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Why squats are a great way to increase strength and fitness

The squat is one of the best bodyweight exercises out there. Increase your lower body strength and mobility by mastering the move

Squats are a fun way to get fit.
Squats are a fun way to get fit. (Istockphoto)

There is a lot of science behind choosing the right workout split. While push-pull-leg seems to be the favourite with fitness experts, understanding how to divide your workout over a period of time can become confusing, especially if you are just starting out on your fitness journey. But fear not, that is where the bodyweight favourites kick in: squats, push ups, and pull-ups. And out of these three, squats are probably the easiest to master in terms of form, and in difficulty levels of how much strength you need to do them. 

The other big advantage of the squat is that it is one of the functional movements you do most often in your daily routine. Which is why making sure that your body knows that the right joints and muscles are getting the load even when you do something as simple as bend down to tie your shoelaces is important. More practice will make these functional movements easier and ease the stress on your spine, hips, and neck. 

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It’s not true that squats are only for leg muscles. Of course, the first muscular changes you might see when you add squats to your training might be in your legs, with your quadriceps and buttocks getting most of the good gains, but it is a full body exercise that engages the core as well. The hamstrings, part of your posterior chain muscles, also kick in, and so do your calves. The ankles and knees are also a major part of the pushing movement when you’re resetting to a standing position after a squat. 

“There is enough research to show the benefits of squatting, including building resilience to avoid issues in older adults. “Even simple bodyweight squats as part of a strength training intervention has been shown to improve the performance of activities of daily living in older individuals. The squat as part of a good balance resistance training program can build lower limb strength and lean mass, helping counteract age‒related pathologies such as sarcopenia and dynapenia (the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength as the body ages),” states a review article on MedCrave titled ‘The Health And Performance Benefits Of The Squat, Deadlift, And Bench Press.’

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Which brings us to the big question: should you squat every day? Like every other exercise, there is a system to this as well. The first one being how to learn to master it. The video below explains it for beginners, breaking down the movement, because it can be especially annoying to drop the hips down and keep the back straight when you haven’t done it properly before.

The exercise also needs to be supported with other workouts, which include mobility drills. This is especially true for your ankles, hips, and knees—joints which are prone to injury and respond very well to conditioning work. Squatting is essentially a pushing exercise (since you push off from the low position back to standing) and it’s not very clever to only do pushing exercises without focusing on some pulling work as well. Working just the lower body is also not enough and will certainly cause muscle imbalances, so make sure that you’re doing those push ups as well, working the shoulders and chest as much as the lower body.

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Once you have mastered the squat, it is important to not take the natural recovery from squats for granted. The body is a remarkable machine, and recovering from squat workouts comes easier than other moves due to the number of muscles involved in doing it. So, foam roll, and stretch, or else you risk being constantly sore and stiff. And once you’re past these three activities, it comes down to progressive overloading which means your body is constantly getting strong while you work on this magic exercise. 

Adding challenges to a squat is a lot of fun, like a jump squat or a goblet squat. These variations are certainly easier than doing clap push-ups or weighted pull-ups, which are both more advanced moves. There will surely be a point when your body finds squatting too easy, recovers very quickly, and gets used to the loads. This is when you add weights, and learn to do split squats and pistol squats, all of which are excellent additions to your repertoire of lower body exercises. A paper titled Weekly Training Frequency Effects On Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis, published in Sports Medicine - Open, states that their findings “do not provide a strong correlation between increased weekly training frequency and maximal strength gain in upper and lower body resistance exercises.” Which means you don’t really have to squat every day. 

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However, it is absolutely imperative that you add squats to your workout on a regular basis. I prefer doing bodyweight squats twice a week as part of a general warm-up, with more challenging squats becoming part of the leg day where you progressively overload and add explosive variations like jumping squats. What this does is keep your body primed for the move, keep your technique fresh, and the joints ready for what you plan to do on the day you train the lower body. The advantages of the squat are too many to ignore. So learn it quickly, and have fun with one of the most basic functional moves in the fitness world. 

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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