Squats are hands down my favourite exercise. If you are capable of doing them (ie. don’t have any injuries holding you back), then they should be in your programme, period.
Squats are an exercise which give you a great “bang for your buck”. They not only increase strength in your legs, but also sculpt rock hard bums and sweeping quads and hamstrings in one movement. When squatting, make sure you keep your core locked in tight so that your back doesn’t collapse or round at the bottom. The lower you can squat, the more you will target your glutes and hamstrings. You may need to practise first without any weight. A lot of my clients need to work on hip and hamstring mobility to allow themselves to get deep enough (I will write another article specifically about working on mobility for squats). So I will stress that your aim should be to squat as deep as you can while still maintaining good form! Squats are an exercise where your technique is very important, so if you aren’t sure get someone to help you. Poor form can result in injury and also hold you back from getting the results you want.
There are many variations of squats, here are some of my favourites:
Back Squats – a squat with a barbell on your back. The mother of all squats. Again, make sure you squat deep so that you are maximally activating your glutes and abs. Ideally you want to aim for your hip crease to be lower than your knee joint. Otherwise you put too much emphasis on your quads, and obviously we want to work the bikini muscles by squatting!
Sumo Squats – Grab two boxes or steps and place them a bit further than shoulder width apart. Stand on the boxes and hold a kettlebell or dumbbell while it hangs in between your legs. As you squat, make sure you are using your butt and legs to do the work and not just leaning forward or rounding your back. Letting the weight hang in front of you will not only allow you to squat deeper, but also use a heavier weight than you could with a goblet squat as your abdominals won’t have to fight the weight you are holding up in front of you. The wider stance used in sumo squats means that you are going to hit your glutes and inner thighs much more than a traditional squat.
Added bonus: (you’ll love slash hate me for this) throw in a little half squat as seen below for an added burn!
Extra for experts: Squats with chains
The most difficult part of the squat is the concentric part of the exercise; the coming up from the bottom (also known as coming out of the hole). By adding chains to the bar, we can vary the load as you travel through the movement. At the top it will be heavier and as you get closer to the bottom of the squat, more of the chains will rest on the ground and your workload will be lighter.
Normally with a squat as the angle changes in your legs, so does the engagement of muscle fibres. By adding chains and varying the load, you will be engaging maximum muscle fibres throughout the entire range of the movement and maintaining the same amount of tension on your leg muscles. These absolutely burn because they increase tension through the range of movement where there otherwise would be holes. For instance if you’re an athlete, squats with chains would be great for working through a hole in your strength. Most of the compound barbell exercises can be done with chains for this specific reason. Another added bonus is the instability that the chains add to the exercise, which will make your core stabilisers work harder. They also look badass.
What’s your favourite squat variation? Let me know, or don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.