I don’t like weak, stringy limbs. Being strong and toned is what I wish for. If you are like me, read on.
Some people enjoy cardio and avoid the heavy lifting so they don’t get massive. This is a myth. Muscles are sexy, healthy and functional.
If you do a cardio routine and you want to strengthen your body but are not sure where to start, I’m going to show you one of my favorite leg exercises:
It is versatile when it comes to building wonderful and sexy strong legs. Let me explain this exercise and see why I’m such a fan of it. I’ll add many videos to help guide you:
- How to build them into your exercise
- Proper technique
- Common mistakes
- Variations to the exercise
- Advanced variations
- Using weights
Squats are amazing because they work so many large muscle groups, including:
- Quadriceps (rectus vastusintermedius, femoris, vastuslateralis and vastusmedialis)
- Gluteus maximus
- Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus )
- Back (altissimos does and erector spine)
- Core (rectus abdominous, obliques, transverse, low back stabilizers, gluteal muscles, etc)
These muscles are necessary when you stand up or sit down. For instance, from a bed, couch, chair, in your car, etc. You stand and sit all day. Have you ever thought of your position or if the proper muscles are working? Probably not.
Your everyday routine could be injuring your body and after many years of bad form, your back and knees may start to bother you.
- Straight back, eyes forward, lifting chest
- Knees following over your 2nd toe
- Shoulders down and core activated
- Square feet, shoulders, and hips
- Toes and heels pressing into the floor
These facts have been proven false. Physical and personal trainers and doctors may not be up-to-date with these facts, so speak with an expert if you have questions.
- Knees Can’t Fall in Front of Your Toes
In case you fall into your squat and bouncing at the bottom with your knees practically touching the ground, you should know that this can be dangerous. A controlled squat with the knees just beyond the toes is perfect for strengthening the quadriceps.
- Knees Can’t Pass 90˚ Angle
It’s all about watching your low back and hips. If you see that your back starts to round and your pelvis is rocking then you should finish the squat just about that point. It doesn’t matter if you’re at 45 or 90˚ or 110˚. It’s more about your form than the depth.
- Squatting is Bad for the Knees
If you have a physical deformity squatting may be bad. If you have sore knees and it isn’t a structural problem, squats may be exactly what you need. The quadriceps muscle is responsible for controlling the movement of the knees. If a knee is misaligned or wobbly, you may be causing injury and repetitive stress. Strengthening the quads allows better control, less repetitive damage, and more strength.
- A personal trainer is always a good idea.
- Knocked knees and wobbly knees
- Rounding back when you squat too deep without proper technique
- Chest hinging
- Absence of control leading to falling into the squat and bouncing on your heels
- Not going low enough to get the full benefits of the squat
- Going too much weight or too low with poor form
If you think you suffer from any of these mistakes, watch the following videos to correct them
Shoulder Flexibility and Tight Hip
Wobbly Knees and Falling Into the Squat
Rounding Back and Poor Mobility with a Deep Squat
Variations of the Basic Squat
Always try different variations to your squat stance, weights, and movement patterns. This way you
continue to challenge yourself and avoid boredom.
Each position has its own benefits. They target different muscles. Most people can get a deeper squat with a slightly turned out stance. I love sumo squats.
- Narrow – feet touching or closer than parallel
- Sumo – maximum external rotation of hips, with knees and feet in line
- Parallel – feet facing forward and in line with your shoulders
- Wide – heels outside of shoulder, feet turned out ~45˚
- Turned out – heels in line with your shoulders, feet turned out 30˚
Continue to strengthen and increase your flexibility, you will go deeper and begin to carry weight. Your form may change as you add weight. Here’s a video by personal trainer, Nick Tumminello on the problem.
I like to challenge myself with a warm-up on a wobble board. These should be done with very light weights or body weight only to engage your core and stabilizing muscles.
Using the leg extension or leg press will isolate your quadriceps and will remove the full body and core engagement. I’d recommend you free weight squats. Ending your squat workout with machines is a great finisher if you can’t concentrate on perfect form.
Variations with Weight
Goblet squats are my favorite to start the beginner off. Hold the weight up at your chin, maintain a flat back and keep your attention forward.
Holding two dumbbells by your sides is a classic free weight squat. Be sure that your chest is lifting as the weights can cause your shoulders to rotate forward and round your upper back.
Barbell squat is the best way to squat heavy weights. Dean says front squats are the best. If you have injured or inflexible wrist and shoulders, use straps or towels to hold instead of the bar.
There are infinite variations. These are some of my favorites.
Single Leg Squats
Combining Upper Body Exercises
Jumping Squat Variations
Plyometric Box Squats
Squat variation into your routine rely on the squat you do. You are either doing:
High Rep and Low Weight
- These are lightweight, body weight or plyometric movements can be included into the exercise routine as active break for 10-20 repetitions.
- Form is not as critical to safety, but still important
- High repetition as a metabolic activator of fast twitch muscle fiber
Low Rep and High Weight
- High weight in repetitions of 3-10 and sets of 3-6 with a suitable amount of rest
- Form is absolutely critical due to the heavy weights that could cause serious injury
- Strengthens slow twitch muscle fibers to build and tone quads and glutes
Be careful: These exercises are great for toning, building muscles, and improving lower body strength. If you want to target your cardiovascular system and endurance then these exercises may not be the right for you! Consult your physician before beginning any exercises and find out what type of exercise is best for you and your body.