Squats – The #1 Exercise You Should Be Doing
The humble squat. It’s not only one of the most effective moves in the gym, it’s also one of our most primal movements. Humans have been squatting for about as long as we’ve been on this earth!
Yep, that’s right. Long ago, before we all started sitting in chairs (which I’m sure you’ve heard is horrible for our health) squatting was our default rest position. And for many traditional cultures, this is still the case. These people experience significantly lower levels of back pain and even digestion issues, as squats are great for supporting spinal health as well as aiding physiological processes in our bodies such as digestion and elimination.
And just as we should eat as our bodies were designed to eat – we should move as we were designed to move!
Why Squats Are King (or Queen) of the Gym
Beyond the great benefits for our spines and digestive system, squats also happen to be the powerhouse move when it comes to building muscle, getting lean and adding shape to our bodies.
In fact, squats are one of the most powerful compound movements that our bodies can perform, alongside deadlifts and pull-ups. Squats tax pretty much all of the muscles in our legs. These include some of our very largest muscle groups – our glutes (yes!), quads, hamstrings, and even calves. To top it off, squats also recruit our core stablising muscles.
There’s no doubt that squats are a tough move. This is what makes them capable of sending a strong signal to our central nervous system, which in turn stimulates our bodies to produce hormones that promote strength and muscle growth. The result? Squats will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes your exercise routine.
Equally, this is why you should never neglect squats and become distracted with isolated movements like bicep curls or crunches. Sure, it’s completely fine to do isolated moves like these in your workout, but think of them as “accessory” moves that come secondary to compound movements like squats to get the best results.
Do I Need to Squat Heavy?
If you want to achieve maximum growth of healthy, lean muscle mass – i.e. a great butt and toned legs – YES.
Even if you’re a girl? YES.
Even if you have no idea about the weights section of your gym? Double YES!
Ok, I might have gotten a bit carried away there, but I do believe (based on research and my own experience) that the best results come when you add weight to your squats. Even so, if you prefer bodyweight or one-legged squats, these are quite energy intensive and will still add a lot of value to your workout.
The reason I like squatting with weight is because it stimulates the central nervous system like nothing else. When you squat heavy, your central nervous system gets the message loud and clear: “Hello – some serious shizz is going on down here!“. Your brain then gets the signal to evaluate the production of anabolic hormones, and this is where the magic happens.
Anabolic hormones are those that encourage cellular growth. The main anabolic hormones that contribute to muscle growth are testosterone, growth hormone and a thing called insulin-like growth factor-1 (1). Yes – you too can boost up your testosterone production, and no it will not turn you into a man!
Squatting with weight will give you the best shot at increasing anabolic hormone production, which is both healthy and critical to gaining lean muscle at the gym. In my own experience, using weight has given me much better results in terms of strength, definition and the smoothness and tone of my legs. When you start training with weight, you’ll never go back – the results are significant, and can come rather fast (especially if you’re supporting your body with the right nutrition).
If you’ve never squatted with weight on your back, I encourage you to give it a go! Keep in mind that it’s super important to squat with good form, so until you have the hang of it, it’s not a bad idea to build up to using the bar with some free hand weights. Then keep squatting, increasing the weight as you gain strength – and see the results! (wow – nice butt!!)
Do you use squats in your workout routine?