Last week, I kicked off this "Build-a-Booty" series, thinking it was going to be two posts total. Now, I'm thinking it'll be more like three or maybe four posts, since I got a bit carried away because I just love this stuff. I wanted to give my personal favorite exercise, the squat, all the glory it needs in this second part of this bun-tastic series.
In the first part of the series, we covered the glute bridge, which is an ideal exercise to start your booty-building journey with and it's also a stepping stone you should master before progressing to the squat. Once you've got it, step right up here!
The all-heralded squat.
Okay, so this is an exercise I believe pretty much everyone should be doing or working towards getting to do.
Why? Because it is one of the best compound exercises for your body- the epitome of a full-body movement. Aka this exercise gives you a whole lotta functional bang for your buck, so pause your donkey kicks and come join the squat squad where the magic happens.
Even this dog knows whats up. Although, if you're taking tips on form from this, I actually give the dog's the nod of approval over this mans... Sorry dude!
Before we go into specifics of technique and very basic variations of the squat, I'd like to cover some ground on the reasons and "myths" you may have heard pertaining to the squat and why you might be unnecessarily avoiding them:
1. "I have bad knees."
- Here's the thing- unless you have some legitimate structural issues with your knees, you do not have bad knees. Your knees hurting when you do squats is very likely because:
- The most probable culprit here is probably your lazy a**. No, I swear I am not insulting you! Your butt is literally being lazy. Your glutes aren't firing like they should, thus not giving you control over the stability of your knees and your knees are probably collapsing toward each other like you have to go to the bathroom.
- Poor form. See further below in article for how to properly squat.
2. "Your knees should never go over your toes when you squat."
- Yes, you shouldn't be shoving your kneecaps forward when you squat, that much is obvious, BUT! Biomechanics must be taken into consideration.
- Take me, little 5'1" me, with not the longest legs in the world, versus Shaquille O'Neal at 7'1". Biomechanically speaking, I have a major advantage on Shaq- I don't have very far to go to squat down to the ground, and I can easily keep my knees behind my toes when I squat. It's unrealistic to expect Shaq to keep his knees behind his toes with those mile long femurs and tibias (thigh and shin bones) no matter how much he properly sits back with his hips. Everyones squat looks different.
3. "You shouldn't squat below 90º, it's bad for your knees."
- I try to avoid being the girl that said "I can't. I just can't," but oh my gosh when it comes to this one, I. Just. Can't.
- Okay but for real, unless you have some structural issues like a hip impingement (oh wait, that's me now, SO SAD), a squat where your hips are lower than your knees is much more beneficial, engages the hamstrings instead of solely being quad-dominant, and actually places much less force on your patellas (kneecaps) than a squat above 90º. Not saying that everyone needs to squat ATG (a** to grass, for you non-fitness nerds), but aim for that sweet spot below 90º. No quarter squats here, please.
4. Squats on the Smith machine.
- Hm. This one is tough to bite my tongue on my true feelings, but I will say this. Using a machine to help you stabilize and maintain control on your squat is like using a crutch to walk. You aren't really walking or reaping in the full benefits of it if you're glued to a crutch.
Of course, these are all pretty general statements, and there are some exceptional cases- hate to break it to ya, but much more often than not...you're probably not an exceptional case here.
Now onto the fun stuff!
How to drop it like it's hot. Easy as ABC.
*I corralled some of my finest fellow trainers to help demonstrate these below, since my hip is having a post-surgical separation from my beloved squat. Thank you guys!
A. Basic Bodyweight Squat
The lovely Ann Nicholas of Ann's Fit Body Fitness and Nick Rodocoy of Rodocoy Fitness, both of whom I'm lucky to call my coworkers, show us some great form on a basic bodyweight squat. Let's break these down:
Pretty solid squat. Foundational things to take notice of with Ann's squat and keep in mind when you are squatting:
- Ann first sets up properly with her feet a bit wider than hips width apart, toes turned out about 15º.
- She begins her squat, initiating the movement with her hips by sitting back as if she were to sit in a chair.
- Her heels stay nice and flat on the ground, showing solid ankle mobility.
- Her torso is nice and upright- no hunching shoulders, back is strong and neutral.
- From the front view, you can see how her knees track directly in line with her toes, and do not collapse inward toward each other- no lazy butt for her!
- As she stands up in between each one, she stands nice and tall, squeezing her glutes to make sure she reaches full extension with the hips.
Now it's Nick's turn.
Like I said, everyones squat will look different in some ways. Obviously, Nick has a different body structure than Ann, so here are some new things to take notice of on Nick's squat:
- Nick first sets up properly with his feet a bit wider than Ann had- this can allow for a bit more ease of mobility and can help you increase your range of motion in your squat. His toes are also turned out about 15º.
- His torso is nice and upright- you'll notice that he has his hands behind his head as opposed to Ann with her hands held in front of her chest. Having your hands behind the head is a good position to help lock your upper body into a nice postural alignment if that is something you are struggling with. You want to keep your chest up and shoulders back.
- As you can see, Nick demonstrates complete control and stability over the exercise. His core holds him strong throughout, and allows his legs and glutes to do the majority of the work as they should. You want to be deliberate and controlled with your movement, and not collapse down into the squat like Jenga blocks.
- Don't mind his face toward the end of the video- poor Nick, we were all making faces at him and he was trying so hard not to laugh!!
Now we'll talk about 1 common beginners regression and 1 common beginners progression of the bodyweight squat.
B. Box Squat
Box squats are an exercise in their own right, but for this posts purposes, I am explaining it as a learning tool.
I will start a lot of my clients with this if they are having trouble grasping the feeling of learning how to sit back properly with the hips and are just pushing the knees forward and bending there to get closer to the ground. It just helps to give more feedback of how low and far back they should be reaching with their behind.
Now the Josh Knappenberger, or as I like to call him, Joshy-bear, shows us how to box squat. Don't mind the intensity of his facial expression, this is how he looks whether he's lifting 5 pounds or 400 pounds and it's awesome.
Things to note with Josh's box squat:
- He purposefully did this extra slowly so we could see how he really reaches back and down with his hips to reach that box, while maintaining a rigid and stable torso.
- As you can see, he lightly touches the box with his butt and doesn't collapse or crash into the box.
- A common mistake people will make with these is to sit down onto the box like they're ready to flop back on a poolside recliner chair. You want to almost imagine like there is a water balloon on the box. You want to touch it gently with your bottom, but don't put too much pressure on it or too fast because it will explode on you!
- Josh also does a great job at driving steadily through his legs on the way up from the bottom of the squat. He doesn't flail his arms out or start arching his back to wiggle his way up.
C. Goblet Squat
Now Darwin Diaz, aka Coach D, shows us a Goblet Squat with a kettlebell. Yes, we are all jealous of his ridiculous mobility.
Things about the Goblet Squat:
- Because Darwin is holding a weight in front of him, that pulls his center of gravity forward. To resist that and not fall forward, he has to focus even more on sitting his hips back as he squats down, to counterbalance that pull forward.
- I find this to be a fantastic exercise to help my clients learn how to keep that strong posture and core strength through the squat movement- if they don't hold that posture and core properly, the movement simply won't work.
- Goblet squats are also much more challenging for the anterior (front) portion of your body. Your core has to engage more, and because of the forward directional pull of the weight, your quads are more dominant in this movement. But don't you worry, there's still plenty of glute activation happening.
- Darwin's mobility and stability are both so good that it's actually really crazy how much of an upright torso he can maintain and drop straight down without so much as a bobble. He makes this look easy, but I promise you, it's quite challenging!