Table of Contents
What is a Squat?
The squat is a very basic bodyweight exercise which is great when it comes to hitting most of the muscle groups in your lower body. It targets the quadriceps (the front part of your thigh), glutes, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors and calves”. Depending on the type of squats (yes, you can choose from a bunch of different types of squats depending on your goal), a few more muscle groups, like the muscles of the six pack (rectus abdominis), obliques, and lower back (erector spinae), often referred to as the ‘core muscles”. It’s a compound exercise, which involves movement of the hip, knee and the ankle joint.
The Set up
The movement starts with the individual standing straight, in a neutral position, feet hip width apart. The set-up is crucial, as it leads to better execution of the movement. So take your time, and ensure that your weight is distributed evenly across the feet. This is very important, as anytime during the movement, if the weight shifts more towards the heel or the toes, the chances of the individual falling are more, which can even lead to injuries. The arms can stay in front of the body in whatever way feels natural (fist crossed in front or arms extended).
Keeping your chest upright, the movement should be initiated by taking a big deep breath in your stomach, and tightening your core. Think of how you would brace your stomach, if you were expecting a punch. Now start by breaking simultaneously at the hips and the knees.
A good way to imagine this is to picture yourself with ropes tied to your knees and the hip. waist. The rope attached to the knee is pulling you forward, and at the same time, the rope attached to your waist hip is pulling you behind. As this happens, instead of sitting down, which may lead to excessive forward bending of the upper body, and put excess pressure on the lower back when trying to get up. Rather, the intention should be to fall back, as if sitting on a chair.
How Deep to Squat?
One often encounters mixed opinions regarding how deep to squat. Some believe going ATG (ass to grass) i.e., into a deep squat is the way to go. Some claim going below parallel to the knee can hurt you. You might also have heard to never let your knees travel past your toes as it may damage your patella and you may not be able to walk again.
Well, how deep one should squat depends on many factors. The flexibility of calf and hip flexors, mobility of the knee and ankle joint play a crucial role in deciding the depth of the squatting movement. Tip? and weak hip flexor muscles and limited mobility of the ankle joint affect how deep one can sit in a squat. Limited ankle mobility can be taken care of by standing in a way on top of plates such that your heels are elevated.
Also, what matters is the goal of the person performing the squats. The squat is a closed chain kinetic movement and a squat with lesser ROM may not always mean to be ineffective. A parallel squat can be achieved with a 70-90 degree of flexion at the knee joint and a deep squat with a knee flexion of 90-120 degree.
For general hypertrophy goals, the aim should be to achieve a parallel squat, if not more.
After achieving the required depth, one should aim to propel themselves up, as if launching themselves in space, while exhaling. For bodyweight squats, breathing in on the way down and exhaling out on the way up is recommended. For weighted squats, the Valsalva maneuver can be used.
Progression and Regression
To do a bodyweight squat, all you need is your own body weight. However, sometimes, if the individual is not strong enough to lift their own bodyweight (or weighs too much), we can start with the easier version of the same exercise, a box/chair squat.
A box squat is similar to a bodyweight squat, the only difference is that a box/bench/chair is placed behind and one has to sit on it. It helps the person build confidence as they learn the neuromuscular control required and assures them of not falling behind, at the same time developing the strength in the quadriceps required to perform a bodyweight squat. To apply progressive overload, all one needs to do at this stage is to increase the range of motion by lowering the height of the box, until they are able to achieve a parallel squat.
Once the bodyweight squat is unlocked, the options are many. If one is able to do 10-15 repetitions of the movement smoothly, without the knees caving in, or hips breaking/rising before the knees, they can load the movement in a variety of ways.
The goblet squat is a great option, next in line after a bodyweight squat, as it loads the movement effectively, without requiring as much shoulder and thoracic (upper back) mobility, which would be required for a Barbell Front/Back Squats. It can be performed using a dumbbell or kettlebell, as per the choice of the trainee.
The squat, overall, is a great exercise if one wants to target most of the lower body muscles. No wonder, squats are also called the king of all exercises. So next time you want to add this versatile exercise to your arsenal, make sure you are ticking all the boxes when it comes to the proper set up and execution.