By Dr. Mercola
If you're looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and get some serious results -- fast -- from your workout routine, look no further than the squat.
This is one exercise that should be a part of virtually everyone's routine, as it's relatively simple to perform, requires no equipment, and can be done just about anywhere.
More importantly, although squats are often regarded as "leg" exercises, they actually offer benefits throughout your entire body, including deep within your core…
The Top 8 Benefits of Squats
Most of you know that I'm an avid exerciser, and an avid exercise proponent.
If you haven't yet started a regular exercise routine, you can find tips for doing so here.
Suffice it to say, a varied workout routine of appropriate intensity is one of the smartest health moves you can make, and adding squats to your routine is a must.
What makes squats such a fantastic exercise?
- Builds Muscle in Your Entire Body
Squats obviously help to build your leg muscles (including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves), but they also create an anabolic environment, which promotes body-wide muscle building.
In fact, when done properly, squats are so intense that they trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, which are vital for muscle growth and will also help to improve muscle mass when you train other areas of your body aside from your legs.
So squats can actually help you improve both your upper and lower body strength.
- Functional Exercise Makes Real-Life Activities Easier
Functional exercises are those that help your body to perform real-life activities, as opposed to simply being able to operate pieces of gym equipment. Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there, as humans have been squatting since the hunter-gatherer days. When you perform squats, you build muscle and help your muscles work more efficiently, as well as promote mobility and balance. All of these benefits translate into your body moving more efficiently in the real world too.
- Burn More Fat
One of the most time-efficient ways to burn more calories is actually to gain more muscle! For every pound of additional muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day. So, if you gain 10 pounds of muscle, you will automatically burn 500-700 more calories per day than you did before.
- Maintain Mobility and Balance
Strong legs are crucial for staying mobile as you get older, and squats are phenomenal for increasing leg strength. They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles, which will help you to maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which helps prevent falls – which is incidentally the #1 way to prevent bone fractures versus consuming mega-dose calcium supplements and bone drugs.
- Prevent Injuries
Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. They also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility (squats improve the range of motion in your ankles and hips) and balance, as noted above.
- Boost Your Sports Performance -- Jump Higher and Run Faster
Whether you're a weekend warrior or a mom who chases after a toddler, you'll be interested to know that studies have linked squatting strength with athletic ability.i Specifically, squatting helped athletes run faster and jump higher, which is why this exercise is part of virtually every professional athlete's training program.
- Tone Your Backside, Abs and Entire Body
Few exercises work as many muscles as the squat, so it's an excellent multi-purpose activity useful for toning and tightening your behind, abs, and, of course, your legs. Furthermore, squats build your muscles, and these muscles participate in the regulation of glucose and lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Help with Waste Removal
Squats improve the pumping of body fluids, aiding in removal of waste and delivery of nutrition to all tissues, including organs and glands. They're also useful for improved movement of feces through your colon and more regular bowel movements.
What's the Proper Way to Perform a Squat?
Squats have long been criticized for being destructive to your knees, but research shows that when done properly, squats actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue.ii In the video below, personal trainer and coach Darin Steen demonstrates safe squat techniques for beginner, intermediate and advanced.
- Warm up
- Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart
- Keep your back in a neutral position, and keep your knees centered over your feet
- Slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle
- Return to starting position -- repeat 15-20 times, for 2-3 sets for beginners (do this two or three times a week)
- Breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you return to starting position
Adding Squats to Your Comprehensive Fitness Routine
Exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal mental, emotional and physical health, and longevity. It's really a phenomenal way to get the most out of your life! After reviewing 40 papers published between 2006 and 2010, researchers found that exercise reduces the risk of about two dozen health conditions, ranging from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, even stimulating the regeneration of the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells, providing perhaps the closest example of a real life fountain of youth as we will ever find.
As with most things in life, a balanced routine works best, so you'll want to avoid placing too much emphasis on cardio, strength training or any one type of activity. Many public health guidelines still focus primarily on the aerobic component of exercise, but this limited activity can lead to imbalances that may actually prevent optimal health.
This is why it's so important to maintain a well-balanced fitness regimen that includes not just aerobics, but also strength training, stretching, and high-intensity interval training like Peak Fitness. For instance, Darin recommends beginners do 2-3 sets of squats just two or three times a week -- do it more than this and you will miss out on important recovery time. As always, as you develop a workout routine that works for you, remember to listen to your body so it can guide you into a path that will provide you with the most efficient and effective benefits.