From Charles Poliquin
The full squat is unquestionably the single most productive exercise you can perform. No other lift works as many major groups as thoroughly or with greater intensity, making it a superior fat burning exercise.
To give you a full understanding of the benefits of squat training, this tip will start by addressing three myths about squat training, and then tell you why and how to squat for best results.
Squat Myth #1: Squats, especially heavy ones, will widen the hips. The squat works the gluteus maximus, but because neither its insertion nor its origin of attachment is at the hips, when it develops, it grows back, not out. Wide hips no, a firm, rounded booty? Yes!
Squat Myth #2: Squats, especially deep, below parallel squats, are bad for the knees. The opposite is true! Concern about squats being bad for the knee stems from two areas: First, people who train partial squats with poor form will complain of knee pain, often because they have muscle imbalances in the thigh from doing squats incorrectly. If they were to train them correctly, and did structural balance exercises, the majority of knee pain would go away.
Second, there is a misconception that it is bad for the knee to travel over the toes, which supposedly puts excessive shear force on the knee. In fact, your knee travels forward over your toes any time you walk up or down the stairs. Not only that, studies suggest that the greatest shear force on the knee is at the start of the squat when the lifter initiates the bend of the knee. The force in the lowest quarter of a full squat places much less force on the knee.
Squat Myth #3: Squats are bad for the back. This myth comes from trainees squatting too heavy with bad form. Some trainers recommend squatting with a flat back, which is nearly impossible to do on account of the natural curvature of the lumbar spine, and it reduces the ability of the spine to absorb or distribute the weight of the moving bar effectively.
In addition, research suggests that when trainees do partial squats with heavy loads, it is common for them to overload the lumbothoracic spine. Instead, technique is paramount, trainees should strive for optimal structural balance, and going all the way down with progressive overload is critical.
How Should You Squat?
Obviously, all the way down. Be sure not to relax or bounce in this bottom position because the knee joint opens up slightly, exposing connective tissue to stress levels higher than their tensile strength. A controlled pause in the bottom position is perfectly fine as long as you keep the muscles under tension.
Take note that there are many variations of the squat—front, back, dumbbell, single-leg, rear-foot elevated, and split squats. Training suggestions of each is out of the scope of this tip, but generally, split squats are where you should start, next progressing to the front and back squat, and using single-leg training to maintain structural balance.
Why Should You Squat?
Simply, it works so many muscles in one exercise that it’s a great bang for your buck exercise: the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, and even requires stabilization of the abdominals. Squat training will improve your functional mobility, help you run faster and jump higher, and elicits a significant fat burning hormone response.
For more squat and lower body training tips, check out the new edition of the Poliquin Principles from which many of these points are taken.
Marshall, P., McEwen, M., et al. Strength and Neuromuscular Adaptation Following One, Four, and Eight Sets of High-Intensity Resistance Exercise in Trained Males. European Journal of Applied Physiology. November 2011. 111, 3007-3016.
Lorenzetti, S., Bulay, T., et al. Comparison of the Angles and Corresponding Moment in the Knee and Hip during Restricted and Unrestricted Squats. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.