By Lori Cipolla- Cranston, RI
Never underestimate the power of a squat ! Why you ask? Lets start by breaking it down on targeted muscles . Your quadriceps, glutes ,adductors, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and abs all play a role in squatting.
Your quadriceps are located in front thigh and have 4 parts 1. rectus femoris 2. Vastus lateralis 3. vastus medialis and 4.Vastus intermedius . Your hamstrings are located on the back of your thighs and consist of biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. The glutes , a.k.a. buttocks , contains 3 parts named gluteus minimus, medius, and maximus. The calves consist of soleus and gastrcnemius and are located in the back of lower legs . Adductor magnus, brevis gracilis and longus can be found on the inside of thighs. Hip flexors on the other hand are small muscles going over hip bones towards the thigh. Last but not least , abdominals consisting of obliques (muscles on the sides ) and rectus abdominis.
Now the point of this is not really so much to give you an anatomy lesson but so you can actually visualize just how many muscles get engaged in this one exercise. This is why the squat is considered a compound exercise.
Your quads and hamstrings will cause both extension and flexion at the knee point. When you are rising back up from a squat your hamstring is even more engaged. When you are moving your thigh backward and hips extending is when your glutes are playing their role. Adductors move the thigh back inwards and calves are being worked in the contraction of keeping stability of lower legs. Your abdominal muscles should be engaged throughout exercise to help keep balance during movement.
So now that you know the amount of muscles involved in a squat , how should you incorporate them into your routines ? First , you should know you can perform squats with or without added weight . If you are a beginner , you might want to start by just executing the exercise with your own body resistance . Once your confident you have your form and balance mastered , you can try and begin to add weight . Secondly, there is a variety of different types of squats that work your leg and glute muscles in different ways.
The traditional squat is a perfect one to start off with . You want to keep your stance just about shoulder width & feet pointing slightly outwards as it is unnatural to force them straight ahead . As you make your descend ( if you are not using weights with dumbbells or barbell , you can simply keep hands on hips or straight by your side) keep looking straight ahead and act as if you are going down into a chair but never round out your back . Your goal here is to descend till thighs parallel or beyond . You also want to make sure you do not extend your knees past your toes. Continuing to maintain an erect torso, rise back up.
Other squats you can try are front squat , plie squat , bulgarian squat , jump squat and wall squats to name a few. Front squat is unlike the traditional squat in the sense that it places resistance on the front half of the body. Without weight start by criss-crossing arms in front and with weight hold barbell in front of body which can be done by keeping bar across clavicles (collarbone) and deltoids. You can hold the bar one of two ways , either with arms crossed and hands placed on top of barbell or in a clean grip (folding hands backwards and grasp bar with fingertips. Slowly begin to descend making sure to keep your elbows up. If you keep center gravity on the back half of your feet you will be able to resist the forward pull much better.
Plie squats have a wider stance , keeping feet about two to three feet apart. You will keep your toes pointed out and push your hips back as you lower until thighs parallel to the floor . Then lift up to starting position. You can add weight with dumbbells on these.
A bulgarian squat puts emphasis on the front thigh , glutes and hamstrings. Stand at the side of a bench facing away from it. Place one leg on the bench (top of your foot will be lying across bench ) . You can do this with or without dumbbells. Keeping your chest and torso up , lower your body down until the knee of leg on the bench is near ground but not touching . Rise back up and don’t forget that when your done with your set on this leg , repeat with other leg to make a complete set.
Jump squats are a plyometrics move . Begin by standing with feet hip width apart , arms by your side and abdominal muscles engaged. You are going to go downward first by shifting your hips back and down while maintaining a flat back by bending forward at the hips. Your arms will still be in line straight back with your torso . At this point you will explode up . You want to try and maintain level feet in the air as this is very important for a good landing . As you land, keep your head in alignment with your spine and keep your back flat with your torso slightly forward. Throughout this exercise , be mindful of keeping your abdominal muscles engaged .
Wall squats are pretty much just that . Start by standing facing away from a wall and then bend your knees as you slide your body down along the wall . Your arms will hang by your side and your feet will be around a 1 1/2 feet away from wall . Hold squatting position for 30 seconds You can change this time up to challenge yourself more . You can also hold a weight plate while doing this squat once you feel comfortable enough with form .
There are even more types of squats but this should be enough to get you going. Try adding two of these to your current leg routine and then alternate with another two of these in four weeks. Start by doing 3 sets of 10-15 (except for wall squats 3 sets of 4 to 6) . If you are not using weights , try and challenge yourself for the higher rep number. Happy Squatting !!
Lori Cipolla is Team Blessed Bodies Figure Athlete , ISSA Certified Personal Trainer & a Beachbody Coach. Most importantly a mom of 5 children.