Do squats work? Yes.
Squats have not been dubbed “the king of exercises” for no reason.
Today I’d like to show you why squats are such an effective exercise and why you should make sure to incorporate them into your own fitness routine.
I’m also going to show you two great and easy ways to do squats at home that are guaranteed to get you results and make you stronger.
But first I’d like to share with you a little bit of my own history with squats.
How Squats Have Helped Me
When I first started doing squats as a teenager my form was horrible.
My knees were way out in front of my toes and my weight was all the way forward on my toes.
However, they still got the job done.
I first noticed that squats really do work to make you stronger when I saw the improvement in my running.
At the time I used to go for a 2 to 3 mile run on some trails behind my house a few times a week and I had hit kind of a plateau in my pace.
This was also before I had ever tried any kind of strength training at all. I just liked to be outside and get some exercise.
However, one day I came across an article in a mountain biking magazine I used to read which spoke about the importance of strength training for cardiovascular sports.
At first I didn’t really think much about it but eventually I decided I would give it a shot.
I researched strength training exercises for your legs that you could do at home and I of course came across squats.
I immediately started doing some sets a few times a week with no weights and quickly saw an improvement in my running.
My legs just felt stronger and tired less easily. I could feel the difference even after only one week.
And this was without using any weights even!
Squats not only helped me set a new personal best for my backwoods trail running but also taught me an important lesson about the importance of the relationship between strength and cardiovascular performance.
The second time that squats helped me was much more recent.
It was only a couple of years ago, in my early thirties, when I’d stumbled across Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body.
In one of the chapters where he’s talking about how to prepare yourself for running marathons he brought up a very interesting idea that I’d never heard of before.
When speaking to Brian MacKenzie about conditioning the concept of increasing intensity during training as opposed to just spending all of your time doing hours of steady state cardio came up.
In fact MacKenzie claimed that if you were capable of running 5K then you were already physically fit enough to run a marathon!
The only conditioning your body needs is to get used to the pounding that your bones and ligaments take on the pavement; but the strength and cardiovascular ability is already there.
One great example of this is from End of Three Fitness where Jarred actually ran a marathon without doing any training outside of his regular sprinting drills.
The example from Tim Ferris, though, that really got my interest was the idea of doing some kind of intense leg strength training right after doing your cardio training.
Specifically doing one set of half length deadlifts near your maximum possible weight.
Now, I don’t have ready access to a barbell and bumper plates to try and do this exercise but I thought, “Why not just try some regular squats with some free weights?”
Sure enough I did immediately see some major improvements; the biggest being a lack of soreness in my legs after doing a particularly challenging run.
I’d always assumed that doing strength training for my legs after an extended cardio session would be the worst possible idea but boy was I wrong!
In fact I was amazed that I was almost never sore at all after a tough run if I just did one set of squats with a kettlebell.
Below let’s take a look at some of the reasons squats can produce these kinds of results.
Why Squats Are So Effective:
1) They Work Every Muscle In Your Body
Well, almost every muscle. Though many would argue that heavy weight squats really do use every single muscle in your body to force the weight up.
When you are performing a full squat you use all of the muscles in your legs; hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, and calves.
During this movement your back and stomach must also remain tight in order to keep good form.
This becomes more and more important as you begin to add some weight.
Whether you’re using a barbell, kettlebell, or just some dumbbells, it’s imperative that you maintain good posture in your body or you could end up hurting yourself.
As you lift heavier weights you will feel how hard your abs are working to hold the weight steady. This is even more true with front squats.
In fact, it’s pretty well excepted that there’s no other exercise which engages as many muscles at once than the squat. (Although the deadlift is a close second…)
2) They Are a Fundamental and Functional Movement
Squatting is one of the most basic movements which human beings can perform and we all do it constantly throughout our week without even thinking about it.
In fact, squatting is one of the first things we learn to do as we grow up.
If you ever watch a young toddler explore their world you will see them repeatedly squat down to comfortably examine something on the ground which has interested them.
In cultures which haven’t adopted chairs as much as the West squatting is actually a comfortable way of sitting down.
The reason that this can be so uncomfortable for many of us is because we have grown so accustomed to chairs that our muscles have grown tight and our hip flexors too stiff to go down into a full squat.
Instead we end up bunched up on our toes, struggling to balance and feeling our legs grow tired because our knees are too far forward.
However, if done properly the squat is actually a very comfortable position that one can stay in for long periods of time without feeling sore.
