If you’re like most women reading this, you have one major goal when it comes to hitting the gym: get your lower body toned, firm, and shapely.
Glutes are the new abs as they say in the fitness business with the focus being taken away from getting that flat stomach and put more onto getting a shapely backside. Whether you currently have a little more padding back there than you’d like or you have the flat-butt syndrome and want to do something about that, chances are good that you are looking for a way to boost your booty.
And if not, you still would like to add more tone and definition to your quads and/or hamstrings, so the lower body is still something you focus on.
This is great news because first, the lower body makes up the largest muscles in the body. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes are huge muscle tissues that will burn massive amounts of calories while you work them, which bodes well for helping you lose more total amounts of body fat.
Remember, the more muscle fibers you work in a given instant, the more total calories you will burn and the faster you’ll see weight loss progress along. If you want to get leaner, training legs is a wise move.
Second, lower body exercises will also elevate your heart rate considerably. So if you are someone who isn’t a huge fan of cardio training, the great news is that by doing lower body exercises, you’ll actually be getting your cardio training in at the same time.
Don’t believe me? Go do a set of 20 walking lunges and see if you aren’t just out of breath while doing those as you would be if you did some interval sprints. Lower body exercise is incredibly demanding so it will get you into great shape in no time.
Any way you look at it, lower body training can’t be missed. When it comes to building a beautiful lower body, there is one exercise in particular that you’ll want to focus on.
Some of you may already be doing squats as part of your routine as you realize how important they while others may fear them, skipping them entirely because you just don’t know how to do them or they intimidate you.
That all is about to change. We’re going to go over everything you need to know about squat training to ensure that you are on track to seeing the absolute best results possible while feeling confident you are doing exactly what you should be.
Squats are such a vital exercise that with the exception of those who are injured, every woman should be squatting. There are many variations of the squat and you may want to choose the variation that is most suitable for you, but you should be squatting with proper form, nevertheless.
So let’s get to it and discuss this amazing exercise.
Muscles Worked During The Squat
One of the best things about the squat is that you are going to work for so many muscle groups all at once. This is one of the key benefits the squats have to offer – they allow you to do far fewer exercises with each workout you do because you are tackling so many muscles in every rep.
When you perform the squats, you are going to work:
- The quads
- The hamstrings
- The calves
- The glutes
- The hip flexors
- The core
- The erector muscles in the spine
You’ll even work the upper body to some degree as they have to help balance the bar across your back, assuming you are doing squats with a barbell.
With all these muscles coming together, you’ll be very powerful during this exercise and will be able to lift more weight with this movement than you would with say a leg extension exercise, which isolates only the quad muscle itself.
Benefits Of The Squat
So what benefits can you expect to see while doing the squat exercise?
The first key benefit is that you’ll gain great strength. From a functional standpoint, meaning how well this exercise transfers over into everyday ‘real-life’ exercises, you’ll notice a huge cross over. As you gain strength on the squat, many things you do in day-to-day life will get easier. Walking up and down the stairs for instance or sitting down and getting up off a chair.
While this may seem a little elementary, don’t take it for granted. As you get older, having the strength to do these basic tasks is increasingly important. By building a strong foundation now, you set yourself up for an active and able lifestyle down the road.
You’ll also torch mega calories. Of all the exercises you could do to burn fat, squats may be at the top of the list. You have a great range of motion (assuming you do the full squat) so that’s a long way for your muscles to travel and work hard.
With so many muscle fibers contracting, you’ll be burning energy up by the second. And because this exercise is so very demanding, this also means that you’ll not only burn a lot of calories while you are doing it but continue to burn a high number of calories long after it’s over as well1.
This is a process referred to as EPOC and stands for all the extra energy you’ll use thanks to the fact that you have worked so hard and created what’s called a ‘metabolic disturbance’ in the body.
The third benefit you’ll get from squats is increased stabilization. This exercise is really going to call upon those stabilization muscles (especially the abs) to contract every step of the way. If you have the goal to also get a flat stomach, squats are definitely going to point you in the right direction to do just that.
Squats are also going to give you a level of mental toughness that few other exercises can. If you can get through a hard set of squats, doing other exercises in your routine – like a shoulder press for instance – will seem like a piece of cake. Squats are just so demanding, you’ll need to adapt to putting out that much energy.
