Squats are a must do in most exercise programs

The hard part is over. You made it to the gym and that’s usually half the battle.  Now that you’re there, what are you going to do?  This is where a lot of people get stuck but don’t worry, I’ve got your back.  

This is part one of a six-part series that focuses on the exercises that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in and outside the gym.  This series will go as follows

Part one- Squats

Pulls

Pushes

Hinge

Carries

Groundwork

Part One- Squats

This is a movement you’ve been doing since childhood and maybe even before that. Yet somehow between childhood and adulthood some of us seem to lose the ability to execute this fundamental human movement.

Why?  We sit more and move less due to the wonders of modern life and technology.

Benefits of Squats
  • It’s a full body exercise
  • Gives you great looking legs
  • Develops core strength
  • It’s a movement you perform every day
  • Builds lean muscle and burns a ton of calories

A good squat looks like this.

The squat is a one stop shop when it comes to losing weight, building muscle and getting strong. Yes, it is that important. So, if it has been a while since you’ve squatted or you want to improve your form, use this article as your guide.

Note- The seven squat variations below are listed from easy (six-point rocking) to more difficult (barbell squats). Only move on when you feel comfortable and ready for the next progression.

1. Six-point rocking

This is basically a squat with your hands and knees on the ground. If you can rock your butt to your heels without any problems, you’re ready to move on to  next progression. But if you can’t, it could be a mobility or stability issue that’s holding you back.

If you’re having difficultly with this exercise try the following three exercises and retest to see if you can go all the way. Keep doing these three exercise daily until you can rock your butt to your heels.

Form tips- Push your hands into the ground and keep your head up

Half kneeling hip flexor stretch 60 seconds on each side
  • Passive leg lowering 10 reps on each leg
  •  Push up position front plank 30- 60 seconds

Note – With all the squatting varaitions below use a stance that feels comfortable for you and allows you to to get your thighs parallel to the ground. Use the picture below as a guide.

2. Assisted bodyweight squat

The above is one of a few assisted variations that will help your squat. Here is another one. When load isn’t part of the equation, you can concentrate on dialing in good form. And as Dan mentions in the video, this gives you confidence to execute the squat also.

Use this variation to groove the squat pattern or if it’s been a while since you’ve darkened the doors of a gym.  Try 3-4 sets, 12- 15 reps 3 times per week.

Form tips- Keep your shoulders down, chest up and hold on light to your object so your legs will do most of the work and not your arms.

3. Bodyweight box squat

Now that you’ve grooved the squat pattern with the assisted squat, use a box as reference point to get yourself into good squat position without assistance. Having the box behind you reinforces you to use your hips and not your knees.  

A common complaint of doing squats is “It hurts my knees.”. Usually, it’s a combination of getting using good form and your knees getting use to squatting again. Plus, if you have sore knees, reducing the range of motion reduces some of this discomfort. Try 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps at least 2-3 times per week.

Form Tips- If your knees hurt, raise the surface to find your pain-free range of motion

4. Bodyweight Squat

Once you have grooved good squat pattern with the box squat, it’s time to take away the safety net. Bodyweight squat is slightly more difficult because it turns the exercise into one continuous motion and not stopping on the box. Because you don’t have any assistance make sure to keep your chest up and shoulders down to maintain a neutral spine, Try 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps at least 2-3 times per week.

Form tips- squat between your knees and not OVER your knees

5. Goblet squat

The Goblet squat has revolutionized the way the squat is being performed and taught throughout the world. But what makes the Goblet squat so popular?

Holding the weight anteriorly (in front) encourages you to stand up straighter, get that upper back tight and puff out that chest which sets the table for good squat. Furthermore, the weight acts as a counterbalance that encourages you to sit between your legs and not over your knees.  

It’s like squat magic and it could be the only squat you’ll ever need. If you’re new to this movement choose a lighter weight (20-35 pounds) and do more repetitions (10-15). When you feel more comfortable with this movement, go heavier and do less repetitions (6-10).

6. Dumbbell front squat

This exercise and the barbell back squat below require good shoulder mobility. Please perform the test below before doing either of these exercises.

Shoulder mobility test
  • Lie on your back with both feet on the ground and arms by your side.
  •  Place your right hand between the curve of your lower back and the floor.
  •  Take your left hand and raise it directly over your head, trying to touch your hand to the floor behind you.
  •  Repeat test on other side.
  •  If contact is lost between your hand and back on either side or either hand cannot reach the floor, you have limited shoulder mobility.

If you have limited shoulder mobility, stick with the goblet squat and work on you shoulder mobility with this exercise.

This front squat can be done with either a barbell or two kettlebells This exercise provides an extra challenge for your core and shoulders because you’re holding more weight in front of you.

Keep the reps and weight on the lower side when first starting out with this exercise. I recommend 3 sets of 8-10 reps and gradually increasing the weight when you become more comfortable with this exercise.

7. Barbell back squat

This is the granddaddy of squats and by far the most difficult to perform with good form. Before putting a barbell on your back you must have performed all the exercises above and passed the shoulder mobility test. Then and only then can you feel comfortable and confident in performing the barbell back squat.

There are many ways to program and perform the back squat which are beyond the scope of this article. However, I’ve found squatting 3 days a week progressing on the weight little by little each week is the best way to build leg strength and muscle.

Form Tips- pull the barbell down into your upper back and keep your chest up.

Wrapping up

It’s one thing to go to the gym but it is another thing knowing what to do when you’re there. One of those things should always be squats. They are difficult but when you look in the mirror, it will be worth it.  

If you’re looking for an exercise program to start after a layoff or if you’ve never lifted weights before, I have a 6-week program called ‘Get Back In the Saddle’ that will give you a fantastic exercise foundation to build on.  It can be purchased here.

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