Can you remember the first workout move you ever did? No? Don’t worry I’ll help you out, it was the squat. It’s the first thing we do as babies, we do it without even thinking about maintaining that 90 degree angle. We’re naturals at that age! The fairytale would be that we stay that natural forever right? But then life begins , we take different paths, a path that might be void of sports and then one magical day, you find the best sport in the world, *DRUM ROLL PLEASE!* CrossFit!
As CrossFitters we know how integral a good squat is. It’s all over instagram, booty’s are important people! Posts accompanied by one…or in my case, all of these hash tags, #squats #shesquats #asstograss #squatbabysquat…and in my best Sam Smith voice, ‘I know I’m not the only one.’ The squat is an exercise movement that is useful for more than just developing a rounder tush that you can bounce a quarter off of. You’ll see the squat in everyone’s favourite movement…wallballs, yay! The squat, a shallow form of it, is also present in movements such as snatches, box jumps, cleans, deadlifts and kettlebell swings to name a few. Learning and applying proper squat mechanics means that you will be less likely to injure yourself, and will be on your way to a nice juicy butt!
What’s so great about the squat?
What’s not great about the squat should be the question you’re asking! The squat is considered a compound, full body exercise movement and not just for the great butt benefits, do I say that squats should be part of everyone’s fitness routine!
Here’s why: squats are functional and although the muscles that it primarily targets are your quads and glutes (we’ve felt that with Karen!) Squats can help you in promoting better midline stability as you focus on keeping you core engaged, i.e. spine straight and neutral, (no hunching forward,) thereby building strength in your lower back. If you arch your back during your squat, or any movement that begins in a squat, you’re more likely to injure/ hurt your back. Proper squat mechanics should be centred on bracing through your core and making sure that the largest muscle that you have, your quads, do most, if not all of the work. Squats help in promoting mobility and balance by engaging your secondary muscles, known as stabilizers such as your transverse abdominal muscles (this is a muscle layer, considered to be a significant component of your core in providing strength and stability to your thorax…fancy biology term for your rib cage, which stabilizes your body movements,) soleus and gastrocnemius (calf muscles,) erector spinae (the muscles that straighten and rotate the back,) your hip flexors which are important for flexibility and an increased range of motion, as well as your hamstrings. They’re an exercise movement that can be easily ramped up by either adding more reps, or more weight. Squats can be done anywhere with very minimal space and equipment, which is great because it means we’ve just scratched an excuse off of our list.
A good squat shouldn’t cause pain or put strain on your knees and/or lower back. When I injured my back last year, I found out that I have an extra vertebra, if you’re normal, you only have 5 lumbar vertebrae. I have a sixth one, (known as a transitional vertebra) inserted just about my sacrum and coccyx, which can make most movements where I have to bend, i.e. squatting, uncomfortable. My physio taught me this gem of a trick, a hip flexor activation that helps ensure that those flexor muscles are primed and ready to do what they were meant to do. It also takes the strain and pain (nice rhyming skills there right!!!) away from your lower back, which is a common area of pain for those with an extra vertebrae.
How to do it: hip flexor activation
This works best when someone else does it for you, but you’ll reap just as many benefits by doing it on your own/to yourself? Whether it’s you or someone else activating you, you’ll want to lie flat on your back, the floor works best, sometimes I’ve even practiced this standing, keeping a nice tight posture with my core engaged. If you’re on the floor, the idea is to have zero arch through your lower back, your core is engaged, your spine is keeping everything strong. Almost like if someone had to try tickle your stomach, they’d encounter your rock hard abs. While you’re laying on the floor, take the palm of your hand and rub the centre of your stomach, (your belly button area,) for 30 seconds. Then do the same by rubbing both sides of your oblique’s at a 45 degree angle.
Why this works: Something that I didn’t know prior to physio is that your hip flexors should be the initiators of a squat. A hip flexion is created at the bottom of your squat, with your hip flexor muscles, reach their maximal eccentric contraction, in simple terms, this means that the muscle fibres lengthen as they contract, those are the days when all your squats feels easy. This is generally why the wider the range of motion, or flexibility you have in your hip flexor muscles, the deeper and more comfortable your squats will be. You’ll feel your quads contract eccentrically in this downward squat motion. Coming up, your muscles contract in a concentric form, which means that the muscle fibre shortens and your able to utilise your quad strength to bring that booty up.
So there ya have it kids, for a stronger booty, core and quads, all you have to do is squat!