Friday, February 22, 2008

Why you should squat

Many people hate the squat. They're scared of it. It hurts. It's hard. They avoid it at all costs, with excuses like, "it hurts my knees," "I don't want to screw up my back" and "I like the leg press better."

But the truth is, you should squat. Are you old? Squat. Overweight? Squat. Young and still growing? Squat. Do you have bad knees? Squat. Unless you have some sort of terrible spinal condition that precludes any and all weight-bearing activities, you should be squatting in some way, shape or form.

The squat is often called the King of Exercises. This is because the squat develops strength throughout the entire body like no other exercise can. Squatting with a barbell on your back not only works your legs, but also your torso and upper body (shoulders, chest, back and arms). The muscles of your legs are the prime movers. The muscles of your torso must contract strongly to support your spine during the movement. The muscles of your upper body are used isometrically to keep the bar in position on your shoulders. This kind of large-scale muscle recruitment isn't achieved with any other exercise, with the possible exception of the deadlift.

Strength training causes your body to release testosterone and human growth hormone (among others), which help in building stronger muscle, bone and connective tissue. Generally speaking, the more muscle you use in an exercise, the more hormones are released by your body. Because the squat works so many muscles, it elicits a very high hormonal response, and thus is extremely useful in building total-body strength. If you don't squat and your bench press is stuck, try adding squats in to your routine!

There is no substitute for squatting. Leg extensions and leg curls don't even work your entire leg. Leg presses look similar to the squat at first glance, but completely remove the torso and upper body involvement, as well as minimizing the use of the hamstrings and glutes. These exercises also eliminate the flexibility and balance needed for and developed by the squat. Balancing a heavy object on your back teaches you to stabilize yourself in a way that can't be replicated on machines.

And, wonder of wonder, squats can actually help people with limited flexibility or joint problems. As briefly mentioned above, it takes a certain amount of flexibility to perform a full squat. People who are inflexible can become more flexible simply by squatting as well as they can, which will stretch out and strengthen your muscles. Flexibility and strength will quickly improve as squat form improves.

Often, people with "bad knees" or a "bad back" simply have weak knees or a weak back. These areas hurt because they don't have the muscle or ligament strength necessary to perform daily tasks (lifting, climbing stairs, etc.). Squats, correctly performed, strengthen both of these areas. Krista at Stumptous has an excellent explanation here.

Of course, the one caveat that goes with any exercise recommendation is that the exercise must be done with proper form. If you've never squatted before, start with an empty barbell and learn the technique before adding weight. There are plenty of online resources detailing proper squat form. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Start with the barbell securely positioned on your shoulders and kept in place by your hands, your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly out.
  • Sit back like you're descending into a chair behind you. Your back should remain straight and your knees should stay pointing out in the same direction as your toes as you sit back.
  • Descend until the line between your hip and knee is parallel to the floor or lower. This means that the TOP of your thigh should be parallel to the floor.
  • Push evenly through the heels of your feet to stand back up, being sure to raise your hips and your chest at the same rate. Raising your hips first and then your chest can lead to injury.
Squatting is hard, both mentally and physically. But make squats a staple of your routine and you'll reap the rewards.

Training 2-21-08

3 x 5 x 270
2 x 3 x 270
10 x 225

Push Press
4 x 155
2 x 5 x 155
2 x 4 x 155

5 x 115

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 170

3 x 5 x 52.5

3 x 5 x 100

Comments: Missed 4th rep on 4th set of Squats by just losing tension at the bottom. I think form is getting better, though (sitting back into the hole and using rebound in hams & glutes). And don't have Push Press down yet. Added sets on to make up for sucking on Squat & Push Press, which is ok to do occasionally, but don't let it develop into an excuse for missing reps. Power Clean tweaked my left hamstring again, but got through and it should be fine. Pullups were tough, but all legit deadhang to chin over bar. 100 pound Dips!

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