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Squats Build Better Butts

Barbell Squat Starting Position
Barbell Squat Middle Position
Dan Reynen demonstrating
the starting position above.
Below is the positioning at
the middle of the squat.

For lower body exercises, nothing beats a squat. In one up and down movement, you work your glutes, hamstrings, quads and a host of assisting muscles. The trick is doing it properly. First, let me clear up a couple of misconceptions people have about squatting.

The first myth is that squats damage knees. The logic behind it is simple. As your body drops down, there is increased force put on the connective tissue of the knee. With increased force, it's reasonable to believe there would be a greater risk for injury or damage.

In fact, when performed properly, the increased force helps build and strengthen the connective tissue of the knee. Long term studies on people who engage in significant amounts of squats over long periods, such as Olympic lifters, show no increase in knee laxity or damage.

One of the earliest controlled studies that looked into the potential for knee damage was conducted at Auburn University in 1989. Researchers there found that over the course of 8 weeks, the participants who performed squats actually had stronger ligaments than the ones who didn't squat.

When we exercise, the purpose is to stress the muscles. When our bodies recuperate, the muscles adapt to the stresses, heal and come back stronger. It's the people who don't do squats which are at greater risk of knee injuries.

The second squatting myth is that it builds big butts. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it does is tighten and firm the gluteus maximus (butt muscles). If you're worried about your butt getting too big, step away from the pizza and Twinkies, not squat exercises.

If you're ready to really work your lower body, this is how to properly execute a barbell squat.

Start by adjusting a squatting rack so that the bar is 2 to 4 inches lower than your shoulders. Then set the safety (those bars at the side that will catch the weight should you need to drop it) at waist level.

Place the bar just above your scapula (shoulder blades) and below your upper trapezius on the "shelf" that forms behind your shoulders at the top of your back.

Now stand in what I call Position One. That's where your feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes out 20 to 30 degrees, keep your knees slightly bent, make sure your hips are flexed, lean with your trunk slightly forward with your weight kept over the ankles. The scapula is retracted and depressed with a natural arch in the lower back. Head should be looking straight with your eyes ahead.

Bend your knees slowly while inhaling. Drop your butt back as if sitting in a chair while maintaining spinal alignment. Keeping the weight over your ankles, continue to descend until your legs form a 90-degree angle OR your thighs meet your hips.

Hold at the lowest position, keeping the tension in your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps while stabilizing your trunk.

Exhale as you extend your knees, hips and return to the starting position. Remember to keep your weight over your ankles. Once you're at the top position, you've just completed one rep.

There are a few key points to remember. Make sure your knees are aligned with your feet; both your head and neck are in alignment with your spine while keeping your weight over your ankles. The weight should be evenly distributed between the balls of your feet and your heels. Keep a natural arch in your lower back throughout the entire exercise. Avoid over-arching the back.

Now that you know how to do it properly, there are some things you should never attempt when squatting.

  • On top of the list is never twist your body while holding weights. The shearing forces can wreak havoc on your lower back, hips and knees.

  • Don't show off by loading up with more weight than you can reasonably control.

  • Finally, whenever possible, try and avoid doing squats on the Smith Machine. Because of its rigid path of movement, your body may not be able to shift properly, creating shear forces on your knees and spine.

Are you ready to include squats in your workout routine?

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