| May 22, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 6 min.
The squat has been deemed the king of exercises in the world of fitness. When hearing that term, a lot of people may automatically associate it strictly with an exercise to work on your legs. Many people vary in terms of their definition of individual fitness, but squats are a useful exercise and have multiple applications for many goals. While squatting is certainly a useful exercise to develop your leg and hip musculature, here are some other reasons to add them in your routine. But before I begin, I am looking to enforce the idea of the squat pattern as a useful component of a program. I also believe that while squatting is essential, squatting with a barbell is not. Find out which squat style and pattern your body responds well to and aligns with your goals.
This one is pretty straight forward. The main muscles that are used in the squat involve your glutes, quads and hamstrings. A full “leg-day” will typically involve squatting somewhere in the program. The reason is strictly because it is the best bang for your buck exercise for your legs. By comparison, here is a breakdown on the comparison to some leg exercises:
Lunges – limited by the amount of weight you can lift and the balance required will tax your body leading to an accelerated breakdown of form (but still great for any leg workout when implemented efficiently). In fact, there are many unilateral variations where you can really overload and hammer out your legs. Also note that some lunge variations can technically be classified as a squat pattern as well.
Deadlift – for most people, you may be limited by the amount of volume that can be performed. Deadlifts are great, but if you’re looking to specifically target your lower body then squats will save you from dealing with other limiting factors such as grip.
Machine leg press – lack of core engagement and limited carry over to other exercises and athletic feats. Leg pressing can have its place in your lower body workout, but squatting will generally cover your bases better.
Although I am interpreting the above as “limitations”, your body can always benefit from variations such as split squats, front squats, overhead squats, sumo squats, belt squats, etc. The versatility of different types of squats can help shift emphasis on muscle groups if required in your program.
Many people may not be aware of the benefits of squatting to improve the physique of the upper body. Performing upper body exercises in a program paired with squats (not necessarily the same workout) has a whole body effect. Squatting is one of the most demanding exercises that illicit a lactic acid response from the body, the essential thing that causes the “burn” sensation in the muscle. To simplify things, lactic acid is a pre-cursor to growth hormones to be released and flooded through the body leading to positive effects such as muscle growth and fat burning.
So how does that relate to the upper body? Simply put, the answer lies in your heart. Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout your entire body. All that good stuff released from diligent squatting gets circulated through to the rest of your body from your legs when you switch to an upper body exercise to force the heart to bring blood back up to the top part of your body. As a result, your upper body is reaping the benefits of additional gains granted by the lower body.
Of course, the same thing can be said with any other compound lower body exercise such as the deadlift, lunges, step-ups etc. so long as sufficient weight is used to induce sufficient lactic acid buildup in the first place. For more advanced lifters, another alternative can be sprinting if done at a high intensity.
The squat is a whole body exercise in that many parts are involved in the movement of a heavy weight. Of course, the lower body is clear on controlling the force required to move the weight, but other parts play a role as well. To simplify body mechanics, the weight (bar, dumbbell, small pet animal, etc.) is racked on the upper part of the body and the lower body is locked on the floor generating force. In order for both parts to work effectively in unison, there must be support in between. There lies your core, which is braced throughout the movement to enable a proper lift.
Just remember that squatting alone is not the end-all solution for a six-pack. It is simply an effective compliment to a proper diet and consistent exercise regimen.
Note: There are a few variations such as belt squats that don’t quite hit the core the same way. If the exercise requires proper bracing, chances are your core is engaged.
When observing a powerlifter and Olympic lifter, you will notice the one thing they have in common is their proficiency in heavy squats. Many of their programs revolve around it as a foundational exercise to develop their skill. Of course the two diverge in terms of speed and the type of squat performed, but nonetheless it is vital that they simply would not be able to perform well without it. The strongest muscles in the body are the lower body ones that are a direct representation of strength and power.
Sufficiently loaded squats in a well-structured workout program induces a large oxygen deficit post workout. This deficit is the key to which the body can burn fat and improve body composition. This effect can be covered in an entirely separate topic, so I will get straight to the point. When a body recovers from a workout, it must restore itself to a state of normalcy. In order to get there, it requires a lot of energy and therefore must use resources (i.e. fat and other sources of energy) to do so. It is the recovery process where most of the change happens. To summarize, squats will drain the body more efficiently than other exercises causing the body to burn more energy to recover from the stress and leading to a leaner body.
Firstly, to clear the air, squatting does not hurt the knees or any other joint. Squatting will only cause pain and discomfort if performed incorrectly (this goes for pretty much every exercise), barring any other pre-existing injuries or muscle imbalances that may lead to poor body mechanics.
When performed correctly, squatting is one of the most natural movements for the body. Every time you sit up from a chair, it is a squat. A full range of motion squat acts as both a stretch and exercise for many of the muscles involved that carry over to many day to day functions. Frequent proper squatting will lead to improvements in lower body posture. With better posture comes better movement and proper movement leads to less pain as everything moves the way the human body intended.
There are still many people out there that may require additional focus on soft tissue work and mobility before full range of motion squats are feasible; however, simple regressions to even a basic bodyweight squat performed enough times can develop sufficient muscle memory to understand basic form.
While you may be thinking of traditional squatting, unilateral variations such as skater squats, split squats, and the like, are also useful for aiding in imbalances and essentially movement patterns as well.
Virtually every sport in the world involves the use of the legs as a means to generate speed, power, or a demonstration of agility. Squatting allows one to develop the ability to drive more force into the ground; thus, it helps the development of speed. In terms of endurance, this will come down to the proper squatting routine. Additionally, squatting will help improve movement patterns that mimic and are functionally relevant to many sports and dynamic movements. When it comes to squats that are more “athletic” in their set-up and patterns, all the better as these get closer to realistic positions.
Do take note that squatting and sports are a one-way relationship. Squats will help sports, but playing sports typically do not substitute squatting. Just ask yourself, does (insert any athlete here) not squat just because he/she plays (insert any sport here)?
Squats are an essential and useful exercise that can help one accomplish any fitness goal. It is versatile in regards to the ability to regress and progress for people of all fitness levels. Once one is able to achieve proficiency with the right squat exercise, opportunities will open up to work towards any fitness goal. In conclusion, when in doubt, go squat!
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