The first of the holy trinity. The squat is the number one mass builder for legs, and even beyond the targeted muscles it can help in improving hormonal profiles, aid in muscle anabolism all throughout the body, and burn obscene amount of calories.
The squat is a universal movement from which everyone can benefit in some way. Majority of athletes use it in their training, and even those who don’t, should. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters alike use squats as a foundation for the rest of their training.
One of the reasons the squat is so effective is the amount of muscles it recruits and subsequent stress it puts on the CNS (central nervous system). This equates to dropping a hydrogen bomb on the body which in turn increases production of GH and other beneficial hormones which in turn strengthen tendons and bones, build muscle and increase thermogenesis.
Despite the popular misconception that Squats are detrimental to the knees they are actually one of the most beneficial exercises to prevent knees and other joint injuries.
First lets talk about the bar and how to get into position. You want to center yourself on the middle groove of the bar, gripping the bar at a comfortable distance (shoulder flexibility will determine this) and then swooping under and placing the bar below the cervical vertebra but comfortably on the traps and rear delts.
Unrack, move back a couple of steps now wait, a lot of beginners get a sense of hyper-urgency when training so relax. Look a head, make sure your knees are relaxed and aren’t locked out. Bring your back slightly forward as if somebody is pushing against you and you want to stabilize yourself. Raise your toes for a second and get comfortable with your stance (usually wider, toes pointing out more) until you feel most of the weight is on your heels.
Now your mind should really be focused on your hips and your back. Make sure everything is tight as you squat down. Sit back as if into a chair while at the same time bringing your back a little more forward to counter balance the weight of the barbell. Don’t be afraid to go slow, go a little bit deeper than what you think is enough then stand back up while all the time focusing all that weight on the heels. When you come to the top don’t lockout your knees, congratulations you’ve just done a proper squat, hopefully.
People stances vary depending on a number of factors such as flexibility, body dimensions, training goals, etc. A narrower stance recruits the quads better, while a wider stance favors the glutes and hamstrings. I personally recommend starting with a stance slightly wider than shoulder width which is easier to learn.
Wide stance is almost exclusively used in powerlifting. It decreases the range of motion and activates the posterior-chain which is under-recruited in most people. With this stance your knees should barely go over your toes if at all. Because of this the wide stance puts less pressure on your knees.
Also called Olympic squat, the narrow stance is used by Olympic lifters since it’s the same stance used in Olympic lifts. It targets the quads more, and you use much less back in it. With this stance your knees will go over your toes as much as necessary for you to achieve optimal depth while still keeping the weight on the heels. What constitutes optimal depth will be discussed in the next section.
I recommend for beginners a stance with the feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. This is because this stance feels most natural for people unaccustomed to squatting, and is easier to learn and master. It offers a balance of muscle recruitment which helps build a necessary foundation.
Simply put, the deeper you go, the more muscles you recruit. The more you recruit, the stronger and leaner you grow. On the other hand, performing quarter or half squats means you get effectively less than a quarter of the hypertrophy, CNS stress, calorie burn, and progress. Not only do partial squats rob you of the benefits of squatting, they also set you up for injury and imbalance. Failure to achieve “parallel” shifts the strain of the movement onto the knees, thereby setting you up for a knee injury. You also recruit only a portion of the quads, ignoring the glutes and hams and causing uneven hypertrophy and further injury from a weak posterior chain. The subsequent habituation to improper form will carry over into other exercises, making you uneven all around.
So how deep is deep enough? As a rule of thumb you have to break parallel, this refers to going deeper than when your thighs are parallel to the ground. You know you broke parallel if your ass goes below your knees. Some people advocate Ass to Grass aka ATG which doesn’t mean touching the floor but coming few inches above it, I don’t advocate this for beginners and there aren’t many benefits of ATG squats outside of Olympic lifting.
You really shouldn’t be using a belt until you are repping 300+ at least. I don’t recommend using belts except on heavy sets and I still would perform some work without a belt to make sure for proper development. Wearing a belt will help you push more weight since it helps the lower back and abs in balancing the weight while keeping everything tighter.
If you are reading this then you don’t need knee wraps or any other form of equipment, learn to squat first before you jump in a triple ply squat suit.
Great exercises to mix with the squat would be:
Olympic Stance Main Movers:
Hams – Glutes
Wide Stance Main Movers:
Quads – Glutes – Hams