Updated: Oct 19, 2021
We LOVE a squat sequence in our Barre sessions. Parallel squats, squats in turn out, squats to warm up, squats on a rise, single-leg squats, squats on a yoga blog - a whole array of different squats! I'm working through a fabulous course at the moment and I've learnt so much new stuff about great techniques for lots of different exercises including squats. Today, I'm sharing all that with you to get you squatting better than ever!
One of the reasons squats are always included in our warm-up sequence is because they work your entire lower body as well as your core which is a great way to prep our muscles to get the most out of the strengthening sequences we come to later in the class.
Here's a wee overview of the muscles we're hitting when we squat;
- Your bum! The glutes - all of them; maximus, minimus and medius! Depending on the way we stand, the position of our feet and by adding something like a resistance band we can target either more glute max or glute med/min.
- Your thighs. Front and back; quads and hamstrings. These guys support the movement as you lower down and lift back up supporting your knees and hips.
- Your inner thighs. If you pop a Pilates ball or yoga block in between your thighs you can increase the amount of inner thigh (adductor) work that happens during your squats and it's a great way to get some more work in the lower abs.
- Your hip flexors. These guys are all about supporting and stabilising the pelvis during squats.
- Your calves. Squats are great for putting your calves through a bigger range of movement than other more static calf exercises.
PLUS on top of all those muscles, squats require loads of core control so we're also getting all parts of the core working. Just one exercise and all these muscles working...that sounds like a pretty good deal! If you're still not convinced take a peek at all the benefits you can get from squatting below.
Benefits of squatting
Strengthens the lower body. We've just chatted about how much squats work the lower body and this is a great area to strengthen to help support everyday movement. Every time you sit down or stand up you're basically replicating a squat movement. If you're a pro squatter then you'll be up and down off the sofa like a jack in the box - perfect to nab that delivery from the postman before your other half sees you've ordered another pair of leggings!
Just leading on from point 1, great lower body and particularly glute strength is amazing for improving your running technique. If you're a keen runner, Dr Sarah Duvall has written a great article about tweaking your running technique to get more glute engagement which will make you a speedy gonzales.
Strengthens your core. There are so many great core-specific exercises like crunches and tabletop work that will help get you stronger but they don't necessarily replicate an everyday movement and challenge your core control within that movement. Squats do just that! Think about bending down to pick up something heavy that's just in front of your feet. You'd want great core control while you squat down so you can keep your back safe as you lift it back up.
With all of these muscles working and getting stronger you'll improve your overall balance, mobility and posture which is really important for keeping all your muscles balanced and keeping you injury-free!
I can only assume you're totally convinced by how fabulous squats are now and you must be itching to give them a go. Well, hold your horses a little second and let's talk about great form/alignment so you can make sure you're getting all these amazing benefits from squats.
Start with your feet between hip-width and shoulder-width apart.
Posture wise, you want to be in a neutral pelvis position - have a watch of this video if you need a little bit of guidance on what that is. Keep your chin tucked a little without pulling it all the way down to your chest and relax your shoulders and keep the chest open to avoid rounding across the upper back.
The positioning of your foot arches is important to help protect your knees. If you let them roll inwards towards the floor then your knees will also be pulling inwards so try and keep them a little lifted to help your knees stay tracking towards your second and third toes as you squat down.
As you begin to lower down into the squat you want to think about drawing your bum back and down - that will help you avoid pushing too much pressure forwards and into your knees. See if you can maintain your neutral pelvis position as you come down so you don't end up pulling the tummy forwards and overextending your lower back - you'll know about this pretty quickly as it'll feel like there's a lot of pressure in your lower back and you won't feel like you can get any core engagement.
As you start to come back up you want to drive through the heels (without letting the toes lift off the floor) to help get more activation through the glutes. As you squeeze the glutes try and think about it as a top-down squeeze (top of the glutes rather than the bottom) to help you get great glute engagement without over clenching. See if you can avoid pushing the hips too far forwards as you come up to standing - you just want to come back to your neutral pelvis position so you're not pushing the top of your thigh bone right into the front of your hip socket.
You shouldn't feel any pressure in your back or pain in your knees or hips as you squat so if you are then it's worth practising this technique and doing it in front of a mirror just to help see if something looks out of alignment. If you're still struggling with your squats then just give me a shout and we'll get you booked in for a 1:1 to work on your technique together.
Something I just wanted to add which I personally think is fascinating is how your breathing pattern can help you focus on different goals like more core engagement, help with pelvic floor tightness, or switching off some overactive muscles while you squat. There are 3 ways of doing it that target each of these goals;
Inhale to prepare and exhale as you squat down and come back up. This helps with extra core control as you're maintaining consistent core engagement throughout the full squat movement.
Inhale to lower and exhale to come back up to help with tightness in your pelvic floor and hips. We get a natural contraction of the pelvic floor as we exhale so exhaling as you come up and out of a squat helps with natural contraction and means we're not putting excessive pressure on the pelvic floor.
Exhale as you lower and inhale to come back up to help keep the work focused in your glutes instead of allowing the deep hip rotators to switch on.
Isn't that interesting! Changing something as simple as breathing to get different parts of the body firing while doing the same exercise to achieve different goals that are individual to your needs...ah-mazing.
Squat variations and progressions in Barre
Now you're sold on squats we're going to continue your new love affair by giving you more squat variations than you can shake a stick at. The first way to add variety is to change the range of movement we're working through - we can go from full range to half range to adding some pulses and holds to improve muscular endurance. We can add resistance bands, yoga blocks and a Pilates ball to slightly tweak the muscles that are working and get more core engagement, more inner thigh work and more glute med/min work. We can also add heel lifts to work on your ankle stability and improve overall balance and stability. The options are endless! Take this 10-minute workout to try out some of these variations.
If you are new to Barre and want to join the gang then sign up today to become a member and enjoy a free 7-day trial and a complimentary 1:1 private session. Your monthly subscription gives you access to live classes as well as a whole library of Barre workouts to do in your own time. You'll become part of the most encouraging and supportive team of Barre babes and even join us for regular challenges and Barre retreats.
Sign up now to get started or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.