by Anne on May 18, 2010
There is one exercise that just about everyone can agree is hard to replace; Squats. The squat is the most fundamental exercise and most used movement in life. Its practicality and ability to build massive amounts of strength and muscle through out the body have given it the name “The King of Exercises”. The squat is famous for developing the Quadriceps and Glute muscles, but it also offers great benefits and development to the Hamstrings, Calf, Abdominals, Feet (when done barefoot), and the entire length and width of the Back.
The execution of the exercise is very simple when just looking at it, but when performing the movement there are many details that must be taken into consideration. The feet should be flat on the floor, with even distribution of weight between the heel and the ball of the foot during eccentric muscle action. In order to reach a range of motion beyond parallel, individuals without sufficient ankle flexibility may try putting a flat board beneath the heels to artificially improve their flexibility. Similarly, a wedge shaped board may be used, allowing the entire foot to remain in contact with a single surface, improving stability over the first technique. Both methods are short-term fixes and require that regular stretching and a full range of motion be employed to maintain and increase flexibility to the desired levels with the ultimate aim that the board's use be eliminated. In the sport of weightlifting, a specifically designed shoe, that has a heel elevated by an encased wooden block, is commonly worn. Some experts discourage the use of a board or heel, however, because it may lead to a breakdown of proper form. In any squat, even one performed without these depth-increasing aids, the lifter should take care to exert force from the heel of the foot and not from the toes during concentric muscle contraction in order to maintain balance and keep the focus on the muscles of the thigh.
To avoid the chance of getting stuck under the bar, heavy barbell squats are best performed either inside a power cage or in the presence of one or more spotters, who can help to safely return the barbell to the squat rack at the end of the set if the lifter is unable to do so. A smith machine can also be used, though the movement is less natural than with a bar, does not provide adequate stabilizer muscle development and may lead to joint problems.
The squat has a number of variants, some of which can be combined (e.g. a dumbbell split squat):
* In the Squat or Powerlifting Squat, the bar is held anywhere over the back of the neck, within the rules, and feet placed wherever the lifter chooses for the squat for what is best for him.
* In the back squat, a barbell is held across the upper back.
* In the front squat, the weight (usually a barbell) is held in front of the body across the clavicles and deltoids in either an Olympic grip, as is used in weightlifting, or with the arms crossed and hands placed on top of the barbell.
* In the Olympic Squat, the bar is placed for a front squat or back squat position. front squat with a clean grip and back squat with a high-bar position. On both occasions the feet placed roughly in clean receiving position. The lift is done up to a weight of 25 % greater than the athletes clean and jerk on both lifts (for a professional, others may differ.) and the style is designed to only benefit Olympic weightlifting.
* In the overhead squat, a barbell is held overhead in a wide-arm snatch grip; however, it is also possible to use a closer grip if flexibility allows.
* In the dumbbell squat, the weight may be held hanging from the side (suitcase position), vertically at the chest (goblet position), or above the head with the arms extended (waiter position).
* In the dumbbell front squat, the weights are held resting on the shoulders.
* In the box squat, the lifter sits back onto a short box, momentarily relaxing the hip flexors, before contracting them and rising off the box; the use of a box sets a consistent depth and increases emphasis on the muscles of the posterior chain.
* In the Zercher Squat, the weight is held in the crook of the elbows against the chest.
* In the Hack squat, a barbell is held in the hands just behind the legs; it was invented by early 1900s professional wrestler Georg Hackenschmidt.
* In the sissy squat, a dumbbell is held behind the legs while the heels are lifted off the ground and the torso remains flat while the lifter leans backwards; sometimes done with a plate held on the chest and one arm holding onto a chair or beam for support.
* The pistol squat is a freestanding one-legged squat where the non-lifting leg is held in free space.
* The split squat is an assisted one-legged squat where the non-lifting leg is rested on the ground a few 'steps' behind the lifter, as if it were a static lunge.
* The Bulgarian squat is is a squat performed much like a split squat, but the foot of the non-lifting leg is rested on a knee-high platform behind the lifter.
* The Hindu squat is a squat done without weight where the heels are raised and body weight is placed on the toes; the knees track far past the toes.
* The jump squat is a plyometric exercise where the squatter jumps off the floor at the top of the lift.
The squat also has a number of commonly specified depths:
* The quarter squat descends about half of the way down towards a half squat.
* The hams parallel squat descends until the bottom of the thighs, the hamstrings, reach an imaginary line drawn parallel to the floor.
* The quads parallel or powerlifting legal squat descends until the crease of the top of the thighs at the hips is lower than the tops of the knees.
* The half or thighs parallel squat descends to a depth that is between hams-parallel and quads-parallel. The whole leg is parallel to the ground.
* The full or ass to the grass/ground (ATG) squat descends past quads-parallel to the maximum that a lifter's flexibility allows. This is the common depth for Olympic weightlifters, as receiving the weight from a clean, usually ends up at the deepest point.
Squatting below parallel qualifies a squat as deep while squatting above it qualifies as shallow.
When applying squats to your training, it is best to start with Bodyweight if you have no experience or an experienced trainer/coach to help you with weighted variations. Take special care if you have had any low back, knee or ankle injuries when loading and positioning for your squat. It is these joints that receive the greatest amount of pressure and will have the greatest chance for injury if performed incorrectly without professional supervision.
About the Author
Jason Kozma is a professional Manhattan Beach Personal Trainer in Southern California. Jason and his High Performance Training Team are helping residents all over Southern California lose weight and get in the best shape of their lives. Find out more by visiting