Are you doing a few sets of squats every week? If not, you really should consider adding them to your exercise routine. Here’s why:
- Squats are the major lower-body exercise: they strengthen your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
- Squats will improve your performance in any sport: basketball players will leap higher, runners will run faster, and swimmers will swim stronger.
- Toilet training: who doesn’t want to be able to easily get up off the toilet when they get older? Keeping these muscle groups in condition will help you stay mobile and independent as you age.
- Squats can help give you the toned legs and booty you desire.
One of the benefits of squats is that they are endlessly adaptable. There are variations that are easily mastered by beginners and variations that can challenge lifelong weight lifters.
If you’re just starting out, stability ball (or yoga ball) squats are a good option. Place a stability ball against a wall and lean against it. The stability ball should be nestled in the small of your back. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and slightly in front of your body. Bend your knees, lowering your body into a squat. The ball should roll down the wall with you. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, press through your heels and rise back up again.
When you’re feeling more proficient, ditch the ball and try unweighted squats. For the king of bodyweight exercises, you’ll stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold arms out in front of you. Flex at the knees and hips to squat down. Keep your torso as upright as possible and your knees pointed in the same direction as your toes. Do not let your knees track too far forward. When your thighs are parallel to the ground, press through the heels to rise back up again.
Looking for more of a challenge? Grab a dumbbell (whatever weight is comfortable for you) for goblet squats. Hold the dumbbell vertically with both hands at chest level. You should look like you’re holding a big goblet of wine. As with the other squat variations, place your feet shoulder-width apart and bend at the knees and hips to lower yourself. Keep your upper body as upright as possible. Press through the heels to rise back up again.
Like all exercises, repeat regularly for best results. If it’s discipline you need, look into one of the many 30-Day Squat Challenges you can find on the Internet or as a smartphone app. These challenges provide a workout schedule with a set number of squats you’ll do each day. Some feature standard squats only; others mix it up with many variations.
On the Wall
You can vary your squat routine by throwing in a day or two of wall sits. Wall sits are an isometric exercise that develop muscular endurance. For isometric exercises, you get into a move and hold it for 30 seconds or longer.
Wall sits are a diabolical way to give your squat session that special finish. Simply lean back against the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and about two feet from the wall. Slide your back down the wall by bending at the knee and hip. When your thighs are parallel to the floor, stop and hold. Your legs should form right angles at the knee. Your shoulder blades should be touching the wall.
Start by holding for 15 seconds. Work your way up to a minute or more.
Always check with your health-care professional before beginning a new exercise regimen.
Miriam Wolf is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.