Squatting is one of those basic fundamental movement patterns that utilize just about every muscle and joint in the body. That’s what makes it so awesome!
In fact, it is why most fitness professionals use it as part of their assessment or screening protocol. It can tell you so much about how well a person can move. From ankles, to hips, to thoracic mobility, you can get all sorts of information from watching someone squat.
Chances are, if they can squat well, they can probably move well.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
The problem, however, is that squatting has been known to get a bad reputation as a knee killer or a back killer. Why is that?
How many times have you heard from people or other medical professionals that “Squats are bad for your knees.” I know I’ve heard that countless times, and my response is always the same: “No, squatting with bad form is bad for your knees.”
Think about how many times a day you squat. Anytime you sit in a chair, or go to pick something off the ground, you’re using a squat pattern. Are you going to avoid doing any of that? Probably not. I mean how are you ever going to go to the bathroom?
However, learn to squat with proficiency and you will be introduced to a whole new world of potential benefits.
Benefits of Squatting:
Improved Mobility– This specifically happens at the ankles, knees and thoracic spine. As you work on your technique, your body will adapt to the new movement, and usually this means better mobility through the hips and ankles to get to adequate depth.
Improved Strength– Squatting just makes you stronger. You’re using just about every muscle in the lower part of your body. No matter how you squat and what rep ranges you’re training in, you are going to see a strength adaptation. Especially if you happen to be transitioning from one rep range to another.
Improved Stability– Squatting requires a great deal of stability, especially in the torso. If you think about a back squat, the weight is trying to make you fold and collapse. It takes a great deal of stability to stay upright. The more you improve your squat, no matter what version you choose, the more stability you’ll get through the hips and core.
Increased Muscle Mass– Being that the squat is a full body movement; you’ll be using a lot of muscles to complete it. By stimulating the muscles with a proper load, you can easily increase the amount of muscle on your body.
Decreased Fat– In the same way that squats can build muscle, they can also help to decrease body fat. Just like above, it uses a lot of muscle to perform, and muscle is highly metabolic. This doesn’t mean you have to lift heavy to lose body fat, but by doing exercises that require multiple muscle groups, you’ll end up burning more calories. More calorie burn = more fat lost.
Increased Performance– Now that we’ve gained mobility, strength, stability, and muscle while losing fat, our performance should improve. This applies to not only in whatever our chosen sport is, but life in general.
Think about running. If you improved all the above, you’ll be able to put more force into the ground, which will propel you forward harder and easier. You’ll cover more distance in less time. Now let’s look at life. That heavy bag of dog food or case of water you once couldn’t pick up is now a breeze.
Increased Bone Density– By doing exercises that are weight bearing or loaded, like the squat, the body is forced to adapt to a new stimulus. As the muscles get stronger, then tend to exert more force on the bone. The bone adapts to this by laying down more mineral deposits, thus making the bone stronger and thicker.
Healthier Joints– When you’re able to move the joints through full ranges of motion, they become healthier. You’re joints actually prefer going through their entire range of motion.
So when you short it, for example doing half squats, your body adapts and will lose that full range. So do yourself and your joints a favor, use your full movement, whatever it may be.
It’s All about the Technique
It all starts here with learning how to squat. Try to avoid getting ahead of yourself when first trying to squat.
Even if you’ve been squatting for a long time and you think you have it nailed down, chances are there are things you can work on that will take you squat to a new level.
Remember, correct range of motion and form are absolutely essential in order to not only avoid injury but to gain an advantage in strength.
Better technique, better movement pattern, better chance of engaging the necessary muscles to lift the weight (if that’s what you’re doing).
Every time you squat, make sure you go through a mental checklist starting from the feet and ankles, then working your way up.
-Feet- They need to be flat and stable, with heels on the ground. You want to avoid rolling side to side or having the heels coming up. If you’re unable to do this, start working on ankle mobility.
-Knees- They should be in alignment with the hips and feet. As you squat there should be no excessive movement out or in. If there is an issue, you may need to look at mobility at the hip or knee, or strength in your stabilizing muscles.
-Hips-They should be stable with no side to side movement while staying in line with the knees throughout the squat.
-Low Back- The spine should stay in neutral with minimal to no movement or rounding.
-T-Spine- Slightly extended or neutral
-Head- Straight ahead
Take a look at our good squat on the left versus our poor squat on the right. Notice the differences in where our checkpoints are. Keeping these check points in order is a good way to ensure that your squats won’t be knee killers any longer.
Hopefully you see that the squat has a lot to offer you in terms of your overall fitness level. Ignore the hype that squats can cause problems with your knees. Avoid being afraid to squat because they once hurt your knees. Chances are your form was off and all you need is a few tweaks and cues to fix the issue.
Your first step should be to hammer down technique before piling on weight and intensity. Much like you wouldn’t build a house on a shaky foundation; avoid piling on top of the shaky foundation that is your movement pattern.
There are so many versions and variations to squats that you can experiment with how you do them each time. Don’t get caught up thinking about just the barbell back squat. Start adding some variations into your program with:
Single Leg Squats
Each variation will have its purpose in your training and provide its own unique benefits outside of the ones listed in this article.