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‘Shut up and SQUAT’

Squatting is one of the three universal lifts to adding mass aside from deadlifts and bench press. If I had to choose, squats are primarily the most effective way to develop colossal size thighs. The major benefit with this exercise is their overall convenience. Squats can be performed basically anywhere at anytime. This creates diversity because in most traditional lifts, you need either a machine or weights; this however is not always the case when performing squats. It is a total body exercise that involves a strong back, core, and not to mention legs. The squat can be broken down into 2 main sub-units; muscle groups targeted, and types of squats.

If your thinking about including squats into your workout routine, you must first ask yourself why are you doing it in the first place? Are you just tired of leg press, or are you ready to finally put some size on those quads? Once this dilemma is over, you may then decide on your problem areas. For most people, they want to focus on a specific muscle group on their legs that are lacking proportion. In most cases, the inner quads (vastus lateralis) are much smaller in symmetry as compared to the outer quad region (vatsus medialis). If you’re the guy who squats and your knees bend inward on the concentric part of the lift (pushing from ground up), this may be your lucky day. Generally, we work our medial quad more often, and thus leave the muscles on the inner thigh to be weaker in comparison. This weakness causes the inner quad to almost buckle as the outside pushes against it. One way to effectively work this inner thigh region is through sumo squats. Before I explain the sumo squats, you must first understand how the traditional squat works.

When I start a client on squats who is brand new to this exercise, I try to allow them to envision themselves sitting down in a chair and standing up with perfect form. First, position your feet shoulder width apart with toes slightly facing outwards. Next, keep your back slightly arched and look directly upwards toward the ceiling. This will ensure proper back posture and extension of the spine. The next step is the hardest because you must remember so many instructions, but this eventually will come natural. I use a box for my clients to squat on, so that it offers a state of comfort in case they feel like they are falling back. With the heels and toes planted firmly in the ground, the squat is allowed to commence. As you lower yourself to the box, remember to NEVER let your knees come past your toes. This puts tremendous stress on the patellar tendon and can constitute a tear or abrasion in the knee cap. A way to observe this if you’re by yourself is to have either side of your body facing a mirror so that you can see yourself from the side and watch those knees! Ways to prevent this are keeping heels and toes locked down so the knee cannot drift away from its positioning. As you lower to the ground, take in a deep breath. Once your thighs are parallel or at least 90-100°, you may stop and begin to return to the starting position. In most cases, people tend to bend over and lose form. As a result, they run the risk of injuring the lower back. A good way to not do this is stick your butt out and sit back like you would in a chair. This will ensure perfect form. As you stand up, slightly exhale and remain in good stance. Breathing is always overlooked in squatting. Many people believe in expiring all the air in the lungs out as you return to standing position. This actually can put too much pressure on the vertebrae, since the abdominals are not contracted anymore. Instead, attempt to blow almost half the air out and take another small breath as you start to squat again. This tip is only to be used when loading the spine with weight on the back or shoulders. Using body squats will promote better form until you are ready for weight. In return, it will ensure muscular memory in addition to more control from the central nervous system as long as you continue to use this exercise weekly.

Remember these key points when squatting:

  • Always keep your head up and back arched
  • Have shoulder thrown back, exposing the chest cavity
  • Maintain a tight core (abdominals) when squatting
  • If using a barbell, keep hands shoulder width apart just as you would bench pressing
  • Never let your knees shift right or left
  • Keep the chest up and flat, never bending over

As I mentioned previously, focus on what muscle groups you need to engage more. With help on the inner thighs, attempt a sumo squat. This squat is traditionally a power lifting exercise that generates tremendous power of the hips. If you’ve witnessed a sumo match before, it is where this squat developed its name based on the wrestlers leg positioning. The major difference here is simply the foot positioning. On this exercise, place your feet almost 1.5 times wider than shoulder width stance. Have the feet facing out in a 45° angle. Keep the heels where they would normally be, but have toes facing outward. This is important because it targets the inner thigh region directly. If you don’t believe me, try having your feet turned outward on a leg extension and then face them straight forward. You will easily see the difference as your inner thighs burn like hell.

