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Squats: The lower body exercise that works your whole body

Squats are good for every age group and every muscle group, too.
Squats are good for every age group and every muscle group, too. Getty Images

As one who enjoys working out, I’ve learned that if you desire to get in better shape, you cannot shy away from difficult exercises. As a matter of fact, when you embrace a difficult exercise, you guarantee that your fitness level will improve. When we challenge our bodies with more work than they are accustomed to, we activate the God-given ability of our bodies to adapt to the challenge. Your body has no choice but to become more fit.

For me, squats are one of those challenging exercises. For those unfamiliar with squats, they involve bending at the knee as if sitting down, squatting down until the top of the thighs are parallel with the ground, and then rising back to the top to complete one repetition. Squats stimulate several muscle groups, including the quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), glutes, and to a minor degree, the calves, as well as the lower back and abs.

Squats not only strengthen the muscles listed above, but because they stimulate so much muscle, they stimulate the body to release more of a hormone called Growth Hormone, which contributes to muscle growth all around the body. This effectively makes squats a full body exercise. Now you see why I say that they should be a part of everybody’s exercise routine.

Now, some of us have to take extra caution when doing squats because, although they are a great exercise, they can aggravate knee issues and other problems, even when done correctly. I want to give you a few variations to try that will hopefully fit whatever your ability and fitness level allow.

Squats with a chair: These squats are nothing more than practicing sitting down in a chair and rising. Use a chair that allows you to bend your knees at least 45 degrees before sitting down, or however low you can go without causing knee pain. When sitting, focus on sitting back with your glutes to prevent your knees from going over your toes. This helps to protect your knees.

Wall squats: Stand with your back against the wall and your feet approximately two feet in front of you. Slowly lower yourself until your quadriceps muscles are parallel to the ground, or before experiencing discomfort. To increase the difficulty, hold the squat for a few seconds before standing up. This variation emphasizes the quadriceps.

Body weight squats: Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Squat down, allowing your glutes to travel back as if you are sitting in a chair, and lower yourself until your quadriceps muscles are parallel to the ground, or before experiencing any discomfort. To make this more challenging, add a jump to the top of the squat, or perform the weighted barbell squat, where you hold a barbell across your upper trapezius muscles.

Always make sure that you consult your doctor before beginning anything new. Also, make sure that you feel no bad pain when performing any of these squat variations.

Another thing to consider is the results that you desire from squats. If you want to maintain muscle tone and to perhaps increase your endurance, you should increase the amount of reps that you perform over time to at least 20 per set. If you desire to build muscle, make sure that you’re only able to perform roughly 8-15 reps per set, which means that you would either add weight to the squat, or find some other way to increase the intensity.

How are you incorporating squats into your exercise routine? Email me and let me know!

Macon resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, podcast host and owner of the health/fitness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. E-mail him with your questions at shawn@yourhealthatthecrossroads.com or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.

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