With the massive explosion of Crossfit and the ever-increasing awareness of the benefits of resistance training, more women are venturing into the heavyweight area of the gym, which is a great thing to see. Women often bring the required passion and drive that is often missing in this testosterone-fueled iron game.
One exercise, that has been discovered by women, doing wonders for their bodies, is squats. No, we are not talking about the 100 rep bodyweight squat, but of the ‘poundage on your back, guttural inducing’ real heavy squat. Forget about long and slow cardio or pilates. Squats is the move that will shed body fat, build sleek, sexy muscles, and get you in peak shape.
Squats are known as a compound exercise. This means that they target more than just one muscle group. In fact, this simple movement directly stimulates every muscle group in the lower body. The prime movers are the inner thighs, the butt, and the hips, which are areas that most women have difficulty in shedding weight with.
Indirectly, squats also provide a workout to the muscles of the upper body. It also provides great cardiovascular benefits. Especially, by taking deep breaths between each repetition and forcing the air out of the body on the ascent, the heart and lungs will be working overtime to support the work of the muscles of the body. This ensures that a ton of calories is being burnt and that the cardiovascular system is getting a rev up at the same time.
It’s worth checking out Lift Bible, a weightlifting blog with tons of squat exercises and guides on the best products to work with.
How to Squat
If you’re a squatting newbie, begin with basic body weight squats to perfect the form.
- Stay in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, your eyes focused on the ceiling, and an arched lower back.
- Place your hands on your head.
- Lower your body to a seated position by pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
- After a slight pause, while still keeping your back straight, push through your heels and return to the start position.
Perform your body weight squats with a smooth and rhythmic cadence. Take a pause of 4-5 seconds per repetition and focus on feeling the work that your thighs, glutes, and hamstrings are doing.
Sets and Reps: Perform body weight squats every alternate day for two weeks. Three sets of 15 reps will have you primed to move on to Barbell squats at the beginning of the third week.
Adding Some Resistance
Preparation: Place an Olympic bar on the squat rack. At a weight of 45 lbs, you won’t need to add any added weight. However, ensure that you use a pad in the middle of the bar to protect your neck.
- Position yourself under the bar and lift it off the rack.
- Step back and stand with your feet spread slightly wider than shoulder width and pointing slightly outward.
- Keep your back straight, your chest thrust out and your head up.
- Now tense your abdominal wall, bend you knees and lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the floor. To avoid excess strain on the knees, don’t go down any further. While squatting, keep your head up and your back slightly arched.
- In the bottom squat position, your lower legs should be almost vertical to the floor. Push through your heels as you return to the starting position.
Breathing: Because squats comprise of an aerobic component, it is vital that you use proper breathing technique. If you don’t, you may start to feel light headed after a few repetitions. As you lower yourself, breath in deeply. On the way back up, forcefully expel the air in one breath. During the final few repetitions, take two or three quick breaths between reps.
Sets and Reps: Perform weighted squats twice a week as the first exercise of your lower body workout. 3 sets of 15 reps should be performed with a rest period of 1 minute between sets. After 2 weeks, consider adding extra resistance to the bar. Begin with 2.5 lb plates, increasing by 1 lb increments progressively as you get stronger.
What Not To Do When You Squat
- Squatting over a bench: Every time you touch the bench with your glutes, your spine will compress slightly. Over time, this may cause vertebral damage.
- Placing a block under your heels / turning your toes too widely outwards: Both of these will place unnatural stresses on your knees and, over time, can lead to injury.
- Leaning too far forward: Not only does this increase your likelihood of suffering spinal injuries, it also takes the stress off the quadriceps and onto the trunk extensor muscles.
- Allowing the knees to ride over the toes while allowing your heels to lift off the floor: Keeping your lower legs almost vertical may feel unnatural at first but it can make the difference between injured and healthy knees. Keeping your shin bones vertical drastically reduces your risk of injury.
Essential Squatting Footwear
When you position yourself under a bar loaded with metal plates, you turn your body into a load bearing structure. Like any structure, your body then will only be as good as your foundation. That foundation is your feet and what they are encased in. You need your feet to be solid, firmly keeping the load in place without compression.
On most women’s shoes, a raised heel is a merely a cosmetic addition that, in the long run, proves damaging to the mechanics of the ankle. When it comes to weightlifting shoes, the opposite is true. A raised heel has a very functional reason for being. It will place your ankles in the correct alignment with your spine as you both descend into the squat and rise out of it. That will relieve pressure on your lower back and prevent you rounding your back as your lower into the squat and push out of it. The raised hell also serves to transfer the body’s energy directly into the ground without the danger of having to move your ankle position.
In addition to correct ankle alignment, the top women’s weightlifting shoes will also ensure that there is no lateral movement. When you’re squatting the last thing you want is for your foot to move from side to side. A quality shoe will provide an effective Velcro strapping system in addition to a good lacing system.
Another consideration in selecting the right weightlifting shoe is the floor grip. A quality shoe will keep you firmly planted, even when moisture and sweat act as lubricants. The construction of the sole should be such that it firmly affixes to the floor. Some weightlifting shoes feature clever cutout designs on the soles to provide an almost glue-like grip on the floor.
The Bottom Line
Squats are an exercise that can easily polarize people. There are those who swear by them as the key to a sculpted, shapely, healthy body. Yet there are also a vocal group of people who associate the movement with muscle-bound meatheads and grunting Goliaths. These folks will tell you that the exercise will do two things
– ruin your lower back and build unsightly muscle all over your legs. The truth of the matter is that squats are the key to unleashing an athletic, shapely lower body and a healthy interior. So, forget the naysayers and get squatting!
James is a fitness fanatic and spends his days digesting new findings and research about how to optimize the human body. He blogs at GarageGymBuilder.com and occasionally tweets @garagegymguide. You can stay up to date with his site at his facebook here.