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Squats: Your Key to Elite-Level Fitness

The typical fitness program is doomed to mediocrity. For proof, just visit any gym and peek in at the fitness classes. You generally don't see paragons of fitness, even among people who have been going for a long time. Why is this so?

The reasons mostly have to do with a failure to elicit the body's adaptive response. Properly done squats solve this problem.

The typical fitness program:

  1. Burns calories, but does not keep burning them after the exercise session is done.
  2. Does not induce a strong adaptive response, if any.
  3. Does not induce the proper hormonal environment for burning fat and adding muscle.
  4. Sacrifices intensity for ineffective repetition, resulting in overtraining.
  5. Takes up too much time, making it hard to stick with.

The answer to these problems is a high-intensity compound exercise that requires a combination of strength and balance. Very few exercises fit this description. All of the ones that do are difficult to learn and perform, but the effort can pay off big-time. Roman deadlifts are one such exercise. My favorite, however, is the squat.

The squat has several variations, such as:

  • Back squat. Do not do this exercise. Period.
  • Sissy squat. It's really not for sissies. It's hard to do.
  • Hindu squat.
  • Front squat. This is highly effective. It is my primary choice.

We will cover these squats briefly, after covering a few squat tips:

The Not Squat

Leg press machines are not squats. There is no balance involved. Ditto for Smith Machine routines.

The lunge is similar to the squat, and it's a powerful exercise (Arnold used to do these across the White House lawn when he was dating Maria). But we aren't talking about lunges here, and the squat provides additional "work your core" benefits.

Learn proper technique

Improperly done squats give you injuries instead of results, so you need to know what you're doing and pay attention to technique when doing it. Oh, and by the way, properly done squats improve the back and knees rather than wear them out.

Squat Tips

  • Learn proper technique from a qualified person.
  • When applying what you learn, feel what you are doing. Don't just go through the motions of raising and lowering a weight and think you did something useful.
  • This isn't a "leg exercise," it's a body core exercise that requires bending your legs.
  • Do not bend your back.
  • Squats require attention to balance and breathing.
  • Don't let your knee extend past your toe.
  • Focus not on completing X number of reps, but on doing each rep maximally. If you can do only one good rep, that's better than 6 or 8 poor ones.
  • When you're done, consume a goodrecovery drink for optimal results.
  • Consume carbs and protein within 2 hours. For example, a six-egg omelet and a mango or a goodprotein drink and some raisins.
  • Allow plenty of recovery time between squats workouts. One week is probably the shortest possible; more frequently than that works against you.
  • If you are also doing deadlifts or similar, then switch those off with front squats.
  • Do not do any other exercises on squats day. Your body simply does not have enough energy and other resources to permit that.

Squat Types

All proper squats, when done correctly improve balance and work the core. For all of these, go slowly and exhale when raising your weight and when lowering it. Here's more info on four common variations.

Back Squat.

  • Tip: Put the bar across your upper back, not your neck.
  • I don't recommend even doing this squat. It's very difficult to do in correct form. A mistake in form puts extreme stress on your stabilizer muscles and spine, which is why so many people have wrecked their backs doing this exercise.

Sissy Squat.

  • Tip: If using a door jamb, don't grip it; let your hands slide along it.
  • This really is not for sissies. It burns the quads and, if you do the breathing right, really works your core. Make sure you pause at the top and again at the bottom, so you aren't bouncing. The two mistakes made by beginners are bouncing up and failing to go down far enough.

Hindu Squat.

  • Tip: Keep your eyes straight ahead to help you keep from falling forward.
  • This squat has other names, and you will also find it used in the Asian martial arts. It builds endurance and strength in the legs. The key is to keep "knee over toe," so you don't blow out your knees. Some practitioners elevate their heels to help accomplish this. It really burns the quads, and also stresses the plantar flexors. Martial artists rely on it to improve balance and build explosive power.

Front Squat.

  • Tip: Balance the bar in place, rather than hold it there.
  • Don't view this as a leg exercise. View it as a core exercise. Breath so you are contracting your abdominal cavity and putting pressure on your pelvic floor. The effect should feel like you are wearing a girdle. In fact, you are. It's a girdle of muscle. You work those muscles when you do this correctly. The result is a huge increase in strength. This also boosts testosterone for a week to 10 days.


Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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