Fit and fine: Why the squat is the king of exercises
As a trainer, I am frequently asked which exercise would I choose if I had to limit myself to just one exercise in the gym? I dislike these type of questions because no one exercise can do it all, but if push comes to shove, I’d say barbell back squats. But before you get to barbell back squats, most people need to learn to squat properly.
It is very strange that most urban dwellers, used to sitting on chairs, can no longer do a deep squat, which is considered one of the fundamental movement patterns of the human body.
Look around and see most of the working class people easily get into the deep squat position to take a break or rest a while. Obviously most of us have the mobility and stability required to get into this position.
I also blame the current method of teaching the squat, where the trainee is asked to move from the hips first and to sit back. The thinking behind this method comes from the myth that squats damage knees and thus, knees should not go beyond the toes while squatting. More often than not, I have to regroove the squatting pattern for my clients. The initial few sessions are spent just working on correcting the squat pattern.
The supported squat
This is the first step in learning to squat correctly – grab on to anything upright in the gym and squat down. The aim is to sit straight down. You actually squat between your legs and not fold over. Your upper body is pretty upright. The external support provides enough stability to the trainee, which leads to improved mobility.
The counter balance squat
After spending enough time grooving the pattern and getting comfortable in the bottom position of the squat, here’s the next step. Hold a lightweight at arms length, keeping the elbows locked and sit straight down. The weight held in the extended arms provides stability and lets the trainee get deep. If the trainee moves the hips first, the weight held in the extended arms can cause the trainee to tip over. So they have to stay upright! Also, the weight provides stability and thus improves the mobility of the squatter.
The goblet squat
Goblet squat is the go-to starting version for most trainers – you hold a dumbbell close to your chest and sit down. I like my trainees to touch their elbows to their thighs while sitting down. This is the ideal depth for the goblet squat.
Once you can do the goblet squat, most trainees are ready to squat with good form. I prefer “movement over load”. Its pointless to load a movement, if you cannot do the body weight version flawlessly.
Front squat to the back squat
We transition from the goblet to the front squat. I really like the front squat as it enforces good squatting mechanics. If you lean too far forward, the bar will fall as it is balanced on the collarbone. The trainee has no option but to stay upright. The core and the upper back are heavily involved in the front squat – in fact way more than the back squat. Two for the price of one – what’s not to like! For my clients who have had back issues, I stick to the front squat.
I usually prescribe the back squat at the end of the learning cycle. By now, the trainees are well-versed with the technique, form and feel of squatting correctly for them. The back squat can be loaded pretty heavy but in my view, slow cooking it in terms of load and intensity results in long term strength, muscle and fitness gains.
Barbell squats are called the king of all exercises because the entire body gets worked by this exercise. But learn to do the bodyweight squat first. Then, add load and reap the benefits.
As renowned strength coach, Dan John, says – movement, volume and finally, load. Now go do it!
Author bio: Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years
From HT Brunch, September 22, 2019
Follow @HTBrunch on Twitter
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch