If you’re trying to work on your leg muscles — either to strengthen or tone them — there’s no better exercise than the humble squat. It is a compound movement that helps to build muscle in your entire body, but more effectively targets the lower body muscles, especially most of the major muscle groups — the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and even the lower back.
It’s easy to perform, but many people do not realize there is a proper form to it, and they execute the movement incorrectly. Following the correct steps is very important so as to avoid any injuries to both your legs and lower back. Here’s a step by step guide on how to do a proper basic squat, and some examples of different, more advanced squats that can help to tone your legs and enhance your derriere.
The Right Way To Do A Basic Squat
Squats are relatively easy to learn and perform, so it is very beginner friendly. At the most basic level, you won’t need any equipment to carry out a squat, which makes a convenient exercise that can be done from the comfort of your own home.
However, you should really take note of the proper form, as you might risk injuring your knees and lower back. In fact, when squats are carried out incorrectly, the whole weight of your upper body will be resting on your knees, so you really need to have the proper posture and stance in place.
Step 1 — Position Yourself Correctly
Stand up and straighten your back, and keep your feet apart slightly more than your shoulder-width. Your toes should be pointing out straight or slightly angled out. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your chest puffed out a little. You should be looking straight ahead and your arms can be in one of three positions — extended out in front, on your hips, or straight down by your sides. Experiment and try them all out, then stick with whichever feels the most natural to you.
Step 2 — Begin Squatting
With your eyes forward and your back still straight, squeeze your glutes and engage your abdominal core. Take a deep breath in and bend your knees while pushing your buttocks out — this movement is similar to how you would sit on a chair, and it can help to visualize an imaginary chair that you’re trying to sit on. Remember to keep your toes pointed forward, and you should feel your weight on your heels. If you feel like your toes are supporting your body weight, stand up and try again.
Step 3 — Full Squatting Position
While you’re bending your knees and moving your upper body down, remember to keep your back straight. When your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, you are in the full squat position and should stop bending your knees and lowering yourself. Your knees should not go beyond the length of your toes, and your buttocks should stick out as far as your back allows. Hold this position for 2 to 3 seconds for maximum effectiveness.
Step 4 — Move Back Up
When it’s time to move back to your starting position, exhale and use your knees to bend yourself back up — do not stretch or use your back muscles to pull yourself up or you could strain it. Keep your weight on your heels as you ascend back up, and push your hips forward. All this while, you should be squeezing your glutes — that will help to tone your buttocks. Keep going up until your legs are straight and you are back in the original position.
Step 6 — Repeat
When you’re ready, repeat steps 1 to 4 again. Always remember that it is better to move slowly and precisely as it will be more effective than moving quickly and using the momentum to push yourself up and down.
When you start getting the hang of it and the movements come to you naturally, you can try performing modified versions of the basic squat. These are slightly different as they can incorporate equipment like barbells so you might need to pay a visit to your local gym to try them out. Don’t worry, the basic squatting movement is still the same so you won’t have to learn from scratch.
To perform the explosive squat, you will need to have complete mastery over the basic squat movements. This is because explosive squats are, as the name implies, quick bursts of movement, so you won’t have time to move slowly. Begin in the same starting position as regular squats, and lower yourself down till you are in the full squatting position. Instead of getting back up slowly, push yourself up as fast as possible using some strength, and this should propel you into a jump. Try to land softly on your feet, and use your hands to stabilize yourself. When you land, immediately bring yourself down back to a full squat and launch yourself up again.
There are a few different ways to do weighted squats. First of all, you can use either a pair of dumbells or a longer barbell. Some people even use a Smith machine to ensure the weight does not become unbalanced and cause injuries. When doing weighted squats, always remember it is better to err on the side of caution. Do not try to lift too much at one go, especially since your knees might not be able to take the weight.