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This post is part of a series on breaking down exercises so you can be SAFER and MORE EFFICIENT in your movements.
I think it is safe to say that the majority of us begin our fitness journey, not by taking a course on the muscles and functions of the joints and so on, but by joining a fun class or copying what we see in a magazine here and there...yes? I know that was the start for me! I was in a Spin class not knowing anything about form, safety, hydration, or resistance. Just brought a water bottle with me and trusted the instructor when he said "turn the resistance up" and hoped I did it right. Really, though, I did not learn how I should check that my knees are vertical to my heel when setting up the bike nor the proper way to be up out of the saddle...I just copied the instructor best I could. Pilates, too. Why did my neck hurt during class? The instructor says take it your own pace, so that must mean faster is better? Well no one told me otherwise until I was in a course to become an instructor!
From then on, I have focused on SAFETY and EFFICIENCY over everything else in my classes. Very challenging classes? Oh yes. But safe, and maximizing every minute.
We don't have time to waste as I take forever to show the next exercise, nor do you want to hear me show six variations before you can finally begin. I need to explain quickly, concisely, and clearly to get you started, and then add an array of digestible tips along the way. That is a huge part of my responsibility as an instructor and trainer!
But, I know that many times this doesn't happen in classes we find. Or we are on our own, no class or trainer, and trying to copy what we have seen, not necessarily knowing the components. This can lead to slowing us down by creating poor habits and leading to INJURY.
Talk about NOT being efficient OR safe!
So in this series of posts, I will do my best to break down common exercises, as well as show a number of variations for you to modify, progress, or simply change it up to find the appropriate challenge for you!
Please feel free to comment or send me an email with questions. Happy to discuss anything further.
Squats: What, How, Why
A basic squat is shown in the beginning of the video below. To simplify, a squat can be thought of as 'sit in a chair and stand back up'. (Properly. of course...I'll get there in a sec.)
In the video, you see that my feet are about hip or shoulder width apart, I sit back, sending the hips and butt back towards the wall behind me, while making sure that my knees stay behind my toes while doing this (yes there is a variation where the knees can be forward more, but that is an advanced variation to utilize only sometimes, and I won't get into all that here, not needed!). I think to myself, 'butt back' and 'weight in my heels'. A good test is, at the bottom of the motion (the lowest point), see if you can lift your toes. If you can, chances are strong you have your weight in the proper place from the hips down.
The upper body: you want to engage your core while doing this exercise, so think about contracting through the abs and keeping your back long (aka straight back not rounded back). Neck also in alignment, aka no chins lifting toward the ceiling.
NB: This post keeps the exercises to bodyweight only, but there are plenty of variations utilizing weights, too!
As you stand back up, give a squeeze to your glutes (butt muscles) while moving. The glutes want to get a workout here, so make sure they do! The quads aren't the only ones that should be working, ensure the back of the legs and glutes are as well, and a very helpful way, in addition to making sure your form is on point with each rep, is to engage the glutes as you go to stand back up.
Now after all these details, are you breathing? Mhmm, we MUST breathe. No holding your breath allowed around me (virtual or otherwise)!
We do squats to work our quads (thighs), hips, glutes (butt), hamstrings, calves, and core.
If you are just starting out, stick with this motion. If you are struggling to get the sense of getting your hips back far enough for the knees to stay behind the toes, work on sitting back onto an actual chair. Then when you go to stand up, do not push your knees forward as you do-- Instead, squeeze the butt, hinge forward slightly (straight back as you move the chest a bit forward), and stand.
^If you have been working out for some time but are finding your knees aggravate you or you aren't sure of form, do this version, too!
The first video continues to show variations, the second one adding in advanced variations. Many work the same muscles, they are just of varying difficulties-- or in some, the same difficulty, just keeping things interesting for you. Standing wider vs standing narrower will have the muscles working in slightly different ways, so it is important to play with different widths (not TOO wide or narrow-- hips to just outside the shoulders).
The one that is quite a bit different:
In the plie (plee-ae) or sumo squat, my feet are turned out, and my back is completely vertical. As I bend at the knees, I make sure my knees press back to stay over the heels. So nice hinging forward or sticking the butt back. But, we do squeeze the butt as we stand up. In addition to the muscles worked in a 'regular' squat, you'll be giving extra emphasis to inner thighs and the hip region here.
If you are very tight in the hips and inner thighs, this may be especially challenging. If you are unable to keep a strong form, skip this variation. There are other ways to work the lower body!
Keeping these explanations in as much a vernacular as possible, but it is a lot of info! Again, holler with questions or send me videos of you practicing your squats with a big smile of pride!
Have a great day,
Everything at your own risk. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone. Exercise can be dangerous and can result in personal injury. Any injury sustained from this video or others is solely the responsibility of the exerciser. Kate Cherichello disclaims any liability from injury sustained from the use of posted videos and exercises. It is recommended to consult a physician before beginning any training program.