When you hear the word “squat,” you probably get an image of some kind of world-championship-winning power-lifter. No? Okay, then at the very least, you think of those guys–many of them meat heads, and a few lost high school boys–loading plates on the bars and squatting in cages.
Squat = bar loaded over your shoulders, right?
Yes, in part, but the squat is so much more.
The squatting motion, lowering one’s body toward the ground by bending the legs, is a most effective functional exercise (functional means “applicable in your life”). We squat down to lower ourselves onto chairs; we pick up boxes, bags, children. Ideally people would squat properly when doing so, but since modern living has “weakened” us, most people reach for things by bending their backs.
Here are a few principles to remember when squatting to pick something up:
1) If the weight or object is not between you feet, it is probably a bad squat. If that weight it in front of your toes, you are more likely to reach for it with the back.
2) Your torso should remain parallel with your shins. Once you break that parallel line, you have probably gone beyond the range of your flexibility.
3) Your heels should be on the ground. Don’t lift up onto your toes.
That’s it. Pretty simple. But what about your feet? Where should your toes point? How far apart should they be? Don’t worry about that. Go with what is comfortable at first. The hips, knees, and ankles are very versatile joints, capable of tracking in numerous ways, and how comfortable you feel squatting will depend on a number of factors: history of injury; flexibility through the low back, outsides and insides of your legs, and calves; and most importantly, muscular imbalances.
When at home, or in the gym, don’t forget to train this motion. Place a dumbbell on the floor between your feet and pick it up (sumo squat), or hold a dumbbell at chest height (front squat), and tap your butt down to a bench. Hold a set of dumbbells on your shoulders and squat up and down. Or ditch the weights, and just squat your bodyweight, touching the ground with your fingertips each rep. Throw a jump in, at the top. Oh, and don’t forget the squat thruster.
There are a dozen great ways to train your functional squat, and you can do them anywhere. Even better, squats train your butt, quads, and hips–three huge muscle grounds. The bigger the muscles, the easier it is to get your heart rate going, and the more calories you will burn.