The squat is probably the most important of all weightlifting exercises. It should be the cornerstone of any good weightlifting, fitness or muscle training programme. Squats work all of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body together. The effect of this on your overall training is incredible, let's have a look at some of the benefits.
Benefits of Squatting
Here are the top 5 benefits of squatting with weights at home:
Strength Gains. The ability to add extremely large amounts of weight whilst squatting makes this the best exercise for building strength.
Muscle Gains. The squat is a compound exercise, working large groups of muscles simultaneously. Not only your quads, hamstrings and glutes. But also your abs and lower back are used for stabilisation whilst the shoulders are used to support the bar. The hormone release as a result of using such large muscles together has an effect that surpasses the exercise period alone.
Fat Burning. Squats burn more energy than any other exercise as they work more large muscles together than any other exercise. This also results in better metabolism post workout (EPOC) and therefore more calories burned.
Cardio Gains. To supply this powerful movement, your heart and lungs have to work much harder than during other exercises. Combined with the large amount of blood flow from venous return, this creates an increased cardio training benefit.
- Strengthens Joints and Bones. As a heavy load-bearing exercise, squats put increased gravitational loads through your bones and joints. When performed with correct technique, this will result in safely strengthening your joints and increasing the density of your bones.
Quadriceps - Used concentrically to straighten the legs and eccentrically on the down phase of the squat to control the weight.
Hamstrings - Used concentrically to control the weight down and eccentrically when lifting the weight.
Glutes - Used to assist with all phases of the lift and a prime mover in the upward lift
Hip Adductors and Abductors - Used to assist and stabilise during both phases of the lift.
Gastrocnemius and Soleus - Used mainly in the bottom part of the lift, but also to stabilise the body from below.
Muscles of the feet - Used to stabilise and balance of the body from below.
Abdominals - Used to stabilise the spine and upper body during all phases of the lift.
Erector Spinae - Used to stabilise the spine throughout the lift.
- Trapezius - Used to support the neck and upper back as well as support the weightlifting bar.
Safe Squat Technique
As with any weightlifting exercise, your technique is critical. A good technique will result in a better training effect, safer training and strength through all of the range of motion.
Correct Squat Stance
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, the heels being directly under your shoulders. Your feet should be externally rotated around 30 degrees and your head should be level (not looking down or up). Heels should remain firmly planted at all times and you should aim to transfer your power through the heels.
If you find you are consistently coming up onto your forefoot, then you need to develop your ankle mobility and calf flexibility. As a short term fix, you can place some small weight plates under your heels or buy some weightlifting shoes. This isn't a good habit, so work on your mobility ASAP.
Correct Squat Form
Once you have set the bar on your shoulders and taken the full weight of the bar, start to breathe in and keep breathing in through the lowering phase of the squat. This creates additional abdominal pressure, which helps to support the spine from the inside.
To initiate the squat, focus on rolling the hips backwards and downwards. Keep your knees pushed out. The knees should not internally rotate, the inside of the knees should stay in line with the inside of the foot.
As you flex at the knees the front of the knees should stay over the toes, continue to flex at the knees until your thigh is below parallel with the ground.
Keep your back straight, don't round the back and keep your head upright.
Breathe out as you stand up.
Back Squat or Front Squat?
The two main squat variations are front and back squat. The front squat the bar is held on the front of the shoulders whilst in the back squat you hold the bar on the shoulders behind the neck.
The two varieties place a slightly different emphasis on the muscle groups.
Front Squats - Place more load on the quads, upper back and also the anterior deltoids.
It's important to develop a solid front rack position. This is the position of holding the bar on the front of your shoulders and top of your chest with your palms facing the sky.
Back Squats - Place more emphasis on the hips, glutes and lower back.
Most people favour the back squat as it feels easier to hold the bar on the traps and lock it into your neck. However front squats should not be overlooked as the variation will boost your training effect and can also help to add variety to your training.
In short, aim for a 50:50 ratio of back to front squats to optimise your training programme.
Squatting at Home
The main difference with squatting at home compared to squatting in a gym is the availability of equipment. All good gyms will have a combination of squat racks, squat stands and squat machines. The chances are, at home you'll only have the weights.
To perform squats safely at home you'll need to invest in either a set of squat stands or a squat rack. These hold the bar for you between sets and squat racks also offer extra drop protection. Depending on the rack they can also catch a dropped bar.
It's also worth bearing in mind your flooring. If performing heavier squats, you want to be able to drop weights safely, this is where bumper plates and an Olympic bar can be invaluable, especially when combined with high-density rubber flooring/matting.
If you can't afford bumper plates and impact flooring, then squat stands or a squat rack are even more important.
Also if you find the bar uncomfortable on your shoulders, consider purchasing a bar pad for extra comfort.
The other equipment consideration is the amount of weight you have. As squats are a powerful lift, you'll need plenty of weight to get the full benefit from them. Most average weightlifters can squat a large amount more than their body-weight (approximately 1.5 times). So bear this in mind when starting a good squat programme.
Hopefully this will inspire you to start a good squat programme at home and start to notice the significant benefits that come from integrating squats into your weight lifting routine.