When it comes to squats, there is no room for indifference: you either hate them or love them. Irrespective of how you feel about it or how sore the it leaves you, there is no escaping the fact that the squat is one of the most fundamental movements in all exercise and sport. The squat is used extensively in strength and conditioning, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and fitness programmes, according to the study Quantifying the Movement and the Influence of Load in the Back Squat Exercise published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2010.
In the world of fitness, it is the gateway movement to multiple advanced exercises such as weighted, front, overhead and sumo squats, pistols, box jumps, deadlifts, calisthenics, power lifting and more.“The resulting leg, hip, and back strength from the prescription of systematic squat resistance training reportedly improves athletic performance,” according to another study, Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats published in the International Journal of Exercise Science in 2014.
The squat activates the largest, most powerful muscles in the body and might be the greatest test of lower-body strength. The major muscles involved in a squat are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and the gluteus maximus. The move also recruits the knee, hip and ankle joints as well as the abdominals and spinal erectors as well, says JC Gullet in his biomechanical study of the squat published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. “The purpose of the squat is to train the muscles around the knees and hip joints, as well as to develop strength in the lower back, for execution of basic skills required in many sporting events and activities of daily living,” Gullet writes. Trainers and fitness experts also maintain that squats are excellent for burning calories because the movement works the body’s biggest muscle groups and multiple joints.
Learning the Squat
This is one movement we perform even before we start walking and do it multiple times a day, everyday, without even realising it; from slipping in and out of a chair to getting in and out of a car, humans squat all the time. Yet getting your first full squat right with a full range of motion can be difficult.
So, the first thing Vinit Mathew Baptist takes up with anyone who walks into his Zest fitness centres in Kolkata and Siliguri is the squat. “It is a fundamental and foundational movement for clients from both the general population andathletic background. And it is not easy to get the form right or achieve the full range of motion given our sedentary lifestyles,” explains Baptist, a functional range conditioning and mobility specialist and Olympic weightlifting coach. “The fact that most people don’t flex their ankles, knees or hips as much as they should makes the muscles around the joints weak or stiff and the joints themselves a bit rusty. That makes squat an extremely challenging exercise for newbies and they struggle to go through the full range of motion without compromising their form.”
It won’t be a cakewalk but with time, practice and mobility drills, you can achieve the full range of motion with proper form. The first goal is to get your butt parallel to the floor while making sure your knees do not push forward beyond your toes. Ensure that your trunk is upright, core is engaged and heels and glutes loaded. Once you can do this, your squat can go deeper and achieve the full range of motion that we see most toddlers perform easily, says Baptist.
Squats in action
The squat movement is so common in sports that we don’t even notice it. Take, for example, the basketball player jumping up to shoot or block. He performs a half squat to bring the spring action into play so that the jump is higher and effective. The wicketkeeper in cricket and the catcher behind the batter in baseball perform the full squat during play. Goalkeepers in both football and hockey perform quarter to half squats to generate enough spring action for their jumps and dives while attempting saves.
So, based on the sport one plays, apart from the full squat to develop explosive strength,an individual’s functional training will involve variations such as jumping squats, half squats, split squats and pistols, etc., added Baptist.
Mastering the Squat
1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Your toes could be parallel or pointing outwards. Pick a position comfortable for you.
2. With your torso upright and core engaged, start lowering the butt towards the floor while pushing the knees to the sides and not in front towards the toes.
3. Go as far down as you can for full range of motion or till the butt is just below parallel. From this bottom position, while keeping the torso upright and engaging the glutes and quads, stand up straight back to the starting position.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.