We’re all bombarded with messages about how we as women should squat to get those peachy glutes and slender legs. But is it really that simple and is the exercise for you?
Well, let’s start by looking at the benefits of squating with full range and an adequate load. These benefits include:
• Improved body composition
• Defined or ‘toned’ Glutes
• Strong core, predominately the 'posterior core' muscles
• Increased upper body strength
• Faster speed and greater jumping ability
• Greater calorie burn when compared to partial or parallel squats
Despite these benefits, not everyone can squat or needs to squat….yet. So, why might the squat not be for you right now? The squat requires a lot of mobility when performed correctly using full range of movement. Full range means the ability to sit deep into the squat with your hips below your knees while keeping your heels planted on the floor and your body upright. If you can’t achieve this position, you are seriously cutting the full benefits of the squat. But why might this be?A study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning used electromyographic surface electrodes on the glutes along with three other hip and thigh muscles to track the electrical activity of the four muscles during the squat at three different depths. Partial, parallel and full depth squats. The results showed an 18.5% and 7.4% increase in glute activity during the full depth squat when compared to the partial and parallel squat . This increase in muscular activity also increases your energy expenditure, which will lead to an increase in the amount of calories burned when compared to the partial or parallel squat . So, if you want to burn calories while building your glutes then the full depth squat is definitely for you.
Still not convinced you need to squat? Studies have shown that resistance training, including squatting, can improve overall body composition and decrease body fat. I know what you’re thinking….squats can decrease my body fat without doing hours on the treadmill? They certainly can. This was shown in a study on hispanic adolescents comparing resistance training to typical school physical activities . The adolescents who took part in a 12 week resistance programme including squats saw a decrease in body fat as well as an increase in condition and stamina. These results were not seen in the adolescents taking part in their regular physical activity sessions.
Lastly, if you regularly find yourself in the strecthing zone of your gym, banging out numerous sets and reps of crunches on the stability ball in the search for your flat stomach and defined abs, then the squat could be a much more efficient use of your time. Having great abs is 75% diet, 20% whole body training and 5% ab training. Whenever you get the idea that doing another 100 sit ups or training your abs every day would magically melt the fat away... you better save the time for some serious squatting, deadlifting or high intensity interval training if you want your abs to shine in their full glory, which brings me back to my previous point that squatting is a big component of any weight loss programme. But, not only can the squat help reveal your abs it can also help build them.
Squats are typically loaded from the top to bottom, usually in the form of a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. This requires your body up stay upright while holding a heavy load causing your core to work double time. Notice I use the word 'core' and not abs. The core is comprimised of much more than just the rectus abdominis aka. the six-pack and although direct ab work will tax the rectus abdomins to a greater degree it's important to note that the back squat works the core as a whole, especially the 'posterior core' (lower back) more effectively than your average crunch or sit up (Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000).
So if the bikini is waiting for you, I personally would reduce your time in the stretching zone and get yourself over to that squat rack.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I will be discussing how to squat, how low you should squat and whether you have earned the right to squat.
 Caterisano A, Moss RF, Pellinger TK, et al. The effect of back squat depth on the EMG activity of 4 superficial hip and thigh muscles. J Strength Cond Res. 2002;16(3):428-32.
 Drinkwater EJ, Moore NR, Bird SP. Effects of changing from full range of motion to partial range of motion on squat kinetics. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(4):890-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318248ad2e
 Velez A, Golem DL, Arent SM. The impact of a 12-week resistance training program on strength, body composition, and self-concept of Hispanic adolescents. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(4):1065-73. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc230a.
About Becky Hodgson
As a successful 800m runner for Oxfordshire Athletics I have a strong postion on evidence based training and application. Strength training is my passion, passing my knoweldge of lifting on to help other women like myself to see both the physical and practical benefits that strength training has to offer.
You can find me on Facebook, or why not even give us a Tweet @Hall_Training