The Ultimate Exercise
The smell of sweat, rubber and rust swirl through the air as an athlete prepares to step under a squat bar loaded with the next weight he is about to move. As the athlete steps under the bar, he thinks about his position and form. Then removes the weight and using proper technique, moves the weight for multiple repetitions before returning the weight back to the rack.
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The squat is a movement that is extremely useful for people of all ages or gender. This is because it is a natural movement that is found in everyday life. It also has other health benefits that can help improve things like joint pain, muscle mass and tone, as well as cardio vascular health. With proper technique and form, the squat can improve multiple aspects of life.
There are many different styles of squatting. Although at the core of it they all are the same motion, each squatting style has its own benefits compared to the others. Some different examples of squat styles include the style most people think of when they think of squatting. This is back squat. There is also front squat and overhead squat. Within each of these styles there are also different variations to these motions to create improvements in different aspects of life.
The back squat is the most recognizable form of the squat. This style in itself has many benefits, but to unlock these benefits you must make sure that you have the proper form and technique. This is imperative for your health and safety. According to Dariusz Czaprowski, Ryszard Biernat, and Agnieszka Kêdra in their article “SQUAT – RULES OF PERFORMING AND MOST COMMON MISTAKES Squat – methodology of teaching,” they break down learning the squat into three stages
Stage one talks about reshaping the body so that the movement starts with a “hip hinge (Czaprowski 4).” Czaprowski also states that when people begin their attempt at a squat, they usually begin with bending their knees. This causes “shearing and compression forces” on the knee. This is why the hip hinge should be the first action when completing the squat. (3)
The motion of the squat is the next important stage. This motion is best described in “Back Squat Exercise: A Primer” by John M. Cissik. He breaks done the motion of the squat into three different phases. These phases are broken down into “Start, Descend, and Ascend” (Cissik 29). Cissik starts talking about the Start position by saying,
At the beginning of the back squat, the barbell is positioned on the squat rack. The athlete should step underneath the bar so that it rests on the back of his/her shoulders. The bar should be positioned where it is comfortable or the athlete. The athlete should stand up and step out of the squat rack. The feet should be even and between hip width and shoulder width apart with the weight on the athlete’s heels. The athlete should look straight ahead or slightly up. Before beginning the descent, the athlete should inflate the chest and pull the shoulders back, this action tightens the muscles along the spine helping to protect the lumbar vertebrae. (29)
By performing the steps given here by Cissik, the athlete will have a very safe starting position.
One the athlete is in the start position, Cissik then explains step by step the safe way of descending with the weight. This is very important because improper form, as stated before, can take away from the benefits of the exercise as well as increase the possibility for injury. The second phase is the descend. This phase is described by Cissik by saying,
From the start position, the athlete descends by pushing the hips back and unlocking the knees. As this is done, the weight remains on the heels. The athlete should squat down until the thighs are parallel to the floor, unless there is an injury that would modify this. As the athlete is descending, the chest needs to remain inflated with the shoulders pulled back. (29)
At the bottom of the descend phase immediately starts the third and final stage of the squat the Ascend (Cissik 29). At this point in the squat the athlete is at their lowest point. The article then explains how to perform the Ascend phase:
Once the athlete has reached the bottom position, the athlete should reverse directions and stand up. As this is done, the hips and shoulders need to rise up at the same speed to prevent the athlete from toppling forward. The athlete needs to remember to keep the chest inflated and the shoulders back throughout the ascent. (Cissik 29)
After the completion of the Ascend phase the athlete has then completed the entire squat.
With an understanding of the form and motion of the back squat, why would someone want to add this into their workout program? There are multitudes of benefits that are cited in multiple articles and journals including increased mobility, strength, functional strength, as well as many other benefits to be described later in this paper.
The main benefits that many people, men and women, should be interested in are that the squat increases functional strength as well as an increase in flexibility and strength. These will benefit not only in moving weight at a weight room, but also in doing daily activities.
The squat motion is an extremely primal motion that has been used since human beings have been on the earth. They have used this motion to hunt food, gather food items such as berries and vegetables, and move obstacles. This is why when an athlete does a squat they not only work their lower body, but they also are working the nervous system (Vales). The squat is also found throughout our day. The functionality of this movement allows us to do things like lift heavy objects and jump to reach an object. The squat also aids in creating proper posture (Cohen).
Although men are normally viewed as the type of athlete that would perform a squat, there are also many benefits for women. These include (but are not limited to) aiding in conception and the birthing process, weight loss, muscle toning, and improve balance (Daniel). Squatting in the later weeks of pregnancy helps in the birthing process by opening the pelvic area. This creates a shorter delivery time. It also creases a safer environment for a woman and her baby. Squatting increases balance and leg strength. Gains in these areas decrease the risk of falls protecting both the woman and child (Martinez).
Some of the main benefits of a squat come for an athlete or someone trying to become fit. The squat not only helps with the functionality of daily live but also helps with muscle growth, increases testosterone production, increases speed as well as vertical jump, and tones abs and muscles (Vale).
Other than the well-known back squat there many other variations of squatting you can incorporate into a workout to activate different muscle groups for specified training. The main squat variations other than your typical back squat include the Front Squat, Over-Head Squat, Zercher Squats, Anderson Squats, Bulgarian Split Squats, and One-Legged Squats. Each of these squats use the same general motion, but all have different techniques to improve your specific areas of fitness (Smith).
