Why You Should Squat

Our previous blog was on muscle involvement during a squat as there were some misconceptions around that.  This blog is about the benefits of squatting. Squats help you build muscles of the leg, but they do so much more. 

There is no weight machine on earth that can produce the same level of physiological and neurological responses that a squat does. The squat is the best exercise for connective tissue stress and responses, skeletal loading and bone density improvements.  By doing a free-standing compound exercise like the squat, you can reduce the chance of injuries to joints. And, of course, the reason most people do a squat is to get muscular stimulation and growth. 

Done properly, the squat can improve lower body muscular strength, endurance, size, and power.  It is a functional and fundamental exercise because it stimulates overall strength in the legs and core.  As we age, without proper squatting, it will become difficult to get out of a chair or off the toilet.  Here are some of the many reasons we should learn how to do a squat properly:

Squatting is natural and increases functional strength.  Squatting builds functional strength by the sheer nature of its mechanics. Squats stress the entire body through a large range of motion at the hips and the knees.

Humans are supposed to be able to squat and have done so for thousands of years while gathering and preparing food, lighting fires and performing other chores.  Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten how to squat.

More muscular and nervous initiation than most other leg exercises.  Loads of muscles, hence loads of nerves, come into play when you squat. There are many mobilizers, stabilizers, and synergists involved in doing a proper squat. The more you squat the more efficient your nervous system becomes. 

Squatting builds muscles! Squatting has proven to be one of the absolute best ways to hypertrophy the muscles in the legs works more muscles than many other leg exercises.

Squatting makes you look better by toning and tightening the muscles in the leg and butt. There is nothing better than a squat to lift the gluteus maximus and work the quadriceps femoris. Remember that the butt cheeks shouldn’t look like two pancakes hanging on a nail!

Squatting gives you better balance and prevents injuries from falls. Muscles don’t age, but nerves do. Connective tissue and nerve endings degrade over time as we age. Squats improve the innervation between the brain and some of the major muscles in the body.  When the muscles know how to work, you move better. When you move better, there are fewer chances of falling or tripping as your brain is sending the correct messages to your muscles. 

Squatting builds healthy joints.  By the sheer nature of squatting, joints move like they are supposed to.  Done correctly, squatting can enhance flexibility in the joints since you need to go through a full range of motion in the hips, knees and ankles.

Squatting increase bone density in women. As women age, the chances of them getting osteoporosis, the demineralization of bones, goes up - way up!  Osteoporosis can hit any bone, but the most common sites are the hip, wrists and lumbar spine.  Squatting targets the hips and spine and is an excellent way to maintain bone density. (Actually, impact exercises are the best ways to increase bone density or reduce demineralization in the lower legs - but this is about squats and squats are amazing in helping you maintain your bone strength in the legs).

Squatting increases growth hormones and testosterone.  A study done by the American National Strength & Conditioning Association showed that hormone growth does occur when people squat with weights.  When you squat, your muscles are “broken” down. This is the current theory behind delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  When we go through an anabolic state, building muscles up again after exercise, testosterone and other growth hormones send out signals to enhance muscle protein development (namely actin and myosin – the contractile proteins in the muscle cell).

Weighted squats, can increase anabolic hormone release because an increased testosterone production promotes growth hormone production.  Anabolic hormones are vital for muscle growth.  But don’t do a weighted squat until your form doing a body weight squat is perfect. More on this next Blog.

When you exercise, you stress your body. That is, you throw the body out of homeostasis. Hormones send messages to repair the body and put you back into homeostasis.  The number of hormones released is dependent on many factors: How heavy the weight was, the number of muscles stimulated, the number of exercises you do, how much damage was done to the muscles and the amount of repair needed, the amount of sets you do, the amount of rest between sets, the length of time you have been training.

Squatting increased blood flow to the muscles. More blood flow to the muscles means more anabolic hormones reach the hormone receptors in the muscles.

Squatting increase the cells ability to take in glucose.  With heavy resistance, the sensitivity of the cells receptors increases. More glucose received in the cell will cause the receptors (Glut-4 receptors) to allow more hormones to bind to them.

Based on a study done at the University of North Texas, following heavy lifting, hormone levels increase for about 30 – 60 minutes only. The test results showed that deadlifts and squats with heavy weights elicited a much higher hormone response than a bench press or push up did.

Increases sports performance. Squatting can increase speed in a sprint, making you faster and more explosive (strength x speed). A study done at the University of Texas (Journal of Strength and Conditional Research in 2002) showed there is a correlation between strength and speed which plays a role in increasing sprint performance.  Every athlete should be doing squats!

Squats have a reciprocal effect on other parts of the body.  Some studies suggest that because of the increase in testosterone and growth hormones, other body parts that weren’t worked during a squat can grow as well.

The squat is also one of the most debated exercises out there! There are many misconceptions about squatting; they are hard on the knees, going lower is better/worse than going half way - just to name two.  However, if you know how to do a squat properly and understand the mechanics of a squat, then you can easily and safely do them yourself and effectively teach them to others.  Our next blog will be about how to safely and effectively teach a squat.