Yesterday, I started to get specific about nutrition. Today, I’m going to start to be specific about exercise. The largest muscles in your body are in your legs. So, that sounds like a great place to start.
The squat is a perfect exercise to work your legs. This is a versatile exercise because there are a variety of ways to perform this exercise. You can use dumbbells or a barbell or just use your body weight. You can change the position of your feet in order to emphasize different muscles. So, let’s take a look at this exercise.
The squat exercise works primarily the quadricep muscles (the quads, in gym lingo), but it secondarily works your gluteal muscles (glutes) and hamstrings (hammies). If you’re thinking… here she goes getting technical again… yes I am. You need to know the names of muscles to know what you’re working. The upper leg muscles seem to come in fours. The quadricep muscles consist of four muscles on the front of your thigh. The gluteals comprise four muscles that make up your derrière. The hamstrings also have four muscles connected by tendons, which are on the backs of your thighs. These are long thin muscles and tendons that look something like strings, hence the name hamstrings.
To perform a squat correctly, start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Things you need to know are …
1) Keep your back straight – this is important so you do not hurt your back. People have a tendency to want to look down at their feet or the ground when doing this exercise, but do NOT do this! When you look down, you change the curvature of your spine. You want your spine straight. It is best to look straight ahead. If you’re in a gym, you can look in a mirror to make sure that you are performing this exercise properly. If you’re at home, you can set up a large mirror against the wall to do the same thing. (Side note – gyms have mirrors everywhere not so you can admire yourself, but to see yourself performing the exercise so you can make sure you’re doing it correctly.)
2) Do NOT have your knees go over the tips of your toes – The most difficult thing about performing a squat is to NOT lean forward. You want to sit back on your heels when you perform the exercise. If your knees go forward over your toes, you will put a lot of strain on your knees and can possibly hurt yourself. So, focus on dropping straight down on your heels. If you have long legs, you can try putting something under your heels, like a weight plate or piece of wood or book or something. I have 34” legs, so it’s a long way down to do a squat. Putting something under my heels helps me to maintain my balance while sitting back in the exercise.
3) Go down until your thighs are parallel to the floor – I’ve seen people try to do a squat that looks more like a curtsy. They only bend down about 25%. I call that a quarter squat. For the record, there is no such thing as a quarter squat! You’re not really working your muscles if you don’t bend down to the parallel position. When you first start, if you want to try squatting, bending down a little farther every time until you get all the way down to parallel, that is fine. You’re just getting used to performing the exercise. However, the goal is to get to parallel. See the picture up above pointing to the man’s knees to see what is NOT parallel. Not only is he going over his toes, but he didn’t go to parallel either. Once you feel comfortable in the exercise, the proper end position is parallel. If you work out at a gym – ignore people who don’t do this. They’re doing the exercise wrong! (Side note – if you don’t know how to do an exercise properly, don’t ask other people at the gym. Ask a trainer. A large percentage of people in gyms may look good, but they don’t exercise properly. Don’t mimic their mistakes!)
4) Push through your heels when you stand back up – Since your weight is already on your heels, push up to a standing position through your heels, not your toes. Remember to continue to keep your back straight by looking straight ahead.
5) Do not bow your knees inward – Some people find this to be a very difficult exercise, especially if you have a heavy barbell on your shoulder. They strain to stand back up and inadvertently push their knees together. Do NOT do this. This can put incredible strain on your knees and you can hurt yourself. Just focus on doing nothing but standing straight back up.
6) Arm positions – If you’re doing a squat using your body weight, it may be easier to perform by moving your arms out in front of you as you descend down to the parallel position. This is about balance. When you have weights in your hands, you’ll keep your arms straight down on your shoulders. If you put a barbell on your shoulders, your hands will be up on the barbell. However, using just your body weight, you can put your hands wherever. I think it’s easier to start by reaching your arms forward. The video has a woman with her hands over her head. That’s the goal you want to get to. However, if it’s easier to move your arms forward as you descend, that’s perfectly fine.
I’ll be the first person to admit that when you first start performing this exercise, it felt awkward. You may feel like you’re going to fall, but you’re not. If you have a fear of falling, you can put your back toward a wall and perform the exercise. That way, if you do fall backwards, you’ll fall right onto the wall and not on the floor. You can also put a sturdy chair under you when you perform the exercise. Don’t sit on the chair, though, just touch your rear end to the chair and stand back up.
To watch a video of a proper body weight squat, go here. Bodybuilding.com has a lot of great how to videos for exercises, so I’ll be using them a lot.
So, that’s it! Did you try it? Can you feel it in your legs? You should be able to feel this exercise in your legs even when you only use your body weight. So, for today, try to do 3 sets of this exercise by performing 8 repetitions (reps) per set.
Until tomorrow, practice your squats, but don’t overdo it, and remember… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!