How To Improve Your Squats
Technique is the single most important part of my powerbuilding program, BUILD. The way I see it: training shouldn’t just be measured by the amount of weight you lift, it should also be measured by the way you lift.
When it comes to building strength, the best way is to lift heavier weights with fewer repetitions. The three key exercises I use as part of my BUILD program are: squats, deadlifts and bench presses.
So, I thought I’d spend some time breaking down the importance of technique and form when it comes to squats. (Stay posted, I’ll deep dive into deadlifts and bench presses soon!)
Getting the squat just right
It’s essential that your form is right to get the most power from your lift. I’ll be taking it right back to basics. It’s the best place to start!
From technique to which muscles you engage, it’s important to learn the technical stuff before you get started in the gym. You’ll thank me for it when you start seeing results and really getting value out of your lifting sessions. Trust me!
What technically is a squat?
Many workouts include squats — so you might want to get used to them. Squats work both the legs and core, and they’re extremely demanding if you lift heavy.
Essentially, it’s starting from a standing position, then lowering your butt towards the ground and powering back up. But here are the detailed steps:
Step by step
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward.
Keeping your eyes straight ahead, inhale and engage your core, then bend at both the hips and knees, lowering your butt towards the ground. Make sure you maintain a neutral spine.
Keep your knees in line with your toes.
Ensure that your torso remains as upright as possible.
Exhale as you push through your heels and power up to extend your legs and return to a standing position.
Why are they so fundamental?
Squats are one of the key exercises for increasing muscle strength and size in the lower body — as well as improving core strength. And both of those things are central to building a solid foundation of strength for performance.
A squat is also the fundamental combination of muscles used for many similar exercises, such as box squats and dumbbell squats. And building lower body muscle may also lead to better form when it comes to exercises like lunges and leg presses.
Basically, if you can nail your squat you’ve set yourself up for success in other heavy lifting exercises. (They’re damn good for burning calories, too.)
Which muscles do you engage?
In short, glutes and quads — which I’m sure you’re familiar with — as well as the adductor magnus muscles, which are effectively your inner thighs and help with walking, running and jumping.
Squats are also good for working your hamstrings and calves. In fact, all the muscles in your lower body can benefit from squatting. Squatting can improve strength, muscular size, bone density and coordination.
Basically, squats provide a lot of bang for your buck. They don’t call it leg day for nothing!
Why are squats so great?
While squats focus on a core group of muscles, they also help your body create an anabolic environment, which is key to helping you grow and build muscle.
When your body is in an anabolic environment, it’s basically building and repairing your muscles. On the flipside, when your body is in a catabolic state it’s breaking down your muscles.
Anabolism kicks in once you’ve put the weights down during rest and recovery. If you don’t eat enough to fuel the anabolism, your body can become catabolic and will start breaking down your healthy muscle tissue to repair the damaged muscle tissue. So, don’t forget to eat properly!
Your body can stay in this muscle-building state long after you’ve left the gym. It’s key to muscle growth, yes, and also key to recovery. Hence why I’m such a big advocate of rest days!
Squatting is a great way to push your body into an anabolic state, but there are a few other things to consider: Make sure you fuel your body properly before and after training (this can help speed up the recovery process); get plenty of sleep; and always follow my recommendations when it comes to reps and weight.
Don’t over-do it, but always do your best to complete all of your rep and weight recommendations.
There’s a lot more to the standard squat than meets the eye. But when it comes down to it, it’s just about maximising your body’s ability to build muscle. And who doesn’t want that?
So how do I use them?
To start with, bodyweight squats are perfect for warm up. If you’ve seen my workouts or exercised before, you’ll know warming up is key to reducing the risk of injury. And no one wants an injury — setbacks are the worst!
You’ll find a range of squats on my BUILD program, from classic sumos to low-bar squats and goblet squats. For me, squats are the hardest part of heavy lifting. But they give you great results. If you’re doing it right, the last rep is the hardest. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Even more importantly, squats form the foundation of most lifts. Without that fundamental lower body strength, it’s hard to start the process of upping the ante with your weights. See what all the fuss is about now?
What are the common mistakes?
Here are the things to avoid to make sure you stay safe and get the most out of your squat:
Lifting heels off the floor — this will shift the balance of weight too far forward and strain muscles that are not prepared to engage. It’ll also put lots of stress through your knees and ankles.
Failure to engage the core — it’s important to hold your frame in place, top to bottom.
Cutting the movement short — by not moving through your full range of motion, you encourage muscle shortening/stiffness.
Letting your feet placement shift or your knees drop inwards — when either of these two elements slide, you place too much pressure on knee joints.
Curving your back — if you see this happening, it’s a sure fire sign that you’ve let your core slip.
Dropping your chin — back alignment extends through the neck. Keeping your eyes looking straight ahead can help avoid back strain.
Not placing equal weight on both feet — in a symmetrical exercise, it’s important to stay centred so you don’t work one side harder than the other. Makes sense, right?
Focus on form and the rest will follow
When it comes to BUILD, focusing on your performance is the way to go. Remember, you’re lifting heavy weights, and putting a lot of strain on your body. It’s essential you pay really close attention to your form.
Keen to get started with squats and give your legs a solid challenge? A BUILD-style leg workout is an awesome place to begin. The best part? It’s perfect for women of any fitness level, and it gives you an insight into my powerbuilding workouts.
What do you love most about squats? I love the challenge — even though they’re damn hard. Let me know in the comments!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.