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Squats: A Functional Exercise for Beginners to Experts

By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT
 

When you think of a squat, you might picture an Olympic power-lifter or an athlete in the gym. But a squat is a fundamental movement used every day. 

Getting up from a chair or out of the car is a squat. For athletes, squats can be a valuable component of their training regimen to boost performance.

If you are a beginner, though, don't panic. You won't need anything more than your own body weight and a chair to perform them.

 

Benefits 

  • Strengthens the muscles of the thighs and buttocks to improve athletic performance, such as jump height, speed, and power. 
  • Strengthens the core for back support and injury prevention.
  • Strengthens muscles used in functional tasks such as climbing stairs, reaching to the floor, and standing up from a chair.
    • Quadriceps - the front of your thighs
    • Hamstrings - the back of your thighs 
    • Gluteals - the buttocks
    • Gastrocsoleus – the calves 
    • Core – abdominals, back, and hips
  • Builds bone density for fracture prevention. 
  • Improves gait speed and independence in the older adult. 
  • Reduces hip and knee pain. Technique is important in preventing pain. Discuss with your FYZICAL – Forest Grove physical therapist how to work around any current pain. 

 

Technique 

 

Have you ever seen a toddler get up and down from the floor? They perform a perfect squat, dropping their diapered bottom low to the floor while maintaining the natural curves of their low back. Dropping this low is not an expectation for everyone, though. The depth of your squat will depend on your strength, flexibility, and experience. 

 

  1. Stand in good posture with your feet about hip-width apart. Turn your feet out slightly (0-20 degrees). This turnout can vary from person to person, but this is a good starting point. 
  2. Maintain the natural curvature of your low back as you sit your hips back towards an imaginary (or actual) chair behind you. How low you squat can vary significantly with your current ability and goals.  
  3. Keep looking forward with your chest upright. 
  4. Return to standing, pushing up through the heels of your feet.
  5. Finish by slightly tucking buttocks under. 

 

Common Errors to Avoid 

 

  • Do not allow your knees to drift inward towards each other. Your knees should stay aligned over your feet throughout the movement. 
  • Do not allow your knees to drift forward past your feet. A common mistake when learning to perform a squat is bending with the knees without the hips dropping back. This takes some practice to balance this properly at first.
  • Do not lean your chest forward or bend forward at the spine. Do not allow your low back to round as you lower. Maintain the same spine curvature that exists in standing.  

 

Variations in Techniques 

 

Wall Squats 

Stand with your back against the wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be slightly away from the wall, further for deeper squats. Lower by sliding your back against the wall and return to standing. Progress by lowering the depth of the squat to no more than thighs parallel with the ground.  

 

Box or Chair Squats 

This is a great beginner squat. Stand up and sit down from a chair. If you need to use your hands to do this, progress to not using your hands. Be careful! If this is easy, progress to performing without fully sitting down.  

 

Bodyweight or Air Squat: 

Perform a squat without a chair behind you. No weights are involved. Increase the depth to increase the challenge. 

 

Back Squat: 

Perform the exercise while holding a weighted barbell resting on the upper trapezius muscles. 

 

 

Do not lose the proper alignment and technique as you progress your squats and consult with a certified trainer or physical therapist for proper technique.

 

For further questions about fitting squats into your routine, Contact Us at FYZICAL – Forest Grove. 

 

Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.  

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.   

References:

Yoshiko A, Watanabe K. Impact of home-based squat training with two-depths on lower limb muscle parameters and physical functional tests in older adults. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):6855. Published 2021 Mar 25.

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