What exercise is often deemed the king of all lifts?
You guessed it: The squat. If you said bench, give me five minutes and I’ll convince you otherwise. Why? The squat is more than an exercise; it’s a way of life. There are life lessons you learn under the bar you don’t get from other lifts. When you’re squatting heavy and you descend, you’re putting yourself in danger’s way, but you defy it every time and stand back up. This constant battle between you, gravity, and growth – never stops.
Possibly the best part of squatting is that it never gets stale. With things like squat calculators and programs such as Smolov, you can easily build programs with your training percentages and rep goals, leaving you absolutely no excuse not to squat. Plus, when you’re under the bar you’re honoring strength pioneers like Milo Steinborn (a reason we squat the way we do).
If you still need justification to get under the bar, sit back and stay tight (pun intended) – I have 17 reasons to squat backed by science and reason.
1. Develop Rock Hard Glutes
Squats build the gluteus maximus. This is the largest muscle on the human body and is responsible for a large portion of our power production. The gluteus medius and minimus are also strengthened from squatting, which aid in our lower body strength and stability.
2. Enhance Quad Strength
The quads are composed of four major muscles: Vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. These muscles help support leg extension and protect the knee from instability and poor patella tracking. Also, the quads play a large role in our first few steps of speed development, which squatting will strengthen and improve.
3. Grow Stronger Hamstrings
The hamstrings are made up of three major muscles: Semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and bicep femoris. Hamstrings are involved in flexion, or bending of the leg and act as our natural breaks when walking and running. Also, the hamstrings play a large role in our jumping abilities and sprinting by propelling the body forward as we run.
4. Build Calf Size and Strength
Our calves are predominantly composed of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles help us move faster (increase plantar flexion force), improve ankle stability, and support proper lower extremity mechanics. Strong calves also increase our ankle strength and improve our ability to generate and absorb power through the ground when jumping, lifting, and running. Also, squatting can put our calves through more ranges of motion than static calf exercises can.
5. Increase Jump Height
Squats improve our ability to jump. How? Since we’re strengthening all of the lower extremities we’re increasing our ability to produce power (stronger/conditioned muscle = better power output). A study published in 2012 analyzed 59 participants and their vertical jump while following a ten-week program that focused on three squat variations: Front squat, back squat, and partial squat. Results? Deep full squats improved vertical jump by increasing the ability to develop force.
6. Better Core Strength
In this scenario, I’m referencing the whole torso as the core, not just the abs. When you’re holding weight and moving through multiple planes of motion, the body has to work hard to remain stable and not fall over. This in return strengthens the core as whole, which includes the lower back, inner spinal stabilizers, mid back, obliques, and abdominal musculature.
7. Boost Confidence
When you gain strength your confidence improves, specially with big movements like the squat. Why more with this lift? Well if you’re progressing your squat strength, then you know two things for a matter of fact. First, you’re improving your body’s musculature as a whole – you’re not adding weight to your squat without making the body strong holistically. Second, you’re becoming more athletic by building strength, which improves your ability to be fast and powerful.
8. Build Character and Discipline
Squatting is highly demanding on the body. When you put yourself through a squat focused workout that’s not only physically demanding, but mentally as well, you build discipline. The ability to push through fatigue and pain (relative to squatting, not injury pain) builds an innate feature in the mind that can carry over to real life scenarios. Have you ever noticed that the best lifters often possess the most grit and work ethic?
9. Enhance Power Production
Squats increase our ability to jump, but they also increase our ability to produce power in multiple scenarios. Leg extension, flexion, and hip extension are all key players when we’re sprinting, absorbing force (landing of jumps and braking in a sprint), jumping, and moving weight. You won’t gain power by ignoring the largest part of your body, aka, the lower extremities (legs).
10. Increase and Improve Mobility
Squats improve mobility by requiring the joints to move through multiple planes of motion. When performed with proper form, we improve our ability to move efficiently in multiple positions. Also, the extra resistance helps apply force to put the body in positions it couldn’t reach otherwise. This in return will help us achieve more range of motion.
11. Ramp Up Fat Burn
The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn during the day. Since the squat strengthens multiple large muscle groups at once and requires a ton of energy to properly execute; we’re increasing the amount of calories we burn during a workout with squats, as opposed to something more static (relatively speaking). Plus, the majority of calories burned from working out come after the actual lifting. Since squats require ample energy and effort, the body will be working harder and longer post-workout to repair itself, which increases total energy expenditure.
12. Help Prevent Injuries
A majority, not all, injuries when moving can be linked to imbalances and weaknesses. The squat can help remedy a lot of these like weak hamstrings or hip instability. Along with fixing imbalances and weaknesses, the squat can be a great tool for assessing deficits we may experience when lifting (basically, using proper form to perform a movement diagnosis).
13. Forge Strong Joints
Our joints function best when they’re in constant use and are strengthened properly. When you regularly squat you strengthen and build the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments that make up our joints involved in squats. Along with this, forcing the limbs to move through multiple ranges of motion will help them become accustomed to handling forces in various positions, which can be an injury preventative. This being said, make sure you’re squatting with good form to improve joint health.
14. Enhance Sprint Speed
Sprinting and power production go hand-in-hand. Without powerful leg flexion and hip extension, sprint speed will be compromised. Stronger legs allow the body to dig deeper into the ground (hamstrings) to propel itself forward.
15. Increase Hormone Production
Squats have been shown to improve our natural hormone production (testosterone and growth hormone). While studies are still conflicted about the reasoning behind this, there’s a hypothesis that generally agrees, it’s most likely a reaction to the stress of highly demanding movements and forces, such as free weights.
16. Support Healthy Posture
When we improve our core strength and lower extremities, we improve our posture. Posture is influenced by both anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscles which work in unison to create a healthier body. When performed with proper form, squats can improve our hip health by combating things like the act of sitting all day (don’t forget to stretch and mobilize!). Also, squats build our torso strength to prevent things like internal rotation of the shoulders and kyphosis (hunchback). It’s important to note that stretching and mobilizing are also a keys to improved posture, not just squatting.
17. Create Instagram Content
If the health reasons don’t convince you…posting a great squat video is an awesome way to raise the eyebrows in the social circles around you. First, the opposite sex loves someone who can handle and move weight. Why? Behind every great squat there’s a powerful gluteus maximus, aka a nice butt. Second, you earn respect from other lifters who are on the constant leg day grind just like you.
All that being said, squatting is much more than just another exercise, it’s a means to a more athletic, healthier body. It not only strengthens your muscles, but it influences natural hormone production and builds a stronger mind. So whether you squat for the health benefits or the gram – get out there and get under the bar.
Feature image from @megsquats Instagram page
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.