If you’re attempting to bring up your hamstrings in addition to still maintaining a squat routine, then this next exercise is just for you. I have to give credit to the late and still great Arnold on this one folks. Arnold developed this style of squatting in the late 1970s. What he did was place a block or plate under his heel when he squatted. This, in return, angled his legs so that his quads weren’t the only thing pushing on the extension part. Instead, his hamstrings were engaged as well, similarly to a leg press. It’s important to remember proper form on this as well. Those with experience may attempt, but I would never recommend this to the new guy. Keep the spacing below 1 in, for any higher could run risk of injuring that patellar tendon. If you don’t have plates to use, use some shoes that force a high arch on your feet.

If you’re still curious and want some more, here are some of my ultimate favorites that I’ve picked up over the years.

Box squats are a beginner’s way to learn body weight squats, but a seasoned veteran’s way to sweep those thighs in shape. It’s an old-school technique, but remember that with age comes wisdom, and this hold true here. The box squat is effective because it allows you to reach certain heights in your squat elevation. For someone who has bad knees and cannot fully squat, the box can be positioned at any heights to accompany them. Those seeking to go below parallel can use this as well. Squatting below parallel is used widely in power lifting and athletics. Some strength coaches prefer it because it uses quad, hams, and hips all in one explosive manner. After many cartilage tears and arthritis attacks by age 23, I strongly disagree with this concept. Your weight was only meant to go so far, and dropping below an angle of 90° is asking for trouble. Anyway, the box squat allows the lifter to sit back all the way, and then stand up. This standing motion directly hit the outer quad known as the “sweep” to the bodybuilding world. The sweep is what judges use to determine the difference in a beginner’s quads and an experienced one’s. The box doesn’t always have to be used this way, however, because it can also be used as a spotter. This sounds quirky, but it helps when squatting heavy and you’re by yourself. By just tapping the box, you can keep your momentum and stand easier than sitting back and trying it. This tapping motion is your indicator that you have reached the angle of your desire and it’s time to stand up.

Smith machine squats are a widely discussed topic that I’m going to cover as well. Theses offer another way to squat for those who either: lack a partner, have bad form, or are doing front squats. Lacking a partner shouldn’t happen if you’re attempting to gain size and pushing yourself, but in case you are, this exercise may benefit you. The smith machine is a squat rack that only allows the bar to fall in 2 directions; up and down. There is no lateral movement, so it keeps your body in perfect form. Those who have bad backs and tend to bend over can use this to stay in the right position. Feet placement is key here, because if your feet are not in the correct spot, your entire squat will be off. Smith machines can be used to drop below parallel without falling back. Many body builders use it for this method many times in super sets. Try a heavy leg press, then hit some deep smith squats and see those veins rise up like a road map on your quads. In addition, the smith machine can be racked easily in case you are struggling. Every 5-10 inches there is a spot rack that you can use to simply guide the weight on to when you guys get scared.

The vitality of squats cannot be expressed enough if you are trying to step up your game for the next show. Regardless of your training motives, this is hands down the easiest and most effective way to grow your legs and body. Exposing yourself to this total body exercise has a deep stimulation on the central nervous system and forces you to break down muscle tissue rapidly to eventually be repaired and grow bigger. The squat leaves many people hurting the days following, but it yields tight glutes, strong hamstrings, and most importantly, massive thighs. In relation, squats are recommended by many doctors for those suffering from osteoporosis of the spine. The loaded spine is exposed to deep stimulation, and your bone integrity will increase in depth and density as a result. If the bone can be prevented from deteriorating, then it ensures little struggle with osteoporosis. As long as form is implemented correctly, the squat is the best tool when dealing with this special population. Any personal training certification will ensure that you know what to do when presented with an osteoporotic back.

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