How much should I squat?
A squat is one of the most functional movements out there. One variation or another of this exercise can benefit almost any type of athlete or other individual. Everyone wonders how much weight they should lift, but first I want you to ponder some other points here. The question to ask is: how should I squat, not just how much.
There are a few points I want you to remember here.
1. The stance you take will vary based on your anatomy
There is no perfect distance apart your feet should be. If you have wider hips (like most females), you may naturally gravitate towards a wider stance. I always say just shake the legs out, close your eyes, and then set your stance up based on your first instinct.
One thing that is the same across the board is the feet should remain planted on all four corners during the entire movement.
2. What your knees should be doing
We have probably heard “keep the knees behind the toes.” It may surprise you that this is incorrect, and is actually NOT the best way to squat! The more we drive the knees forward, we are creating more dorsiflexion at the ankle joint, which gives us a more supportive stance in the squat. When I inform new clients of this, they often look at me like I have three heads. Believe it!
What you do want to mind is that the knees do not “cave in” during any point in the squat. You want to make sure you are performing adequate glute activations (especially those lateral glutes) prior to doing your squats. These are the muscles on the sides of the bum that help provide stability in the hip (during the squat and when we do day to day things, like walking). Drive the knees out as you come down, using the sides of your butt (you can have a small resistance band above the knees to help).
3. How low you go will determine what the primary muscles worked are
Ever heard of “ass to grass” squats? The lower past parallel you go, the more you are targetting the glute muscles, by creating more of a stretch with the deeper angle in the hip. Not all of us will have A to G range of motion available so easily…everything from limb length, mobility and strength will determine how long we can go with safe form.
Squatting at 90 or less is going to be primarily targetting your quadriceps. I think it is worth noting that many women are already quad dominant due to the angle of their hips (Q angle), so I generally try and get clients to hit below 90.
4. Tempo matters!
Generally speaking, you can follow a tempo of 3010 in many common “bodybuilding” exercises. You can read more on this in my previous post here.
Once the exercise starts to get tough, it is easy to rush the descent. When we rush on the lowering portion, the muscles are not under tension as long (aka less gains!). Mind your tempo, use a mirror, and lighten the weight if you need to.
5. Front vs back loaded
When you have the weight on the back of the body, as in barbell back squats, we put more of an emphasis on the posterior chain.
In front squats, the quads are usually the dominant drivers. The benefit of front loaded squats is that they force you into a more upright position, improving posture and usually depth as well.
It is extremely important that newly post partum moms don’t rush into front loaded exercises in general. This will put extra pressure on the pelvic floor and healing core muscles.
Increase weight once you understand these principles
If you follow these 5 tips, you should get a better idea of how you can perform a safe and effective squat. Once you understand the mechanics of a squat, you can increase weight as much as possible while maintaining the right form.
However please note that although it is a common and seemingly simple movement, it does require certain cues to be performed correctly and safely. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a fitness professional if you need a hand getting started.