Have you ever heard someone say “If you aren’t doing squats you aren’t really working out”?
Of course this statement is almost true but not completely as there are other exercises that one can do that also have great benefits if they really can’t squat. However, I truly do feel that all ages and body types should do at least one version of a squat during one of their weekly workouts. There are some exceptions of course with youth, although squatting with body weight is a big part of most youth workout programs from 9 and up. These days it is not just strength coaches and certified trainers who believe this but also physical therapist and doctors who have EXPERIENCE with working with those who exercise regularly and who also believe that the benefits from squats are too good to go without.
Okay so here is the truth, squats are not the most attractive exercise because to many especially beginners, they are not the most pleasant exercise to perform, therefore many find reasons or even excuses not to squat. I say unless you are dealing with injury that is not fully healed or fully recovered, don’t give up on squats if you are one of these people. The primary reason behind why most don’t like squats is using incorrect form, as bad form will cause pain. There are many ways to do a squat and although I personally feel barbell back squats are the best variation out there, that doesn’t mean that all have to do squats with a bar. Pistol squats, sumo squats, single leg body weight squats can all be performed with a dumbbell or kettle bell and these moves are all great exercises one can do instead of barbell. HOWEVER, in order for these exercises to be truly beneficial they need to be paired with the correct exercises so they can be just as beneficial as a back squat. However, Exercise paring and order is for another article, in this article I would like to talk to those who skip squatting because they don’t like to do squats due joint pain, back pain, or they just hate working the legs.
So are you one who feels knee pain, lower back pain, and shortness of breath when squatting?
If so don’t worry this normal for someone who tries squatting but does not know how to alter this movement to their body type and fitness level. For example, someone with long legs and a short torso will experience less pain with good benefits by doing low bar squats verses high bar squats. Also, adjusting ones stance to a wider stance, can reduce how far forward the thighs need to travel so when squatting, one does not need to bend forward as much making it harder to breath due to the pressure on the diagram. Lastly, having big and strong legs is not a good enough reason for one to skip squats. If one is working out the upper body with weights but not with the legs, that will cause muscle imbalances the can lead to chronic joint and lower back problems. Although hiking and running are good leg exercises, they don’t work the leg muscles in the same way weights do. Hiking, running and biking are all great ways to add some cross training and cardio in but again, weight training needs to involve all the muscles groups in order to prevent muscle imbalances.
Another reason some are intimidated by squats is because of videos and post out there of folks squatting with weight belts and knee pads with a red face and veins about to pop out their foreheads. Hey for those looking to set world records, you got to do what you got to do.. However, for those who just want to enjoy all the benefits from squatting, don’t think that you have to throw all the weights you can on a bar just to say you squat. FORM OVER PRIDE, PERIOD. In many cases some have to strengthen the stabilizer muscles first before they can even start to squat. Plus one really needs to ensure they have the right amount of strength and the proper form down before they think of doing any type of squat, especially heavy squats. I do however believe that squatting is a great exercise for overall strength building and that once one has the form down with squatting, he or she should continue to progress by doing more weights with squats over time. This is a called a healthy progression!
So how does one get stronger on his or her squats?
Mixing up set and rep variations along with super setting with exercises that also increase leg strength. In general, I prefer 4- 5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 4 rep ranges for experienced lifters but one should also mix it up at times. For example, do 4 sets of 5 reps or 3 sets of 8-12. I even occasionally during my clients recovery week, will have them do a set of lower weight high reps. I also like doing heavy and light leg workouts in one week and then just one heavy leg work out the next week. An important point to make is that the more one starts to lift heavy with squats, the more recovery and nutrition starts to play a big part. I could spend hour’s writing about squats, how to do them, and WHY ALL AGES AND BODY TYPES who have the form down solid and are not currently dealing with lower limb or lumber spine injuries, should do squats. However, I am not looking to write a book here, I just wanted to explain in little more detail why those who work out should not skip squatting exercises and even if they can’t learn to enjoy the movement, hopefully one can learn to appreciate the great benefits of doing squats by experiencing the results themselves.
Jason Whalen BA Exercise Science/Coaching