A Squat is one of, if not the best lower body exercise you can be performing for lower body strength and development. Although squats are an awesome exercise, they can easily be performed wrong, this guide will ensure you perform them correctly and get the most out of them you possibly can!
The target muscle(s) of a squat are your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Typically, you will target all 3 of these muscles with a general squat, but you can charge the primary muscle with a few variations and adjustments.
The goblet squat should be one of the first squats you perform. It’s easy to set up and the position of the load makes it easy to execute and progress. A goblet squat can be performed with either a kettlebell or a dumbbell, but a kettlebell will be more comfortable to hold.
- Start by setting your feet up around shoulder width and holding a kettlebell by the handle at your chest, with your elbows tucked into your torso.
- Keeping your core engaged and your chest high. Let the weight sit into the heels of your feet as you drop your hips back and down towards to floor, let your knees track over your toes allowing you to go as deep as you can go. You should be able to get your quads parallel to the ground.
- Once you are at your lowest point, drive through your heels down (as if you are pushing the floor away from you) allowing you to get back into the start position. As you drive up your lower back should not round, and your torso should remain upright throughout the movement.
If you struggle to get your hips as low as parallel, try elevating your heels slightly with a ramp or a small weight plate, which will allow you to drop down lower while ensuring your heels are still touching a surface and producing force. Once you are comfortable and feel happy with your execution of the goblet squat, you can move onto a barbell back squat which will allow you to add more load in the long run.
A front squat is a great variation that can be used instead of a back squat. Due to the bar positioning it places a greater load on your quads rather than your glutes and hamstrings.
The front squat can be performed with a barbell, kettle bells or dumbbells with the weight being racked on the front of the shoulder. For this example, we shall use a barbell.
- Get the bar set up in a rack about shoulder height, this will make it easier to un rack and rack the weight.
- The bar is the main factor in a front squat opposed to a back squat. Place the bar so that it sits on top of your front deltoids (just beneath your neck and your clavicle) you’ll soon know if the bar is too high up as you’ll find it extremely uncomfortable. Place your fingers underneath the bar, with your palms facing the ceiling so it forces you to keep your elbows high throughout the movement. If you struggle to get your hands in the correct position due to wrist pain, you can try a cross grip. This time you will place your hands in a cross position over the top of the bar, while keeping your elbows high.
- Once you have the bar set up on your shoulders the following cues are the same as a back squat.
- Your feet should be somewhere around shoulder width, the chest should already be tall as your forcing the elbows to stay up.
- Start the movement by placing the weight onto your heels, continue to force your elbows up while dropping your hips down until your quads are parallel to the floor.
- Ensuring your chest and elbows are still nice and tall, drive through the heel back to your starting position.
- Due to the different placement of the bar, depth at the bottom of the movement may be limited, if this is the case you can place a small ramp under the heel of your feet to allow you to hit parallel, while maintaining the correct posture through out.
Once you have mastered the goblet squat, you are ready to perform a barbell back squat. Although very similar to a goblet squat, with the key difference being with the positioning of the load. The positioning of the load can make it a little unsafe when performed incorrectly. The back squat is one of the most popular exercises with the goal of overloading the quads, glutes and hamstrings.
- Set the barbell up within a rack at around shoulder height, so that you can step into it and easily lift the bar off onto your back. The bar should sit right on your traps so it isn’t putting pressure of your neck. Take a couple of steps back to clear the rack.
- Your feet should be set up around shoulder width with your chest elevated, this will ensure that the weight on your back isn’t pushing your torso forwards. A good tip to ensure your spine stays neutral and that your torso doesn’t drop it to focus on a certain point in front of you and keep your eyes on that point throughout the movement.
- Once you are set up and in your start position, push your weight into your heels and drop your hips back and down as if you are going to sit into a chair while following the cues to ensure your torso is staying upright.
- The bottom of the movement should be met with the quads parallel with the ground and the heels dug into the floor. Once here, continue to focus of the same point and drive your heels into the ground brining yourself back to a straight, neutral position.
- When driving up your spine should stay neutral and your torso should not roll forward, the load should stay on the quadriceps as you drive yourself up.
A Split squat is a great single leg exercise which can be altered the target either more quad, or more glute. You will need something to elevate your back leg onto, typically a bench if you have one available. Start this exercise with just your body weight just to ensure you can balance on one leg. Once you feel comfortable, you can hold either kettlebells or dumbbells either side of your front leg.
- Start by facing away from the bench, place one leg on the bench so that the laces of your shoe are resting on the bench, then take 3 – 4 steps forward with your other leg so that you have a fairly wide distance between your front foot and back foot.
- Once your feet are set up, ensure your hips are facing forward, your toes facing forward and your torso is in a straight neutral position.
- Place all of your weight onto your front foot, ensuring your back foot is ‘resting’ on the bench. Allow your knee to track over your toes and drive down so your front quad is parallel with the ground. Your back knee should also come down but should stop just before it touches the floor.
- Once in the bottom position, drive your front foot into the floor allowing your leg to straighten back up. Your torso should stay in a neutral position and shouldn’t lean to any side at any point of the movement. Your back leg should also stay rested and just ‘follow’ the movement as the front leg does the work.
- Perform X amount of reps on one side, before switching the legs over and repeating on the other side.
- This variation will primarily target the quad due to the amount of steps taken forward. If you want to engage more glutes we just have to change the stance positioning while following the same cues. Take an even wider stance (5-6 steps) forward allowing the glute the stretch more at the bottom of the movement, and focus the driving part of the exercise through the heel rather than the entire foot.
Reece Halsey – Impact personal trainer