On Tuesday, I mentioned that there were many different ways to perform the squat exercise. You should master the basic, body weight squat first, but once you get there, here’s some more variations of the squat.
The easiest squat variations involve adding weight to the exercise. At some point, just your body weight will seem easy. You can always add more repetitions (reps) or sets to your workout. However, sometimes its just faster and more fun and challenging to add weight. If you have dumbbells, you can hold them in your hands, down at your sides while you perform the squat. You can also hold the dumbbells up by your shoulders. Adding the dumbbells at your shoulders prepares you to add a barbell on your shoulders. A standard Olympic barbell weighs 45 pounds. So, it’s best to work with dumbbells, adding a little weight at a time until you’re ready to use a barbell. Once you’ve worked yourself up to the 45-pound barbell, you can continue to add as much weight as you can carry on the barbell.
A quick note about barbells. If you buy your own barbell to use at home, make sure you know the limit of what it can hold without breaking. Barbells are meant to bend, but if you put too much weight on it, the barbell can break. Cheap barbells that you buy at local discount stores may hold only 150 lbs., which isn’t much weight. For guys, that weight may feel like nothing. Most barbells that you find at a gym will hold up to 600 lbs. The barbells used at the Olympics can hold up to 1,500 lbs. Just make sure you know the limits before you start piling weights onto a barbell.
The next variations on the squat come from foot positions. The standard squat has you stand with your legs shoulder width apart. That’s the best position to stand in when you want to focus on your entire quadricep muscles. However, sometimes, you want to work the muscles on either the insides or outsides of your thighs. These exercises will help make your thighs look wider. (It’s called the quad sweep, in gym terms.) These exercises are more difficult to perform (because you’re focusing on a few muscles in the quads and not all of them) so they usually require less weight.
To work your outer thighs, stand with your feet completely together or just a few inches apart. As always, make sure you sit back into the squat and do not let your knees go over your toes. This exercise is more difficult to maintain balance as your feet are together. You should feel this on the outer sweep of your quads.
To work your inner thighs, stand with your feet wider than shoulder width. Guys usually call this a Sumo Squat. I’ve heard women call this a Plié Squat. It’s the same thing, but a woman calling this exercise a Sumo Squat doesn’t sound very lady-like. The name Plié Squat sounds more like ballet (because it is a ballet move). When you stand with your legs apart, your toes will also be pointed outwards. The rule for squats is for your knees to always follow your toes. This means that if your feet and toes are wide apart, when you squat down, your knees should also be just as far apart. Remember, do NOT pinch your knees inward or you’ll place too much pressure on the tendons and ligaments of your knees, which can result in injury.
You can also do squats using only one leg at a time. These are called Split Squats. These kind of look like lunges, except that your feet don’t move during the exercise. To perform this type of squat, you stand with one leg in front of you and the other leg in back. To squat, you just drop straight down and come back up leaving your feet in this split position. Some people rest their back foot on a bench while performing this exercise. I don’t recommend that to you as a beginner until you’ve mastered having your foot on the floor. Also, you will feel this exercise more in your glutes than a regular squat.
While the split squat looks like it would be easier to perform, I think it’s more difficult. Number 1 – The leg in the back isn’t really shouldering any weight, so your weight is all on your front leg. Number 2 – it’s more difficult to balance yourself while performing this exercise. If you focus, maintain your posture and look straight ahead while doing this exercise, you shouldn’t have any problems.
There are many different versions of the squat exercise not listed here such as squat-jump and holding the barbell on the front of your shoulders instead of the back, but the variations I listed are pretty standard.
So, that’s it for squats! For any squat exercise, it’s important to maintain proper body posture, to sit back into the exercise, have your knees follow your toes, to not have your knees go past the ends of your toes, and to have your thigh reach parellel. Next week, we’ll focus on another exercise for you to build into your repertoire.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!