Going to the gym and doing a strength training workout is one of my favourite things in life. Which is one reason that I find London such a bloody infuriating place to live. Basically all the gyms are incredibly busy and there is nowhere to park. Half of the time when I go to the gym it’s impossible to get the squat rack…..which is why I go at 5 in the morning. But I digress.
I encourage almost everyone that I speak to in my life to start doing some squats. When I say everyone I mean those whom I speak to about exercise.
The reason I encourage as many people as possible to start doing some squats is for one very simple reason: squats are phenomenal. It is my firm belief that if you are interesting in getting stronger, or physically better in any way, that squats should be an essential part of your training diet.
All of us should aspire to get stronger as we age. Increasing our strength keeps us young and vital, prevents injuries, and combats muscle and bone wastage. Squats are the most effective exercise in existence for building strength throughout the whole body. This is because they are the only exercise which allows us to train the entire posterior chain in a way which can be progressively improved over time (Rippetoe, Starting Strength, 2013).
Too many people are scared of squats. Many people have heard some rubbish such as ‘squatting is bad for your knees’ or ‘lifting weights will make me big and bulky’. Rubbish.
Squats, like anything else, have to learned properly and practiced until perfected. They are not difficult to do – in fact squatting is the most natural movement in the world once we know how to do them correctly.
Some people hate going the gym for a variety of reasons and I can understand this. Living in London I have my own gym frustrations (and I love the gym usually): it’s too busy, it can be hard to find a good one, there is a cost involved, nowhere to park etc etc. However even if you dislike the gym, I would still urge you to introduce some (weighted) squats into your life.
Squats alone can be very valuable
Personally I would say that almost everybody should be involved in some kind of full-body programme involving squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, and rows. However if you are not interested in building ‘full body’ strength I would still encourage you to at least do some squats 2 or 3 times per week.
Squats strengthen the legs, back, ass, and abs. They also help to build the neuro-muscular system and strengthen the heart. They improve balance and coordination. But the biggest advantage is that squats have huge carryover into every other type of physical activity.
If you are a runner, cyclist, footballer, tennis player etc, even in a casual sense, then your performance can be improved improving your squat strength. By increasing your squat strength you are improving both your leg strength and the overall strength and power of your body……which of course is beneficial for almost any sport.
Bang for your buck
For those people that find going to the gym a struggle, I would say that squatting can be even more useful. Squats are how you get the biggest bang for your buck in the gym. Or put another way, they are how you get the biggest return for the time you invest in your training.
If you are one of those people who dislikes the gym and only goes because you think you somehow ‘should’ be going…or the doctor told you to, then squats are definitely for you. If you want to spend less time in the gym or want to see some real, tangible progress, then make some heavy squats your priority for every session. If you want to fuck about on the machines after that (a complete waste of time by the way) then go for it.
All it takes is about 25 minutes of your time. All it takes is a short warm-up using just the barbell and increasingly heavy weights. Then 3 work sets of 5 repetitions using a weight which has you struggling slightly on the 5th rep f the 3rd set. Then come in next time and stick another 5kg on the bar…..rinse and repeat. Once 5kg is too much each session, add 2.5kg per session.
That’s it. That’s all it takes to introduce the most important strength exercise in existence into your life. If may be the only strength training you need for the moment. And it may provide you with innumerable benefits which carryover into every area of your life.
But won’t I get big muscles????
For God’s sake ladies (Mum!). No, you won’t get big muscles. And you should stop worrying about looking like some ridiculous skinny model anyway and think about being strong, healthy and useful (or good at sport at least).
Big muscles on women usually require an unhealthy dose of steroids, generally speaking. And for those women who are incredibly muscly without drugs, they tend to have dedicated a significant portion of their life to training a lot and eating enormous quantities of food. Or its genetic – eg Serena Williams, but these gals are the exception rather than the rule.
In fact, girls who squat tend to have better-rounded, sexier bodies in general. My girlfriend squats (and deadlifts) and she is the sexiest woman I know. She’s not big and muscly, but she is strong.
There are many ways to learn
To say that you don’t know how to squat and that you are worried they are dangerous is just an excuse. A very poor excuse.
Whilst I fully believe that asking a personal trainer to teach you to squat is suicide (most of them wouldn’t know a correct squat if it danced naked in front of them), there are many excellent resources online which can help you learn by yourself. It takes 20 minutes.
My best advice is to read the great book Starting Strength, by Mark Rippetoe. I read this book 3 years ago and it’s still the book I turn to anytime I want to brush up on my technique or teaching knowledge. Or visit the Starting Strength website (no I’m not affiliated, it’s just an amazing resource).
Whatever way you decide to learn to squat, make sure you learn properly and thoroughly. Then practice and make sure you are adding weight over time. A strong squat carries over into other areas of life (including confidence!)….so make sure you are not missing out.