Have you ever gone to the gym and thought, what am I supposed to do? We get it. The gym – the people, machines, and a multitude of options – can make “being fit” all too intimidating and therefore, it’s easy to give up.
But, here’s some good news: there’s one exercise that can you can make your default movement any and every day of the week. That movement is the glorious squat. I personally believe that there is no better movement than the squat (unless it’s something combined with a squat).
(Heads up: This article will primarily discuss doing squats with your own body weight, which are sometimes called “air squats”. However, the following principles also apply to squats with weights if performed correctly.)
Squats are an innate human function
The first and most important reason why squats are important is that squats are natural. Did you know that you squat multiple times a day? Sitting, standing, and using the restroom all require you to squat. If you want to be a functional human being, it would be a good idea to keep one of your most basic movements in strong working order. The more that you build your squatting muscles, i.e. your quads, hamstrings, calves, and abs, the longer you’ll be able to function normally and even optimally.
Squats increase your mobility and balance
If you’re out of practice, trying to sink into a full-depth squat might not feel very good, or even be possible at this point. That’s okay. You’re just a little rusty. When you don’t practice the squatting movement, your muscles and joints get tighter and less mobile.
This probably wasn’t the case when you were a young child. If you observe children, they naturally squat to full depth with an ease that’ll make you jealous. But once children hit kindergarten and start sitting in chairs more often, their natural flexibility begins to diminish.
That said, it’s possible to get back to our original squatting ability. Do a little each day. If you can’t get all the way down to parallel as in the image to the left, you can use a chair, medicine ball, or some other stable object that can assist you. Make sure not to use the assistance of your hands though, as this will defeat the point of strengthening your legs. Try to go down a little further each day. Before you know it, you’ll be all the way down to parallel and beyond.
Squats increase your circulation
A study published in the American Heart Journal states that “squatting from the standing position increases arterial blood pressure, cardiac output, and “central blood volume” in normal subjects”.
Simply put, squatting gets the blood moving around your body in a more efficient manner. Good blood circulation is imperative to good health because blood carries oxygen to the brain and all other parts of the body. Poor circulation can lead to diabetes, thyroid disease, hypertension, and obesity.
Squats can strengthen your legs and the rest of your body
Squats have the unique ability to encourage muscle development in your entire body. Because squatting is a compound moment that recruits about 70% of your body’s muscle mass, natural testosterone, growth hormones, and other anabolic (building) hormones are released acutely. These natural anabolic hormones are secreted for the purpose of helping your body build muscle. So, don’t neglect your squats because it’s a natural way to boost your ability to build muscle. This is especially the case when you do squats under a heavy weight.
Squats burn fat
When you step into most gyms, you’ll see rows and rows of cardio machines: treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent bikes, and so on. Each of these machines has a “Fat Burning” feature on it. We generally associate fat burning with these kinds of cardiovascular activities, but in squats, you actually also gain the benefit of burning a large number of calories while doing the movement. Not only that, you get the added benefit of burning more calories even after the movement is finished.
This fact is connected to our previous point about muscle gain. It’s been shown that adding one pound of muscle contributes to burning 50 more calories per day. Doing squats is one of the best ways to pack on the muscle. If you were to gain ten pounds of muscle, you could passively be burning an additional 500 calories per day.
In my next article, I’ll share how to squat with the proper form, so you can get the most out of this important exercise.
Original header image from Advanced Human Performance.