Finally, the last benefit you’ll get from squats is cardiovascular improvements. As noted above, lower body exercises are very demanding on your cardiovascular system. You’ll notice your heart rate becomes very elevated after a set of squats, much like it would if you were doing an interval sprint.
If you perform your squats in such a manner that you don’t take long rest breaks between each set, you’ll essentially be creating an interval training session for yourself, so you can literally stop worrying about doing so much additional cardio. If you hate cardio, squats are your answer.
So as you can see, there are so many terrific benefits to squats that it’s just not an exercise you can afford to skip.
Now let’s consider the squat variations that can be performed. While some squats are generally considered a little better than others, you can do any variation that feels comfortable to you.
Back squats are the classic squat you probably think of when you hear the word squat and entail putting a barbell across your back, resting it higher up on the shoulder blades and then squatting down.
This is an excellent exercise for working all the lower body muscles that were noted earlier and is one of the most demanding squats.
Low Bar Squats
Really want to target that booty? If so, low bar squats are for you. The key difference between low bar squats and high bar squats is the position of the bar. For low bar squats, place the bar slightly lower on your back so it’s mid-shoulder blade. Now squat down.
Notice you won’t be able to squat as low in low bar squats as the body will stop you and you’ll feel it far more in the glutes and hamstrings due to the changed position of the weight.
You’ll also need to adopt a slightly more forward lean when doing low bar squats as well to keep yourself balanced.
If it’s your quads you really want to work hard, front squats should be your go-to. Front squats require you to place the barbell across the front of the body, balancing it on the front delts. This squat definitely does take more practice to get the form down and almost everyone will always find they lift less weight on a front squat compared to a back squat.
With enough practice, this can be an amazing quad developer, however.
Not quite ready to add weights to your squat yet? No problem. Bodyweight squats are a perfect beginner exercise to get you well-acquainted with the squat movement pattern.
If you want to work the inner thighs to a higher degree, sumo squats might be a great option. This squat is also more comfortable for some people, so consider that as a reason for adding them as well.
When doing sumo squats, you’ll turn your feet out ever so slightly, adopting a wider stance position as you do.
Then squat down as regular. Note that again, you won’t go as low in this squat as you can in the back squat.
Finally, goblet squats are great for those who are exercising at home or who only have access to a dumbbell. To do this, hold the dumbbell with both hands in the center of the body up by the chest. Let it hang down past the hands and towards the hips, elbows tucked into the side of the body.
From here, squat down, keeping the back upright. You’ll hit both your quads and hamstrings well in this variation.
So there you have all the different types of squats that can be performed. Don’t ever feel married to just one. It’s perfectly fine to experiment with a few different variations over the course of your workout routine.
Tips To Perfecting Your Form
When performing the squat, there are a few things that you’ll want to remember. If you utilize the following tips, you can feel confident you’re squatting with great form.
- Breathing counts! Take a deep breath before you begin the squat and then hold that breath until you begin to ascent upwards. As you do, slowly release the breath. Keep in mind this breath is what keeps you tight and maintaining tension in the body so letting it out too soon will cause you to become loose like a noodle when at the bottom (the hardest part) of the exercise
- Keep your head at about parallel. Avoid looking down or it may cause your entire body to shift forward, leaving you off balance
- Make sure the knees track over the toes to avoid knee injury. They shouldn’t move inward or outward from the knee.
- Aim to keep the back in a neutral position. It should never be overly arched or hunched over
- Aim to go as far down as you can. Some people stop short because they worry about stress to their knees but as long as you use good form and don’t have any pre-existing knee problems, you should be fine to go down lower.
Adding Squats Into Your Overall Workout Program
Finally, as you go about adding squats to your overall program plan, remember that because this exercise is so intense, it should be done near the start of the workout program. You never want to perform a number of exercises first and then attempt the squat because not only will you not have the strength to perform it properly but because it may become quite dangerous due to the fact that you don’t have the strength to maintain good form.
Aim to squat two to three times per week as part of your lower body workout routine, making sure to take at least one day off between sessions for best results. If you do this and stay committed, it won’t be long before you are seeing amazing results from your squatting sessions.
Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 15 years now, and has helped others of all ages lose weight, build muscle, and improve their physical performance. She’s been featured in Bodybuilding.com, Muscle & Strength Hers and Oxygen magazine.