Squats have to be one of my favourite exercises, since incorporating them into my training and increasing the resistance over the years, I have really noticed an improvement in my overall body composition.
Because they are a compound exercise, they work multiple joints and muscles all at once, meaning they burn a high number of calories, increase your entire body strength, and consequently help you burn fat and tone up. They’re also great for improving your balance, mobility and posture…what’s not to love!
A fabulous as squats are, they are also one of the most common exercises I see being done incorrectly at the gym which can, of course, lead to injury. I’ve also noticed that lots of new gym-goers – male and female – find the squat rack really intimidating. This is totally understandable as, unfortunately, it can often be hogged by Mr Muscle lifting the equivalent of about three people (side note, he’s probably not as scary as he looks…)
However, I am living proof that heavy squats aren’t exclusive to a certain type of person, and don’t make you super bulky (unless you want to be). Last year, I reached a personal best of 80kg for three reps…considering I only weigh around 52kg, I was pretty damn chuffed!
I thought I would put together a guide to help you get your squat on. Whether you are a beginner or a regular who wants a recap on form, hopefully this will give you a little workout boost 🙂
SMITH MACHINE SQUATS:
Nearly all gyms will have a Smith Machine. These are kind of like squat racks, but the bar is fixed and can only move up and down vertically, meaning you feel a bit more supported. Smith machine squats are great to start with, helping you to build up confidence as well as strength, before you move onto free-weight barbell squats. The form is slightly different, but still works the same muscles: predominantly your core, quads and bum.
- Bar should be placed just below the neck. A lot of people position it too high up and complain it’s uncomfortable.
- Position the feet about hip-width apart, quite far out in front of you. Don’t worry if it feels a bit unnatural at the beginning, this is totally normal!
- Engage the core by sucking your belly button into your spine.
- Keep a nice straight back.
- Move the bum backwards as if you were sitting down into a chair, aiming to get the legs to a 90 degree angle.
- Keep the weight of your body in the heels, and squeeze your bum together when you return to a standing position.
A standard olympic bar will usually weigh 20kg on it’s own, but check this with your gym if you are unsure. I’d recommend warming up with this first, then you can start adding plates on the ends when you feel ready. Be sure to clip them into place so they don’t shift around while you are squatting and affect your stability.
- Step under the bar, positioning it just below the nape of the neck. Ensure you in the centre of it with your hands equidistant apart.
- Take a big breath in and lift the bar, sucking in your belly to the spine to engage the core.
- Step back and stabilise: feet should be about hip-width apart and facing straight forward.
- Take another big breath in and, with a straight back, lower the body, pushing your bum out behind you, knees pointed out slightly to the sides.
- Keep the weight always in the heels: this is what activates the glutes and prevents your knees from bending too far over your toes (which can make you feel like you’re going to fall forward, and will put pressure on your lower back).
- On the second part of the exercise, keep the chin and chest up, and drive through the heels. Squeeze your glutes together at the top (as if you’re holding onto a penny between your bum cheeks!).
KEY POINTS AND TIPS:
- Make sure you are thoroughly warmed up. 5-8 minutes on a CV machine and some dynamic stretches are perfect.
- If you find the bar on your neck too uncomfortable to start with, see if your gym has a barbell pad you can use. If not, look at investing in one yourself, as they only cost about a fiver!
- Most gyms have mirrors. Use them to check your form. If can get someone to film you squatting, that’s even better.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a gym instructor or personal trainer for help, it’s what we are here for! They will be happy to give you tips or spot you.
- Start with light weights and build up gradually. It’s more important to nail form first; strength will come later.
- Work within an 8-12 rep range to begin with, 3-4 sets.
BE CONFIDENT and DON’T WORRY about what anyone else thinks. Everyone starts somewhere.