The squat is known in the trade as the king of exercises. Many people can lift bigger weights on their deadlift, but in terms of the total number of muscle fibres recruited, it’s the squat that reigns supreme.
For that reason, it should be omnipresent in your workout plan, whether you’re looking to lose the love handles, muscle up or cut your triathlon splits. Sure, nothing pops your quads like a squat. More surprising, perhaps, is that when done properly it also harnesses the power of the posterior chain – the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. In actual fact, in a regular back squat, the quads act more as a brake, while it’s the rear of the body which does all the heavy lifting. Because of this, it’s a very good idea to perform squats and deadlifts on alternate days, especially if you’re attempting to lift anywhere near your one-rep max.
The sheer amount of energy required to squat with a heavy weight on your back is what makes it the perfect fat-burning tool. There’s so much musculature being called upon in a squat that you’ll not only spike your metabolism during the exercise, but keep it firing well after you’ve finished. It’s the same principle that’s behind the much-touted trend for HIIT. But to feel the full effect, and to engage the maximum number of muscles, you’ve got to go deep – to that scary and unsteady place where you’re genuinely concerned that you might not make it back up.
Adding back squats into your gym sessions – and not just on legs day – may seem a heavy cross to bear. But it’s a small sacrifice to make for the miraculous resurrection of your metabolism.
STEP BY STEP
Lift your PB to new heights with these tips from Singh, a powerlifting coach at the English Institute of Sport
01 RACK UP
Reach squat nirvana by approaching the rack – never the Smith Machine, as this can create unnatural movements and it doesn’t force you to engage your core and stabiliser muscles.
02 LAY A TRAP
Duck under the bar and rise up so your shoulders make contact. There should be a slight bend in your knees. Now position the bar on the fleshy part of your traps, several centimetres down your shoulderblades, not across the top of your shoulders, in contact with your neck or vertebrae
03 GET A GRIP
Ensure you have a symmetrical grip, forearms at a 90° angle to your biceps, hands at an equal distance with equal rotation in your wrists. The bar is for balance – the weight should be held by your back, not arms.
04 TAKE THE WEIGHT
Now brace yourself: tense your stomach, push it out and raise your chest. Head up, please. Engage your legs and stand so the bar lifts from the rack. Take a small step back and set yourself.
05 HEELING POWER
Feet shoulder-width apart, keep your heels and little toes planted at all times. This prevents you falling backwards and sets your knees out slightly so they don’t end your ability to genuflect for good.
06 HINGE BENEFITS
Focus on your hips here. When you’re feeling solid, push your glutes back and hinge at the hips as you lower, bending your knees. Stay braced to keep your torso in an upright position.
07 LOWER STANDARDS
To reap the full reward, your thighs must be at least parallel to the ground. Go deep – or don’t even bother. If you lack the mobility to take it that low, work on your form. Goblet squats are a great way to start.
08 DRIVE UP
Drive back up towards hormonal and strength gains. Lift your head slightly before you push through your feet, squeeze your glutes and return to standing.