The first variation most typically used after the Back Squat is the Front squat. This style of squatting consists of holding a barbell across the shoulders on the front side of the body. Placing the bar here trains the quadriceps, core, and the upper back more by putting a greater emphasis on these areas. This squat is also much easier to perform correctly due to the position of the center of gravity. By including this lift into a workout regimen, athletes will gain greater strength in the core and upper back as well as increase balanced leg strength (Smith).
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The front squat is also a better alternative for people struggling with some back problems. This is because the Front Squat decreases spinal compression as well as spinal flexion and Torque (Behar). The author, Jeff Behar, explains in his article “7 Benefits of Front Squats” by explaining “The difficulty of the exercise [The Front Squat] results in less weight being able to be used. Less weight on the bar, equals less spinal compression.” He also tells readers that “By carrying the bar in the front, you reduce spinal flexion. This makes the Front Squats a safer leg exercise for your back” (Behar).
After the Front squat in popularity is the Over Head Squat. This movement helps increase balance, mobility and muscular control by holding a barbell over the head. Also, this variation of the squat helps perfect the Snatch lift. Smith explains this by saying “The overhead squat strengthens the midpoint of the barbell snatch and is essential to mastering that particular lift.” This lift also emphasizes hip mobility more than any other variation of the squat (Smith).
Another squat style that can help you in other aspects of lifting exercises is the Zercher Squat (Smith). In the article, Smith explains the motion of the squat by saying “With your elbows bent at your side, place the barbell in the crook of your bent elbows. Squat until your elbows go between your knees or the bar touches your thighs. That’s one advantage of the Zercher: It tells you when you reach depth.” This movement is accepted by many lifters that do deadlift due to the similar base of a deadlift movement (Smith).
After performing many of these styles, athletes may notice that they “Bounce” at the bottom of the movement. The Anderson Squat was designed to take away this bounce and create a more honest lift from the bottom of the squat. This lift also helps with control at the bottom of the squat movement. This will help with your other squat movements (Smith). The motion is explained by the author when he says
Simply place the barbell on the safety pins in a rack at a height that would be at or near the bottom position of your squat. Be sure to pause between reps with the bar on the safety pins. This will ensure you don’t cave to the temptation to bounce for assistance. (Smith)
All of the variations of the squat motion talked about so far have required the use of both legs activating at the same time. The last two are different in the fact that you use one leg at a time. The One-Legged squat and Bulgarian Squat both require balance and strength to be performed, but when mastered they both train balance (Smith). This is because your body is more stable when you stand on two legs.
The Bulgarian Split is performed similarly to the back squat with position of the barbell. The difference comes when you place one foot behind you. The squat motion is explained by Smith in his article by saying “Place one foot a few feet behind you on a bench or raised platform. Keeping an upright torso, begin by pushing your hips back, like in a back squat. Allow your back leg to bend at the knee.” This squat uses unilateral movement to correct imbalances between the right and left side of the body. This style of squat can also be done using a Front Squat bar position (Smith).
The final squat variation is the One-Legged Squat. This is described by Smith as “The ultimate test of unilateral strength like the one-armed push-up or pull-up.” This is because the athlete is squatting their bodyweight on a single leg. This variation is very useful in developing balance. Once this motion is mastered, the athlete can then perform the movement while holding light weights (Smith).
Although there are many forms and variations to the squat, they all are the same basic motion at its core. This is why the squat is essential to any fitness program. With so many benefits, the squat is so essential to the holistic health and fitness of any athlete at any fitness level.
Behar, Jeff. “7 Benefits of Front Squats.”MuscleMagFitness.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2014. http://www.musclemagfitness.com/fitness-and-exercises/weight-lifting/7-benefits-of-front-squats.html.
Cissik, John M. “Back Squat Exercise: A Primer.”Modern Athlete and Coach(2011): 29-31.UF OneSearch. Web. 25 July 2014. http://metis.findlay.edu:2113/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=da7d75bd-90ab-4944-a0c0-7d198225b8c0%40sessionmgr110&vid=2&hid=115.
Cohen, Ron. “A New Persective on Squats, Lunges, and Living Life.”Contemplative Fitness. N.p., 6 Mar. 2010. Web. 25 July 2014. http://contemplativefitness.me/2010/03/06/a-new-persective-on-squats-lunges-and-living-life/.
CZAPROWSKI, DARIUSZ, RYSZARD BIERNAT, and AGNIESZKA KÊDRA. “SQUAT – RULES OF PERFORMING AND MOST COMMON MISTAKES Squat – methodology of teaching.”Polish Journal of Sport & Tourism19 (2012): 3-7. Web. 23 July 2014. http://metis.findlay.edu:2113/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=95bf5c29-9499-438b-88cb-6403cb194804%40sessionmgr115&vid=2&hid=115.
Daniel, Harri. “Benefits of Squats for Women.”BenefitOf.com. N.p., 8 June 2011. Web. 25 July 2014. http://benefitof.net/benefits-of-squats-for-women/.
Martinez, Eliza. “Squats Exercise for Pregnant Women.”The Nest. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 25 July 2014. http://woman.thenest.com/squats-exercise-pregnant-women-1072.html.
Smith, Christopher. “Meet The Squats: 7 Squat Variations You Should Be Doing.”BodyBuilding.com. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 25 July 2014. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/meet-the-squats-7-squat-variations-you-should-be-doing.html.
Vales, John. “The 15 Benefits of Squats.”Outlaw Fitness. N.p., 2014. Web. 25 July 2014. http://www.outlawfitnesshq.com/the-15-benefits-of-squats/.