Squats are the perfect functional fitness exercise because they not only strengthen your muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, but performing squats on a regular basis promotes mobility and balance and helps you complete real-world activities with much more ease. If you’re a runner, squats can help you run faster and endure less pain afterwards because your legs will be more powerful. If you’re a biker, those pedals will become easier to push up and down on. If you’re just an average everyday walker or stair climber, you’ll feel the proper muscles engaging with each leg moving, making it an easier experience.
Although squats oftentimes get a bad rap because they can “hurt your knees or cause you to throw out your back,” if they’re done correctly, they provide MUCH more benefit than harm to your body.
Squats also use more muscles and parts of your body than you may think. Your abs stabilize the up-and-down movement, your arms help support the bar laying across your upper back/shoulders, and most importantly your glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads provide the maximum power needed to get that heavy bar up and back down smoothly.
Here are a few tips to help you ensure a safe squat experience every time you hit legs:
- Start off small. Form over everything and moving up and down too quickly can lead to incorrect form! It’s important to perfect the form before you worry about increasing the weight.
- Always remember the core. Your core is the basic foundation of fitness and will help you with every movement you do. Keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement, as this will help stabilize you.
- Keep your chest high and shoulders back. Lumbar problems will occur when the shoulders round forward. With added weight on the back like a barbell, you’ll be asking for trouble with improper form.
- Drive through your heels and keep your knees and toes pointed outward on the way down. Performing a proper squat all comes down to the stability you maintain throughout the movement.
- Keep a focal point. Try focusing your vision on a spot in front of you to help keep your balance and focus throughout the squat.
Remember, while a squat is a squat, there are many variations to performing this exercise. Challenge yourself with 2-second pause squats (hold the squat position for 2 seconds when you reach the bottom before popping back up), or try banded squats with a resistance band attached to the ends of the squat bar.