Squats are one of my favorite exercises and one that I try to make sure all of my clients (no matter age or ability) master.
As I tell them, if standing up is something you're going to be doing for the rest of your life, then squatting is going to need to be a part of your exercise routine. Parts of this post were featured on Thrillist.com
The quick benefits of squatting breakdown:
- Full body exercise
- Great core strength developer (especially when weighted)
- Builds strength in all leg muscles
- Increases flexibility (specifically through the hip complex)
- An exercise that stimulates the release of anabolic hormones (meaning promotes muscle development in the body).
The first thing anyone needs to do when it comes to squatting is master the form. There's a great deal of flexibility, core strength and leg strength necessary to perform a proper squat. I would describe a neutral squat as feet about shoulder width apart. You should be able to drop low, sending your weight onto your heels, while maintaining an eye focal point at about 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock. Your hips should be able to drop just past parallel (not necessarily something you do on every squat, but you should have the capability).
I start clients with a simple body weight squat. For beginners, I have them hold onto a banister, or any ledge (or bar) and drop backwards sending their weight onto their heels, dropping their glutes backwards and slightly below parallel.
The next progression is the body weight squat without holding onto anything. Placing an emphasis on keeping your chin-up and spine straight (to slightly arched) through the motion.
Once that's mastered, it becomes about weighting and destabilizing the motion. The easiest and probably safest way to weight the movement is holding dumbbells at your side with straight arms.
Weighting with a barbell across the back can be helpful for those looking to be able to drop their hips a little lower during the movement.
Another variation I introduce around this time is squats on the bosu ball. This variation is important for working on control of the movement through balance, by stressing the stabilizer muscles.
Once all of the above is accomplished the next variations are front squats with a barbell or dumbbell (goblet). This movement is helpful in being able to really squat with your weight in your heels and sending your hips and glutes backwards, due to the weight in the front creating a counter-balance.
The next motions I approach to start mastering after the above are single leg squats. Single leg squats can also be weighted forward, backward or at the side. One of the great benefits of single leg squats is that they allow a diagnosis of strength differences between legs. Make sure you can perform the same amount of reps at the same weight, with perfect form on each leg. Otherwise, you may have an imbalance between your right and left sides that will need to be addressed.
The final and most difficult moves for me are pistol and single leg squats on a bosu ball (both flat side up and down).
And that's my ultimate progression for the squat movement. If you can do all of the above then you will have mastered the squat.