So if you have trouble going into a deep full squat do yourself a favor and stretch out those hip flexors to regain your full range of motion.
Not only will you be effectively stronger in your daily life but it’s a must if you ever want to lift any heavy weight through squatting.
3) Squats Cause Your Body to Produce More HGH and Testosterone
Multiple studies have shown that doing large compound movements causes your body to produce and release more hormones which are beneficial for muscle growth.
Both testosterone and human growth hormone are released as the body prepares to recover from the strain which has been placed on it by these kinds of exercises.
And there are few exercises which place more muscle strain on the body in one movement than the squat.
So the next time you’re thinking about what exercise you should do to add some real muscle to your frame look no further than the squat!
Not only will you simultaneously work out more muscles at once than any other exercise but you’ll also increase the quantity of testosterone; one of the most important muscle building hormones in the human body.
On top of that you’ll also increase your human growth hormone levels and who couldn’t use more of that?
How To Do Bodyweight Squats
When you’re doing bodyweight squats it’s important to make sure that you’re going low enough.
You should be going deep enough that your legs are at least parallel with the ground and ideally even lower.
If you don’t do this you’re just cheating yourself out of the full benefits of squatting and not activating nearly the same number of muscles as you otherwise could.
Now, some people love to scream about the dangers of going too deep in a squat because they heard somewhere that it’s bad for your knees but their concern is really connected to something unrelated to how deep you go; it has to do with the position of your knees relative to your toes.
You see, a lot people have major flexibility problems and they just get worse with age if you don’t try to work on them.
Because of this a lot of people find themselves being forced up onto their toes as they go lower in a squat.
I know because I used to be one of them.
When you go up on your toes during a squat you are pushing your knees way too far forward which places increased pressure on your knee joints.
So make sure that your knees are not passing in front of your toes while you squat.
You should be able to place a ruler facing straight down at your knees and have it line up with your toes.
By doing this you are keeping the weight on your heels and the balls of your feet.
This is important in order to exert maximum force.
Also, make sure while you move upwards that your knees continue to track your toes.
Don’t let them wobble inward or too far outward; just keep them lined up with the angle of your feet.
If you have trouble balancing or feel like you’re going to fall over backwards you can extend your arms out in front of you to help balance.
And one last thing: make sure that your hips don’t start to rise before your back does.
This is an easy way to cheat that is easy to do unconsciously because it makes it easier on your legs in the beginning of the movement but in turn puts more stress on your back.
Be sure that your upper body does not hinge further forward at any point during the squat.
Keep your back straight and in a natural curve.
Here’s a good video below that talks about how to do a proper bodyweight squat:
In summary, remember to:
- Keep your legs parallel or lower to the ground when you descend
- Don’t let your knees go too far forward
- Keep your weight centered on the heels and balls of your feet
- Keep your back straight and don’t let your hips rise before the rest of your body
How to do Goblet Squats
Goblet squats are basically the same as bodyweight squats except you’re cradling a weight in both hands in front of you; traditionally a kettlebell but a dumbbell works fine too.
I love goblet squats because they’re a great way to start adding some weight to your squats at home.
Unless you have a full home gym setup with a barbell and plates goblet squats are the easiest way I know of to start increasing the difficulty of your squat workouts.
The main benefits of doing goblet squats, besides adding more resistance for your leg muscles, is to engage more muscles throughout your body.
Similar to front squats with a barbell you are requiring your abs and back to be much more firm in order to support the weight that is hanging between your hands next to your chest.
You can feel the difference immediately, especially in your back.
When done with proper form the goblet squat is a great way to start building lower back strength as well as even upper back strength.
This is a great way to prepare your body for other more rigorous exercises, such as the deadlift or kettlebell swing, which rely heavily on the muscles in your posterior chain.
It’s also a great way to make sure your form and your core muscles are ready to move on to heavy squatting with a barbell if you have the resources or time to get to a gym.
Below is a good video to get started with goblet squats:
Ultimately squats are a great way to improve your performance in any sport or just a good exercise to stay fit, strong, and healthy.
It’s a large compound movement which targets the biggest muscles in your body while also being based on a fundamental movement which every person can benefit from being able to do better.
I hope you’ve benefitted from this reading this article and that I’ve been able to help you move closer to your own fitness goals.
Remember, just sticking with the basics, like squats, is all you really need to be healthy and strong.
Until next time, stay strong, healthy, and happy!