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Squats are one of the best exercise you can do. Not only do they work all of your major lower body muscles, they are also the key to a firm butt and healthy knees, and are a very functional movement too.
Every time you sit down and stand back up again, you are doing a squat. Climbing a flight of stairs is a series of one legged squats. Going to the loo? That’s a squat too! If you lose your ability to squat, many of the tasks that you perform on a daily basis will become very difficult, if not impossible. It’s safe to say that if you lose your squat, you could lose your ability to live a productive, independent, life.
Squats are also an excellent exercise for strengthening your hips and knees and the muscles that support and stabilise these essential joints. They can also help maintain mobility and flexibility in the lower body — something that can be lost if you spend a lot of time sitting in a chair or are otherwise sedentary.
As a weight-bearing exercise, squats are also important for preventing osteoporosis — a serious medical condition characterised by fragile bones prone to fracture.
Of course, if you are going to get the greatest potential benefit from doing squats, you need to do them properly…
Squatting for success
Even if you have been doing squats for a while, it’s worth revisiting your technique to make sure you are doing them right. Poor technique might not cause you problems today, this month, or even this year, but can accumulate over time and lead to problems eventually. Squat properly from the outset and you can avoid many problems before they start.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes facing the same way as your knees. This is generally slightly outward — the “five to one” position on a clock face. Shoulder-width feet give you space to descend safely and also ensure your inner thighs get worked too.
2. Make sure your feet are and remain flat. Your weight should be toward your heels so you can wiggle your toes in your shoes. Weight on the toes places stress on the knees.
3. Initiate your descent by pushing your hips back just before you bend your knees. This maximizes the involvement of your butt and hamstrings and also prevents your knees from travelling too far forward which doesn’t do them any good. Try to keep your knees behind your toes and your shins close to vertical.
4. Consciously push your knees outward to stop them dropping in as you squat. This provides your butt with a better workout and also keeps your knees tracking properly.
5. Descend smoothly until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. You can go a little deeper if your flexibility permits but avoid going too deep as it places more stress on the knees. Control your descent and do not just drop into a deep squat.
6. It’s okay to lean forward slightly but do your best to keep your chest up and your lower back arched rather than rounded. One way to do this is place your hands behind your head when you squat.
7. Stand up but do not lock your knees at the top. Keeping a slight bend in your knees will avoid hyperextension which could lead to soreness.
Following these guidelines should prevent most squatting-related injuries and provide you with many years of productive and pain-free workouts.
What to do if you have knee pain
If you perform your squats properly, you minimize your risk of suffering knee pain. Strong, mobile, stable knees are much more injury-resistant. However, even the most proficient squatter can have knee pain from time to time.
Knee pain can be caused by several things from simple overuse to severe wear and tear of the hyaline cartilage that covers the ends of the bone that makes up the knee joint. If pain is severe and affects your ability to walk, you should seek proper medical treatment. However, if you suffer from minor knee pain, follow this action plan:
Some exercisers may need to modify squats to make the easier on the knees. For some people, this means not squatting past parallel while for others, static wall squats may be a better choice. And as good as squats are, if you do too many, you run the risk of suffering overuse injuries.
Listen to your body and don’t be a slave to your exercise program; if something causes you discomfort, even something as unquestionably beneficial as squats, look for the next best alternative.
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Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Didi Emokpare
Content provided in partnership with Radiant Health Magazine