THE SIMPLE BARBELL back squat, and the many squat variations, are favorites among powerlifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes for one simple reason: squats work.
Squats are not only effective for building an insanely strong lower body, but also because they deliver a number of ancillary physical benefits, including increased hormone release and improved flexibility.
Weirdly enough, though, squats have a mixed reputation in some circles. We’ve heard plenty of gym myths around squats that simply aren’t true.
Still in doubt? Here are seven reasons why you should make squats a staple of your weekly routine.
1. Squats increase hormone release
Total body exercises are potent stimulators for muscle-building hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. Because they involve almost every muscle in the body, they cause a great stimulus for growth. Load up a challenging weight to reap the anabolic hormonal benefits that will help you build muscle everywhere—not just your lower half.
2. Squats enhance core strength
Since squats are typically loaded from top to bottom, either in the form of a barbell or a dumbbell, your core has to work overtime to prevent injury and maintain an upright posture. In terms of building your six-pack, heavy compound exercises like squats should be a staple. Include front squats, which involve a barbell held in front of your body, for an increased core demand.
3. Squats improve flexibility
By moving your body through a full range of motion, you’ll not only build strength, you’ll boost flexibility as well. Deep squatting helps to increase range of motion in the entire hip complex. The benefit: reduced back pain and an easier time getting around in daily activities or sporting events.
4. Squats reduce your chance of injury
Boosting the muscles surrounding your knees and hips is a quick method to reduce your chance of injury when jumping, running, and doing almost any activity. Squats build your glutes, hamstrings, and quad muscles—primary stabilizers when you’re cutting and moving on the playing field. Include both single and double leg varieties to help bullet-proof your lower body.
5. Squats create a stronger lower body
This may seem like common sense, but squatting varieties are key for developing lower-body strength. Although machine exercises like leg curls and leg extensions may target the quads and hamstrings, squats utilize almost every lower-body muscle in unison, which translates to real-world strength. Since you aren’t locked into a machine, you’re also building stability and exposing potential imbalances between your left and right side. If you notice your hips shifting from side to side during the movement, put aside your ego and work on single-leg exercises to shore up your hips. You’ll be better off for it.
6. Squats increase vertical jump
Having hops on the court isn’t only correlated with genetics. The ability to extend your hips powerfully is a key factor in increasing your vertical leap. Luckily, squats build hip-extension strength. As a bonus, squats not only help you produce power, but also help you absorb it. Absorbing impact translates to fewer injuries as you’re coming down from getting a rebound. Include both heavy squats to build strength and lighter, quicker reps to boost explosiveness.
7. Squats improve your workout efficiency
Forget spending a few hours in the gym hopping from machine to machine in search of a good workout. Introduce a few sets of heavy squats into your routine, and you’ll see what you’ve been missing. This total-body move will jack up your heart rate and leave your legs burning in no time. You’ll have more time left over to hit your core or add some foam rolling and stretching into your routine.
by Jeremey DuVall, M.S., C.P.T.