As Dianne prepared to complete her final exercise of the day, the dreaded triple set of leg squats, she moaned, “Oh, these squats, I hate them! They kill me!” And so it is with the king of leg development, the squat. My personal training clients in Fort Collins hang out at opposite ends of the like-dislike squat spectrum—they either love ‘em, or hate ‘em. There is almost never an in-between. So what’s the verdict of professionals? Are squats truly the king—an unbeatable all-in-one exercise? Or are they responsible for the throbbing knees and big butts that women the world over dread?
Though I’ve certainly heard folks complain about the squat, I’ve got my own opinion and I’m sticking to it. Done right, there are many advantages to the leg squat.
1. Squats build many muscle groups. Quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals, glutes, and spinal erectors all become well-developed in the dedicated squatter. Squats can also pump up your metabolism, provide short bursts of cardio, burn lots of calories, and build muscle mass quickly.
2. If you choose to perform free weight squats (using a barbell rather than a machine) you use small muscle groups to maintain balance and knee stability. Stabilizer muscles are truly worked in a free weight squat routine and their growth will up your performance in other sports as well.
3. Squats performed free of machines are less likely to bring on injuries. Leg press machines do not replicate natural body movements the way that free squats do. Squat machines (such as the Smith machine) don’t allow for proper spine alignment. Without the correct mechanics, you can get loads of extra stress on your lower back—not a good thing.
4. Squats don’t have to be the “same-old, same-old” week after week. Mix it up. Try bench squats (place a bench behind you as you squat). The bench provides a literal benchmark for each squat. As long as you aren’t bouncing off the bench or using it to lighten the load as you squat, your muscles will benefit from squatting the exact same distance each time. Try front squats too. Since you’re standing straight (more or less) during these exercises, the quads work harder. During these squats, the barbell rests on your delts, rather than across the tops of your shoulders.
5. Finally, squats increase the power of your lungs and your heart.
So quit with the excuses. Get up off the leg press and try some free weight squat variations. Remember, when it comes to building muscle, there’s no better exercise then the squat—the number one choice for everyone who wants powerful, but toned, legs and glutes.