3 Best Squats You Must Master
Feb 15, 2019
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Anyone who takes their physique seriously knows they cannot overlook their legs.
Real bodybuilders admire those massive striated wheels when they see them. But very few people are willing to put in the work necessary to acquire them. While machines can add some nice finishing touches, the bulk of your leg workouts should be based around compound free weight movements. One exercise in particular must be the foundation in your leg workout regardless of your goals. The all-mighty squat.
Squatting is a function everyone should be able to do without pain or compensations. Even if you don’t have a goal of gaining large amounts of muscle, you must include squats to maintain an adequate level of mobility for daily living and recreation. A good squat means you can stabilize your spine when lifting and during hip flexion to avoid injury from everyday functions (like moving furniture). Including various forms of squats in your workout program benefits you in many ways such as increasing testosterone and growth hormone levels, facilitating stronger neural connections and intermuscular coordination, and also improving CNS efficiency.
Along with being a functional movement to improve mobility, squats also grow and define your legs like no other leg exercise. When you perform a squat with a full range of motion (below parallel), your glutes are heavily recruited along with all the quad muscles. It’s very important to have adequate mobility to squat with a full range of motion. As you increase depth, glutes become more heavily recruited. Hamstrings will be used, but to a lesser degree. There is no other exercise that will get as much out of your quads and glutes in one movement. Additionally, your deep core stabilizers such as the transverse abdominis and internal obliques are strengthened. That translates to more stability and power in just about every single exercise.
The Different Types Of Squats
There are many squat variations that change muscle recruitment slightly. The first type of squat to master is the bodyweight squat. If you can’t do a body squat with proper form, don’t expect to do so with weights.
Some other useful variations of the squat are:
- Sumo Squats: These are typically done by holding the weight between your legs in a wider stance with your toes turned slightly outward. As you squat, drive the knees out over the toes and don’t allow your torso to lean beyond a 45-degree angle. This version of the squat will get more of your glutes, hip muscles, and adductors involved and your quads less involved.
- Split Squats: For this version you perform a squat unilaterally by splitting your stance. Propping your foot up on a bench or box behind is the preferred method. This forces more recruitment from your core and other stabilizing muscles. The glutes are more heavily recruited than in traditional squats with less quad involvement. This is a good choice for someone who has muscular imbalances in their legs and would benefit from doing unilateral work.
- Overhead squats: Overhead squats are a great tool to help illuminate your muscular imbalances. You may have perfect form when you squat with weight on your back but in the overhead position your spine may fail to maintain a neutral position. Or your knees may turn inward. The overhead squat is much more taxing on the whole body, requiring excellent thoracic and lumbar mobility as well as stabilizing the shoulders under load. The overhead squat targets all the same muscles as a normal squat but adds more shoulders and stabilizers in the back. This is a great exercise for overall mobility.
- Squat Jumps: Squat jumps can be done with or without weight and are done by performing a squat and powerfully jumping out of the squat. This builds explosiveness and power and is a staple for any athlete. This move also burns a lot of calories and pushes the heart rate up fast. They are a good option in HIIT workouts. All the same muscles will be recruited as a normal squat with more emphasis on fast twitch muscle fibers and the calves.
The Big 3
While all the above squat variations can be implemented and have benefits, the next three are what should be considered the essentials. If done properly they will lead to complete leg development and optimal mobility throughout the hips, spine, ankles and knees.
Back squats: are the bread and butter of any leg routine. Unfortunately, many people are performing them in a less than optimal way and risking injury. This video covers some of the common mistakes lifters make. Once you have the form down, you can load up the weight more on the back squat than any other kind. The barbell back squat will most likely lead to the largest amount of muscular growth in your legs. There is simply no substitute providing all the benefits of this one movement.
Front squats: would be the next most important squat. While many people have an adequate level of mobility to perform full range of motion back squats, they may be lacking in areas required to execute the front squat. Tightness in the downstream arm and spine often prevent people from correctly performing this exercise. However, when done properly, front squats are easier on the knees and recruit more hamstrings, quads, and spinal stabilizers than a back squat. They are perhaps the best way to add mass to the quads specifically.
Pistol squats: are the most challenging type of squat to master. They are the ultimate testament of lower body mobility. If you can perform a full pistol squat, then you have full mobility and range of motion in your hips, ankles, and spine. If you can’t perform a bodyweight pistol, you can use a weight to counterbalance yourself or something to hold onto for support. The important thing is to keep your hips properly aligned and not sacrifice form to reach a full range of motion. Once mastered, start adding weight for some massive gains in your quads that can rival the back and front squat.
Your Leg Day Routine
When performing your leg workout, start with the squat that’s going to benefit your goals the most. If you’re looking for just overall size and strength, go for back squats. Maybe you think you need more emphasis on quads and hamstrings instead of glutes. In this case, start with a front squat. If mobility is your main priority, then pistol squats will be your first stop. Keeping this in mind, here is a layout for someone who is at an intermediate level with a main goal of strength and overall leg development.
- Barbell Back Squats 3×5
- Stiff Leg Dead Lifts 2×8
- Front Squats 3×10
- Weighted step ups 2×12
- Bodyweight pistol squats 3×15 (add weight once mastered)
- Leg Extensions 2×12
- Leg Curls 3×12
- Calf Raises 5×15
- Don’t perform two squatting movements back to back. There is a lot of overlap in the muscles used, so performing multiple squatting exercises one after the other will fatigue your stabilizers making it more difficult to achieve maximum recruitment from the targeted muscles. Alternate squats with other exercises that use different recruitment patterns.
- Start heavy using lower volume in the beginning. Try using a rep range of 1-5. This low rep range will require explosive energy to fuel the movement. Creatine Monohydrate gives you the ability to do extra reps while improving recovery time. When doing a heavy explosive compound lift like a squat, your body’s primary fuel source is ATP. Creatine helps your body produce more more ATP, which translates to more explosive energy when working out. Creatine Monohydrate and Sheer Strength Labs Creatine work synergistically, making your journey to an amazing body quicker and easier.
- Remember your specific goals and your body will ultimately dictate the squats you choose to do. For example, someone who has a bulging disc would want to avoid back squats. Instead, sumo squats are a better option. Perhaps you are recovering from an injury to your leg and have muscular imbalances to address. In this case split squats would be preferred to bilateral counterparts.
- Leg day is typically the most intense and fatiguing workout. Supplementing with Sheer Strength Labs Pre Workout gives you an incredible boost of energy at the gym — a boost that can cannot be replicated with any other kind of supplement. One scoop of preworkout and you will have the energy to blast through any barrier in your way. Do your own research to see how sheer strength labs pre workout can help you increase your energy to levels you have never imagined.
No more excuses for missing a leg day. You’ll never build impressive legs if you only work them on machines. Identify which squats put your goals in your grasp quickly instead of just admiring them on other people.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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