If you have stepped into a commercial gym in the past week, you have seen evidence of the “Resolutioners Phenomenon,” in which gyms become swamped for the first month of each year by folks who have resolved to…
- “get healthy”
- “lose weight”
- “get jacked, bro”
- “do ALL the Pinterest workouts”
- “shed the baby weight”
- “go to the gym 10x per week”
- “look hot naked”
- “look like Gerard Butler” [I applaud you.]
- “compete in a bodybuilding show”
- “do curls in the squat rack all day long”
- “grunt louder than anyone else in the gym”
- [etc, etc, etc]
Losing weight and/or improving health is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions that people make. Whether it’s due to the obesity epidemic we’ve got going on, or the culture pressure and body-shaming that is unfortunately so prevalent, I’m not sure. Either way, these kinds of resolutions end up with a lot of not-necessarily-experienced people jumping headlong into fitness routines. That can be a wonderful catalyst for healthy change and improved quality of life if done the right way. Most people don’t do it the right way.
Here’s the truth: Going to the gym without a plan [and a good one, at that] is going to get you halfway results at best. I’m also of the firm belief that the top two greatest influences over your health are nutrition and overall lifestyle – including sleep and non-exercise activity thermogenesis [general activity outside of sleeping and sitting still]…but formal training is still crucial, so let’s focus on one thing at a time.
Obviously your particular training program depends on your goals, current fitness level, and unique body structure. I’m not your trainer […but if you want me to be your trainer, get in touch! I offer both online and in-person training.], so I can’t customize a program for you. What I can do is outline 5 basic exercises that should make up the core of any quality strength training program.
[Sorry, I’m a little bossy.]
This will be a series of posts highlighting a handful of multi-joint exercises that should be included in any quality training program, including why you should do them, key points for keeping good form, and links to video tutorials that will help you further understand proper form.
Today, we’ll start by “dropping it like it’s hot.”
Or, you know…squats.
Squats are one of the best exercises you can do for your body. Everyone that is able should squat regularly. [If you have any joint issues or preexisting injuries, you should consult a trainer in person for help on how to adjust squats or find a substitute that works with your routine.] When done properly and with a sufficiently challenging load, squats engage nearly every major muscle group in your body. In addition to increasing muscular strength and power, squats are a “functional” movement. Functional training is one of the most ambiguous buzzwords in the fitness industry right now, but because they strengthen the entire body and improve balance and upper-lower body coordination, squats truly are a functional movement. If practiced regularly and in good form, squats will make you better able to execute any other physical task or activity. There are arguments for which squats are most beneficial – back squat, front squat, overhead squat, barbell squat, dumbbell squat, – but so long as some squat variation is trained consistently [and again, with good form], you’ll be reaping all kinds of benefits.
Plus, squats help build your rear end into something that looks like it was sculpted by Zeus himself.
Here’s a good video tutorial for squatting. [Eventually I plan to make my own, but for now, I’m going to have to “outsource.”]
“How to Squat with Perfect Form”
Some points on keeping good form:
- Breathe! Don’t hold your breath, and don’t hyperventilate. Exhale as you squat down, and inhale deeply as you come up from the squat. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but it is actually more efficient and works with your body’s structure and movement rather than against it.
- Do not allow your back to round. You want your spine to stay straight from your tailbone all the way up through your neck. Make sure you are initiating the movement from your knees [as he demonstrated in the video above], and slightly arching your lower back if necessary to keep it from rounding..
- In a back squat [shown in the video], the bar should rest across your trapezius muscles, or your upper back. You don’t want it resting against your neck, nor do you want it so low that you have to use your arms to hold it up.
- Keep your shoulders back. Try to pinch your shoulder blades together to keep them from rounding forward or hunching up to your ears.
- Keep your chest high. Some people have a tendency to slump their shoulders down/forward and let their chest sink in when squatting [often as a response to the weight of the bar]. This is bad news because it lead to your back rounding.
- Keep your head straight and eyes forward [no leaning your head back or dropping it down]. Your neck needs to be kept straight just like the rest of your spine.
- Contract your entire core throughout the movement. If you haven’t been doing this already, you’ll be surprised at how difficult it is and how much more power and stability it gives you in the squat.
- Fully extend your hips at the top of the movement. By contracting your glutes tightly at the top of the movement, this should happen fairly naturally.
- Keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet and push through your heels as you stand up. This is where flat-soled shoes, or even training barefoot, become beneficial.
Trust me, I could go on [there’s just so much when it comes to squats!], but I’ll spare you. Keep in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg – you should put a good chunk of time into mastering your squatting form before you consider using any serious weight. Good form comes as a result of quality teaching [tutorials and good trainers], dedicated practice, and time. Give it a go, be patient, and enjoy the process.
And, of course, buy a pair of tight pants that will show off all your hard work.
But I shouldn’t need to tell you that…