By Denise Quentin, BA, CPT
We are just a few weeks away from October which means it is time for Squatober in the fitness world! It is the World’s largest knee-bending party you can think of and I wanted to take this opportunity to give you more insight on the squat, its benefits, and what exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles involved. We all perform the squat movement several times a day. We squat when standing up from a chair or sitting back down, when we are doing yard work, or even when we put our dishes back on the bottom shelf. The squat is a complex full-body movement that comes with lots of benefits if performed properly, including:
Improving the performance of daily activities: As mentioned earlier, we squat every day in many different situations. When these muscles are strong, we become more efficient with the tasks we do on a daily basis.
May prevent a decline in Bone Mineral Density: After the age of 50, you start losing about 1.7-2% of Bone Mineral density every year. With focused resistance training such as squatting, your body is able to increase BMD by 1 %/year while preventing a big loss in bone density.
Increase in Strength: With frequent squatting in your training program, you will notice strength gain, especially within your lower body muscles. During the squat movement, your glutes and hamstrings are responsible for hip extension, meaning the upward phase of a squat. You will notice a bigger strength gain within these two muscles, but you are also using your erector spinae as well as transverse abdominis to stabilize your spine during spinal loading.
Sports Performance: The squat can be classified as a power and speed movement that can be directly linked to increased sports performance in terms of sprinting ability and higher vertical jump height. Due to the activation of many muscle groups at once, the neurons of these muscle groups start interacting and work more efficiently together. They can recruit muscle fibers faster leading to positive changes in jumping, running, and lifting. For various athletes, the legs are building the base of their performance, so adding squats into their strength training routine should be substantial. Not an athlete? Jumping is still a skill you should strive to maintain as you get older. It can help in the prevention of falls and assist in improving bone mineral density also.
Now, we know what the benefits of squatting are, so let’s take a look at the muscles that we are using during a back squat:
Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, Semitendinosus - Hip Extension
Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis - Knee Extension
Gastrocnemius and Soleus - Dorsiflexion (down phase) and Plantar Flexion (up phase) at the ankle joint
Erector Spinae and Quadratus Lumborum - Keeps your back stable
Transverse Abdominis - Increases Intra-abdominal pressure and helps maintain good posture.
Trapezius and Rhomboids - Keeping the bar stable on your back
Wrist Extensors - Extension at the wrist to hold the bar properly
Infraspinatus - External Rotation of the shoulder to maintain an upright position
As you can see above, the squat involves many muscle groups and not only the lower body which is why it is considered a complex multi-joint exercise. All the above-mentioned components also need to be trained regularly to ensure proper form, therefore strengthening not only the main movers like your glutes and quads, will be the key to perfecting the movement. Here are some additional exercises that will assist you in mastering the movement of a squat:
Plate Hold Squat
Palm Down Wrist Curls
Banded External Rotation of the shoulder
Ankle Plantar and Dorsiflexion
90/90 Hip Mobility
When it comes to the squat, it will be crucial to focus on the big picture of the movement to avoid any injuries because our body has to complete the movement as a whole and not just pieces of it. It is important to strengthen each muscle separately first and then start putting the pieces together to complete a full squat. Make sure you are progressing at your own pace in accordance with your abilities. If you are not exactly sure how to get started with a squat, get help from a personal trainer to guide you through the process of learning to squat.