If you’re looking for an effective way to get in great shape quickly, and burn considerable amounts of body fat, then this exercise cannot be excluded from any weight training programme. In my opinion, the squat is one of the most fundamental exercises for a number of reasons.
1. The movements of flexion and extension of the ankle, knee and hip joints are similar to daily activities such as standing up, walking, jogging, and jumping. Therefore, training the body in this movement is functional to daily life.
2. There are numerous muscles used in this exercise, and therefore it really is a whole body exercise. The quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, adductors (inside of thigh) and gluteus (bum!), the muscles of the lower body do most of the work in lifting the weight. In addition to this, the weight is held on the trapezius (below the neck), and the muscles of the trunk and lower back, also known as “core” muscles, are required to stabilise the upper body to effectively, correctly, and safely perform the movement.
3. A much greater amount of calories are burned by doing this exercise compared to many other exercises you could chose. The reason for this is that so many muscles are being used, as mentioned above. Not only are a large number of muscles used, but also the muscle groups that are used are large muscle groups like the quads, glutes and hamstrings. For example, an exercise like this burns far more calories than a bicep curl, which primarily works the biceps, which are a relatively small group of muscles.
4. Due to the fact that a number of large muscles groups are used, testosterone is released. Testosterone is an extremely effective fat burning hormone, which also helps boost energy and libido, and helps sharpen memory and mental focus. It can help keep bones strong too, which is extremely important for pre-menopausal women as bone density can deteriorate during menopause.
5. Finally, this exercise is effective at building lean muscle in the body, which is one of the biggest factors in returning to your pre-pregnancy body shape (or better!) and getting rid of that baby belly. Read my previous post “The Truth about Lifting Weights” to find out why you need to build muscle, and learn why building muscles does not mean getting “big”!
Exercise #3 – The Squat
To perform the squat, place a barbell across your trapezius, hold the bar in your hands with a grip wider than shoulder width, and pull your elbows down and back. Stand up straight with your feet just wider than shoulder width apart with your feet pointing slightly outwards. Lift you head up so that you are looking straight ahead and stick your chest out. To start the movement, bend at the hips and knees and sit back so that the weight begins to transfer from the middle of your foot towards your heels as you go down. If you are able to maintain good form, you should try to achieve a deep squat position where your hips are lower than your knees. Maintaining good form is keeping a good flat back throughout the movement, with your chest up and head looking forwards at all times. To go back up, push your feet into the floor and extend your knees and hips, returning to a standing position.
Start with 2 sets of 10 repetitions if you are using weight or 2 sets of 20-30 repetitions if you are only using your bodyweight. Once this gets easy, move to 3 sets of 10 repetitions, making it challenging so that the last 3 repetitions of each set feels difficult.
If you are doing bodyweight squats, build up to 3-4 sets of 20-30 repetitions. To really get the benefits mentioned above, after the first 3-4 weeks of doing 10 repetitions, increase the weight and aim for 5 sets of 5 heavy repetitions. As with the other exercises, you should start by doing this 2 times per week and aim to hit a rhythm of maintaining this on a regular basis 2-3 times per week. You will notice it gets easier the 2nd or 3rd time but you’ll see drastic improvements after 6 weeks! If you have no barbell, but still would like to add weight to the squat, you can hold dumbbells with your hands by your side, or hold a medicine ball in your arms against your body.
I’d love to hear how you get on with this, so please leave me a comment.