I don’t particularly like to speak in absolutes, and before I get into what I believe to be the most important movement in life, let me just say that a quality training program consists of many different movements and fitness modalities to ensure it’s balanced and effective. Also, I want to make sure the distinction is made that this is not my favorite movement, but rather the movement I deem most crucial for anyone and everyone to incorporate into their training. Now, that being said, if someone were to make me choose one movement as the most crucial of them all I would have to go with the squat. As an American male, I’ve been conditioned to prioritize the bench press as the main exercise to measure strength and athleticism, but I believe this is a flawed mindset. While it’s very sexy to push a bunch of weight off your chest, the benefits of the bench press pale in comparison to the squat when talking about overall athleticism and everyday functionality.
Squat Like A Baby
When most people are toddlers they have excellent lower body mobility. If you have kids or are ever around them check out their technique when they squat down to pick something up. Their hips and ankles are mobile enough to carry out the perfect squat with both feet completely flat on the ground and their butt dropping straight between their legs. Over time people lose this mobility as their body becomes rigid and range of motion is not prioritized. Unfortunately, this can lead to major issues later in life such as decreased lower body strength, diminished balance/coordination and the onset of preventable injuries. Making sure to include squats in your training routine is essential to keeping these problems at bay.
Squat for Functionality
The reason the squat is such a vital exercise is because of its translation into an everyday functional movement. Every time that you stand up from a sitting position you are using the same chain of muscles as a squat. Or squatting down to grab something from the bottom shelf, same thing. Climbing stairs is a necessary part of life and by training your lower body with the squat you are preparing yourself to climb as many stairs as needed to get wherever you need to go. If you have a job that demands you to pick heavy things up on a regular basis, then having strong legs and proper technique is crucial to keeping your lower back healthy. I know that when/if I live into my 80s+ I want to be as mobile as possible and guess what, training the lower body through the squat is the best way to do so.
Your overall athleticism increases the stronger your legs are as well. When you hear the word athletic what comes to mind as a definition? Running speed and power, jumping ability, agility and balance just to name a few qualities. What do all these qualities have in common? They all stem from your legs. The stronger your legs are the more your athleticism increases. Because of this, I would argue that leg strength has a stronger correlation to a person’s athleticism and overall health than most other movements including the bench press. Like I said earlier, as an American male, it’s been ingrained in my psyche to hold the bench press on a strength training pedestal above all else, yet the older I get the more sure I am that the squat is the real hero.
It’s worth is so abundant that it can drastically improve your quality of life.
How To Get Started
The first step in mastering the squat is to learn the hip hinge. If you haven’t already, check out the hip hinge video on my website or youtube page. From there, like most movements, you will start without any weight. This is called the air squat or bodyweight squat. There are a few key components that need to be mastered before moving to the next phase.
- Foot position. People are anatomically different and because of this fact, the same foot position will not work universally. A couple things to keep in mind when trying to find your ideal foot position: your feet need to stay completely flat on the ground with your weight evenly distributed throughout the bottom of your foot. You also want to make sure that your knees are not caving in, specifically when you are driving out of the bottom of the squat. If your feet come off the ground at any angle or your knees start caving in, adjust your foot position to try to negate these problems. Make sure to check out my video on the air squat for more tips on maintaining good squat technique.
- Bracing your core. This is a very underutilized component of the squat. By properly bracing your core you are engaging the muscles around your spine to stabilize and keep it in the safest position throughout the movement. If/when you start to put weight on your body with more advanced squat variations, bracing will become essential for safety and strength output. If you haven’t already, please watch my video on core bracing in the squat.
- Depth. The depth of a squat is going to vary from person to person. Some people are naturally mobile enough to get into a deep squat while others are not. That doesn’t mean you can’t work on getting a deeper squat but it will take time and effort. Also, keep in mind that the depth of a squat can be related to foot position, so adjusting the placement of your feet will sometimes benefit depth. If you haven’t already, check out my video on squat mobilization and depth.
- Air squat
- Goblet/med ball squat
- DB front squat
- Barbell Front squat
- Barbell Back squat
The squat progression listed above is the safest and most efficient way to work up to a barbell back squat. As you start to add weight to your body you need to make sure that your core is strong enough to support your spine throughout the full range of the movement. If you find that your lower body is dipping forward as you push out of the bottom of the squat then you know your core is not strong enough to handle that variation or at least that amount of weight. You must master one variation before moving onto the next.
I know this is a lot of information to process, so if there’s one thing that I want you to take from this article it’s this: any form of squatting is better than no squatting at all. Everyone has different ability, desire, time and devotion, so please don’t feel like you need to be able to back squat 600lb. The act of squatting in any variation helps to increase strength and mobility no matter what your age or lifestyle. So next time you hit the gym…I want to see some squats!!!!