Welcome to 2015! Let’s get this year off to a great start by reviewing the simple yet powerful squat. Like the forward lunge, the squat is a very important exercise for improving your functional lower-body strength. It is a great functional exercise because it mimics a movement that is necessary in everyday life: sitting or “squatting” down and standing back up. It’s one of the most basic movements and probably something you do at least 50 times per day. However, when you don’t have the proper form and/or leg strength to easily make this movement, you end up putting extra strain and stress on other parts of your body like your arms, lower back, or knees.
- Chair or some type of seat
- Weight vest, hand weights, or an exercise ball for advanced squats
- Start standing straight and tall with your feet comfortably hip-width apart. Again, good posture! I like to have clients cross their arms over their chests to keep them from trying to assist themselves with their arms. Place a chair or seat of some sort about a foot behind you, especially if you are new to this exercise. You can do a few practice squats to make sure the chair and your feet are in a comfortable position.
- Putting your weight and your balance back on your heels, slowly lower yourself down to the seat with your eyes straight ahead. Keeping your weight on your heels will not only help engage the correct muscles, but also prevent your knees from going in front of your toes which can cause knee strain. You want to keep your chest up and back straight. So, imagine you are wearing a sports jersey with your number on the front of the jersey. If there is a mirror in front of you, you want to see your number throughout the exercise. You are lowering your glutes straight down to the seat, not bending forward.
- You are trying to lower yourself as smoothly as possible. If you are lacking in strength you might find yourself dropping to the chair at a certain point. That’s ok. Just keep trying to gain more and more control as you become stronger. Once you have reached the chair, stand up as quickly as possible. If you are strong enough, tap the chair with your glutes and then immediately start to lift yourself back up without sitting. If that’s too hard you can sit for a second between lowering and standing back up to give yourself a transition period.
- When you get back up to standing, make sure you finish the movement by squeezing your glutes tight and thrusting your hips slightly forward in full hip extension.
Main Muscles Targeted:
- Gluteus Maximus
- Adductor Magnus
- Erector Spinae
- Gluteus Medius
- Gluteus Minimus
- You can decrease the difficulty level of your squat by raising the seat of your chair either by finding a higher seat or adding some cushioning. The shorter the distance you lower yourself, the easier.
- Lightly gripping someone’s hands or some other type of stable hand support will take some of the pressure off your leg muscles and decrease the difficulty of the movement. This is especially useful for those who are older or have balance problems. The more you use your arms and rely on their support, the less work is required by your legs.
- If you want to increase the difficultly level you can wear a weight vest or hold a weight or medicine ball in one or both hands to increase the total amount of weight you are lowering and lifting.
- You can lower the seat you are tapping.
- Do this exercise in front of a mirror so you can keep an eye on your form. You want to look for two things:
- Keep your “numbers” on your chest up and visible.
- Keep your knees in line with your toes. Weak glutes may cause your knees to collapse toward each other during this movement. Overactive glutes may compensate by pulling your knees too far apart. Both can cause extra strain and wear on your knee joints, so be aware of your knee placement throughout the exercise.
- If you feel yourself tiring, try a modification (see above) to allow yourself to finish the desired number of repetitions.
- Breathing cues:
- INHALE as you lower yourself toward the chair or seat
- EXHALE as you lift yourself back up
*Remember, it’s always advised to consult with your doctor or health care expert before adding a new exercise to your routine to make sure you don’t have any contraindications.