Why This Should Be Your #1 Exercise: A Guide to Squats

Squats are a great exercise for anyone looking to improve their fitness and strength. They are the best exercise because they work more muscles than any other individual exercises. Squats engage your legs and glutes to lift the weight and also your lower back to stabilize your body throughout the motion. With the many ways that you can do squats, which is the best for really engaging hypertrophy and getting you more fit? Front Squat or Back Squat?

If you want to do squats, the first question regarding technique is whether you want to do front or back squats. The basic difference in technique between them is with front squats, you hold the bar in front of your body, resting the weight on your shoulders, while in back squats,  you hold the bar behind you, resting the weight on your upper traps. Neither is objectively better than the other, the main difference in benefits is the muscles being worked. Back squats work the glutes and the hamstring more, whereas front squats work the quads and lower back more. I’d recommend doing both at some point in your workout rotation to effectively work all these parts of the body and to ensure even muscle growth.

Technique

Once you decide on the type of squat you are doing, the squat form is extremely similar.

Here is a good video to illustrate all the ins and outs of completing a squat correctly.

Step-By-Step Guide

  1. Begin with your feet about shoulder width apart and slightly facing out.
  2. Lift the bar off of the squat rack and place it either on your upper traps or shoulders, depending on if you’re doing a front or back squat.
  3. Keeping your head and chest up and your back straight, begin to lower the bar by bending your knees. Make sure to push your knees out so that they are in line with your feet. The movement of the bar should be entirely vertical, really work so that there is no horizontal wobbling. Breath in as you are lowering.
  4. Continue to lower until your hips are just below your knees.
  5. Exhale as you engage your glutes and core to lift back up until you are standing.

Things to Think About

  • Make sure to keep your feet flat on the floor during the entire motion.
  • By lowering your hips below your knees every rep, doing squats can greatly improve flexibility.
  • Don’t ever rush anything, once you start going fast you can get hurt.

Equipment

Squats can be done with a variety of different equipment, and each offers different advantages and disadvantages. Here are the most important things to think about for each piece of equipment.

Free Weights Squats

Free Weight Squat

The most traditional way to do squats is with Olympic weights and a squat rack. By using free weights, you engage your lower back to stabilize while engaging your quads, calves, and glutes to lift the weight. If you’re using free weights, make sure that you have a spotter to make sure that you don’t get hurt. When using free weights, focusing on the technique is also critically important as you have no guide to make sure the bar is traveling only vertically.

 

Smith Machine Squat

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An alternative to traditional free weight squats is to do smith machine squats. A smith machine, such as Ironmaster’s IM2000, provides a track for the bar to travel on and a self-spotting system that allows for the trainer to be much safer, provided that they’re using it correctly. The Smith machine has several advantages to traditional free weights. Due to the machine’s track, it is impossible to have any horizontal movement that often plagues newer trainers and which makes the squat less effective and more dangerous. The ability to stop the bar with a twist of the wrist allows for further safety beyond just a spotter. Smith machines also allow trainers who have lower back injuries to continue to work their legs without further injuring their back. Using a smith machine has disadvantages as well compared to free weight squats; because the smith machine balances the bar for you, it doesn’t provide the ab and lower back workout that free weights do. Additionally, for some trainers, the straight track of the smith machine feels unnatural. I recommend trying the smith machine at your local gym to see if you prefer it to traditional free weight squats.

Dumbbell Squats

If you don’t have access to Olympic weights or a smith machine, or if you’re looking for a lighter workout. These squats will work well in developing leg strength early on, but as you increase your max, eventually dumbbells won’t have enough weight to really work your legs.

Conclusion

Squats are an extremely effective exercise in developing strength, size, and fitness. Almost any workout regemine could be improved by including squats sometime in the rotation. As long as your technique is sound, squats are safe, effective, and a staple of any trainers workout.

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