Doing squats as an exercise or weighted exercise has many benefits. Squats burn calories and might help you lose weight, and they also lower your chances of injuring your knees and ankles. Performing squat exercises also strengthens your tendons, bones, and ligaments around the leg muscles. Other muscles in your body benefit from doing squats, including:
The motion of the squat is the same as it was when you were a child; you sit down, and then you stand back up. Some of us stop squatting as we age, which can be quite limiting to our freedom of movement and quality of life. So, when did the squat gain popularity as a mainstream exercise? Squats, as a weighted exercise, predate bodybuilding and Olympic weightlifting. The squat goes back to the days when weight training was predominantly done by professional strongmen.
In the early days of powerlifting, physiques were built by putting heavy dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells overhead using a wide range of presses. The most famous Victorian strongman wrote about weighted squats in his 1894 book “Sandow’s System of Physical Culture.” Sandow made one of the earliest recommendations in print to use squatting movements for quadriceps development. He described the move as, “By bending the knees, dip the body in a vertical line to the heels, keeping the back straight and the chin drawn in. Recover and repeat the movement until the muscles ache.” To this day, the squat movement has remained largely the same and has stood the test of time with its proven result to strengthen muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments.
There are many types of squats and squat variations, all of which have benefits. The range of options for doing squats will allow you to find what works best for you, your body, and your fitness goals. Whichever form and variation you choose, you will undoubtedly find benefits to your strength and mobility, along with a decreased risk for injury.
If you’re new to doing squats as an exercise, you’ll want to start with the basics. The basic bodyweight squat should be mastered before attempting weighted squats because it will help you develop the proper form necessary to avoid injury when eventually doing weighted squats.
Bodyweight squats are an excellent starting point if you are unfamiliar with the movement as an intentional exercise. They also offer a beginning point if you have found yourself avoiding the movement due to lack of strength, previous injury, or instability. Bodyweight squats are a great way to increase strength in your lower body. They primarily strengthen your quads, hip flexors, and glutes but also engage your hamstrings, calves, abs, and lower back to complete the movement safely and properly.
How to do a bodyweight squat:
If you find that doing a bodyweight squat is causing pain or instability, a wall squat is an excellent variation for learning the movement and proper form, along with gaining strength and confidence to do a squat.
How to do a wall squat:
Once you’re familiar with performing a basic squat and are confident that your form is correct, it’s time to upgrade to squatting movements that will help you build muscle and strength. Some of these intermediate squat exercises use added weight, while others are bodyweight variations that will help you increase strength, stability, and flexibility.
Dumbbell squats strengthen your lower body and core. The additional weight from a pair of dumbbells increases the activation of muscles like the hamstrings and glutes, and dumbbell squats also activate the stabilizing muscles around your knees and ankles.
How to do a dumbbell squat:
The split squat is a compound leg exercise that works multiple muscles in your lower body, including hip flexors, hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Split squats can increase leg strength and enhance flexibility.
How to do a split squat:
Variation of the split squat: perform the above steps with added dumbbell weight or barbell with weights.
The sumo squat increases the activation of inner thigh muscles more than many other lower body exercises, including the traditional squat. Because sumo squats are effective at working the inner thighs and leg muscles using just your body weight, you can perform this exercise anywhere.
How to do a sumo squat:
Variation of the sumo squat: perform the above steps with added dumbbell weight or barbell with weights.
Research shows that barbell squats are undeniably better than bodyweight squats and dumbbell squats in building lower body strength and power. The option for heavier weights in barbell squats significantly improves overall leg strength, including the knees and lower back. The barbell also allows a gradual increase in weights for increasing strength.
A barbell squat, also known as a barbell back squat, is a compound exercise that activates muscles throughout the lower body, including the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back muscles. The barbell back squat is the most popular of all the weighted squat movements.
How to do a barbell back squat:
The barbell front squat helps improve your core strength and posture and will also help prevent injuries by working your quads along with improving mobility, speed, and endurance. When beginning the squat with added weight, start at a weight that is safe and comfortable for you. You may even begin with a preloaded or fixed barbell which allows you to start with weight as low as 10 pounds, whereas a standard barbell is 45 pounds before additional weight is loaded.
How to do a barbell front squat:
Even if you have no intention of doing weighted squats due to injury, lack of interest, or fear of bearing additional weight, make the simple, bodyweight squat part of your daily exercise routine. Just this one change, even without weight, will increase your strength, stability, and mobility. If you want to check out some other lower-body exercises, check out this video on the Prime Women YouTube Channel.