is also good to work the muscles thoroughly and will prevent them from shortening. Many people also squat deeply while using a heavy weight. It depends on you. You can always go deep while warming up and go until parallel during your last set or two.
Once at the bottom, take a deep breath and push hard with your heels. At the top of the exercise, do not lock out your knees before doing the next repetition. You don’t want to allow the weight to rest on your bones instead of on your muscles.
Squats are one of the best ways to build muscles. Keep squatting your way to success and do not be afraid of hard work.