In the fitness industry the squat is widely regarded as “the king of all exercises”, when done properly. The reason is that a strong squat requires functional strength that will carry over to just about any athletic endeavour.
I fully appreciate that some people aren’t built to squat because of structural issues, well at least that’s JC’s excuse anyway, but for the rest of us, the squat might just be our ticket to reaching our fitness goals.
Getting better at squatting not only makes you a better person (physically at least), it also has a massive carry over into just about every other aspect of fitness. Strength is the foundation that fitness should be built upon, if you want to stay injury free and continually improve.
Why would improving my squat benefit me?
Let’s use running as an example.
Endurance enthusiasts will often look at you like you have two heads if you suggest they try to get stronger in order to get faster. But the stronger that you get in a squat, the more force you will transfer into the ground with every stride, meaning you will cover the same distance in less strides and use less energy.
Running doesn’t have to be the example here, improved strength will transfer to just about anything athletic.
Getting stronger systemically will also increase your work capacity with conditioning workouts, i.e. You will complete more work in less time.
If you are strong enough that you can squat your bodyweight on the bar x10 if you are a guy or x5 if you are a girl, which are our gym standards, imagine how much easier a set of 20 bodyweight squats will feel? It’s all about efficiency!
Speaking of efficiency, rowing is something else that will benefit massively from you improving your squat.
Our rowing standards for 500m (1:35m, 1:50f) are all about maintaining a long and strong stroke, rather than simply doing lots of small inefficient movements to generate power.
We programme towards our gym standards, our aim being to get people to hit these targets, in order to improve their fitness. For the majority of people who struggle to hit these numbers it is what we call a ‘drop off’ that they experience. What this means is that, they can get their split down to the required number, before they simply drop off, or run out of juice.
Improving the squat will not only improve the power you can put into each stroke, it will also give you the strength endurance to hold on to that power the whole way through the 500m. In other words, a better squat will improve your fitness.
It is important to recognise however that squatting requires a considerable amount of mobility, specifically at the ankle, hip and thoracic (upper back) in order to be performed correctly – it’s not just a case of ‘bar on the back, sit’ – which is something that many people need to work on prior to trying to get their squat numbers up.
Most beginners will have a pretty ugly looking squat at the beginning, especially if they are riddled with structural restrictions. Quite often this is down to the adaptation that occur during long periods spent sitting.
When you are seated you are in a similar position to a squat, but you are probably slouched over and loose and you certainly aren’t using your glutes for example. The glutes ‘tone down’ and the front of the hips tighten up to compensate. I’m not saying you should never sit down, but in my opinion, sitting is a big reason people find developing a good squat pattern so hard.
You need to find a balance between mobility and stability where you can stabilise joints and not just hang off them whilst maintaining adequate flexibility to get low.
Whilst working on the mobility needed to squat, it is best not to load it up and go heavy. You don’t have to be squatting 400kg to reap the benefits of the exercise.
Rack assisted squats are a great way for the really stiff people out there to feel where they are tight and start to develop the range needed. Goblet squats holding the bottom position are also a great way to open up your hips with a specific focus on squat mobility.
It is often said that it takes 1000 to 3000 reps of an exercise to “perfect it”. SO my recommendation, once you have developed adequate mobility to squat correctly, would be to work with relatively low reps, at a technical max, with increased rest. We don’t what to be doing ugly repetitions under fatigue when we’re learning a new movement, because all we will succeed in doing is ingraining faulty patterns.
Develop you mobility, learn to squat properly, get stronger in the new movement, and watch you fitness increase in line with your new level of strength.