I’m sorry to tell all the gym bros reading this, but you just can’t call yourself a serious lifter if you skip leg day, and squats are above all on that. Squat exercises are arguably the number one lift for functional strength, with only the deadlift there to challenge its place on the iron pedestal.
There are plenty of different squat exercises and even more reasons why you should be doing them. Here are just a few.
Squat Exercises: Variations
The squat is a unique movement because of all the different variations of it, all with unique benefits for different goals. Whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, or live a healthy life, there’s a squat for you.
This is the one most lifters will think of when they hear the word “squat”. It’s the most popular variation, and for good reason. It’s the most natural position to hold the barbell for a squat.
The barbell will rest on the back of your shoulders, and you’ll hold the bar with a wide grip, even on both sides. Your feet will face out at about a 45-degree angle, keeping your back up straight, engaging your core, and you’ll squat until your quads are at least parallel with the floor before standing back up.
The front squat is where the barbell rests on the front of your shoulder, either with a cross-grip that holds the bar with palms facing down or with elbows up, facing straight ahead and wrists bent, using your fingers to hold the bar in place.
You will again engage your core, keeping your back up straight with feet facing out at a 45-degree angle, and squat until your quads are parallel with the floor.
Less-Common Squat Types
In bodybuilding, weightlifting, and powerlifting, the back squat and the front squat steal the show. However, if you’re just looking for overall fitness, there are plenty of other variations. Bodyweight squats are great for beginners or anyone who doesn’t have equipment.
There are also overhead squats, where the bar is held over your head. This is a pretty advanced movement, so make sure you’re doing it right if you attempt it.
Goblet squats are where you hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of you when you squat. One-legged squats, also known as pistols, are pretty self-explanatory, but great for when you don’t have the necessary equipment and want to get a little extra load onto your legs and increase your stability.
Squats: The King Lift or an Afterthought?
Regardless of how you’re squatting, the movement targets some of the biggest and most important muscles in your body. It engages your quadriceps, your glutes, and your entire core, making it a top contender for being the king lift.
Squats are one of the most functional movements humans can do. When you’re lifting something heavy, you’re told to lift with your legs and not your back, and for good reason. Your legs are stronger.
You should train this movement in your regular routine. It will help you with moving heavy objects, walking or carrying objects upstairs, hiking, walking, running, biking, and any movement that uses your legs or core, which is nearly all of the ones you do outside of the gym!
The Anabolic Effects of Squats
One of the biggest benefits of squats for any lifter is the anabolic effect that the movement gives you. Because the movement targets all of your biggest muscles, your body gets put into a naturally anabolic (muscle-building) state.
This means that your whole body can reap the benefits of this movement, not just the ones you engage in it. So, if somebody goes to the gym and only does bicep curls twice a week, they wouldn’t see results from their curls as quickly as somebody who does bicep curls and squats twice a week (assuming they have similar diets and genetics).
Not getting the big chest you wanted from all that bench pressing? Try adding some squats into your routine!
The anabolic state, paired with the extra muscle mass you’ll develop, will also be beneficial when it’s time to burn fat!
Should I Squat?
Look, we can make jokes about people skipping leg day, but honestly, whether you’re lifting for health benefits, strength, physique, or any other reason, squats are an important exercise to throw into your routine.
It’s one of the most basic skeletal movements your body is capable of, it provides a near-perfect base for functional strength, and it’s great for building lean muscle. What’s not to like?
To anybody saying that squats are bad for your knees or your back, that’s simply not true when you perform the exercise properly. Someone might swear to you that they blew out their knees from doing proper squats, but they could have easily been using improper form or too much weight.
Your skeleton is literally designed to squat. It’s how humans would sit to eat, go to the bathroom, make tools, and perform many other tasks for thousands of years, and evolution has perfected our abilities for it, so don’t pay attention to people who say they’re overall bad for you.
While humans are meant to perform this function, there are some actual safety concerns that come with squatting that you should be aware of. The first one that comes to mind is using improper form or too much weight, as this can cause serious injury.
The next is not using the proper equipment. Always squat in a squat rack, if possible, as the guards will act as a safety. If you need to drop the weight, do it safely. For a standard back squat, simply let go and walk forward, clearing the way from the bar as quickly as possible. On a front squat, drop it and back up quickly, being mindful of your wrists.
Make sure you use clips on either side of the bar to avoid the weight plates shifting, which can cause injuries or imbalances.
If you have a structural disorder like scoliosis, lower crossed syndrome, or flat feet, then yes, squatting can pose some risks. Speak to your personal trainer and doctor before performing heavy squat exercises, and adapt to your body’s needs as necessary.
Squat exercises are almost uniquely beneficial to your body, and they should be performed at varying levels whether you’re 18 and skinny or 50 and overweight.
Now that you know how important squats are for your overall fitness goals, check out some great back exercises for building muscle and keep up with your fitness goals!