No matter what your training goals, be it aesthetics, performance, general health or rehabilitation, the squat, and it’s many variations will be an important & vital part of your training. Squats target the entire lower body musculature, the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves and many more, as well as providing strong trunk and upper back work through stabilisation. Because of this huge muscle recruitment, it is a very efficient and effective exercise to use, whatever your goal; a vital movement through life. Like with any exercise, there are potential risks involved so make sure you focus on moving well, achieving controlled full range, before adding load.
The squat is a closed-chain exercise, that being an exercise performed where the hand(s) for upper body movements or foot(feet) for lower body movements are fixed. The hand/foot remains in constant contact with the surface, usually the ground or the base of a machine such as a leg press. The benefits of doing closed-chain exercises compared to open chain exercises are:
- The forces are compressive and not shearing, meaning that it is a lot safer on the joints and therefore will tend to play a bigger role in rehabilitation work.
- Works multiple muscle groups and joints in the one movement compared to the isolation of open chain exercises so greater metabolic effects.
- Replicates movements closer to activities of daily living, so are therefore more functional for real world carry over.
There are many reasons why we should all be squatting in our training, and I will touch on just a few of those reasons below. There are of course contraindications to performing squats, particularly loaded, in clinical cases, which is why expert guidance is key before starting an exercise program.
Squatting for Performance
If sporting performance is a goal of yours then the squat must play a very important role, no matter what the sport. From a rugby player looking for strength in the scrum and speed on the ground, an AFL player looking to improve marking ability, a swimmer needing an explosive turn & take off, or a tennis player looking for quick change of direction and court speed, the lower body strength and power development gained from squatting is an absolute must to be successful. Scientific studies show that the squat jump performance of an athlete is intimately linked to their ability to produce powerful and fast movements in the sporting arena, while also being an excellent method to progress and monitor power and reduction of power in fatigued states. For these reasons, the squat movement and it’s variations play a large role in any athletes training regime, for both performance and athlete fatigue monitoring. (1,2,3)
As mentioned above, closed-chain exercises mimic daily activities as well as sporting activity’s very closely, so the squat is a very sporting specific movement. By closely matching the specific movement patterns of your sport in your training will not only improve your performance, but also limits the risk of injury.
Squatting For General Health & Fitness
Squats are a compound lift, that being an exercise involving multiple joints, because of this there is greater work and stress put on a larger number of muscle groups. By training a larger group of muscles in the one movement there is an increased demand for oxygen to supply the working muscles, which in turn leads to greater energy consumption in a short space of time. Exercises using multiple joints such as the squat lead to greater strength and lean muscle tissue gains through the increased levels of growth hormone and other chemical changes (hormones) released by the body. So, if your goal is to build muscle, to create a leaner physique, to lose bodyweight or to increase your fitness and overall levels, the squat will play a very important role in achieving those goals.
Squatting for Rehabilitation
For lower body injuries such as ACL reconstructions, hamstring tears, and many other acute or chronic injuries to the knees, ankles, hips & trunk, you will need to re-strengthen the associated muscle groups back to optimal levels before being able to return to your chosen activity and remain pain free in day to day life. The squat, with its many variations and difficulty levels, will at some point play a part in your rehabilitation because of its aforementioned benefits of being less shearing on the joints, building strength, and closely mimicking daily activities.
There are of course risks of re-injury if you were to jump into a squat variation which your body is not prepared for, so it is vital you seek advice from your physiotherapist, osteopath or performance coach, who will ensure that you are performing the right variation and the correct technique for your particular issue.
The Many Squat Variations
Below is a table of some of the many variations of the squat, with coaching points and purpose of the movement. It is vital that you are taught correct technique before attempting any of the exercises as with any activity there is an inherent risk. Seeking professional advice from a qualified Physio, Osteo or Performance Coach will ensure safe and effective movement patterns so that you can recover from injuries and reach your goals, whatever they may be.
So now to clarify the “don’t forget the vanilla” part of the title – I love using this analogy. I want you to think about an ice cream shop; the amazing array of flavours, constantly changing weekly to grab the attention of new punters. As wonderful and as fancy as they are, year after year the flavour that keeps the ice cream shop open, the flavour that forms the basis for all the other fancy stuff, is vanilla. If that ice cream shop forgets to include vanilla in its order, things come crashing down very quickly.
Make sense? When it comes to training, be it for strength gains, weight loss, health, fitness, rehabilitation, you can have all the fancy flavours, equipment, movements, gimmicks in the world, but if you forget the vanilla/squat everything else suffers.
Go get Squatting!!
Written by Head Performance Coach David Smith
- Maulder, P.S. Bradshaw, E.J. Keogh, J. JUMP KINETIC DETERMINANTS OF SPRINT ACCELERATION PERFORMANCE FROM STARTING BLOCKS IN MALE SPRINTERS Journal of sports science and medicine (2006) 5, 359-366.
- Baker, D. Nance, S. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STRENGTH AND POWER IN PROFESSIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE PLAYERS. J. Strength and Cond. Res. 13(3):230-235. 1999
- Young W., B. Mclean, and J Ardagna. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STRENGTH QUALITIES AND SPRINTING PERFORMANCE. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fit. 35:13-19. 1995