Squats are a functional exercise – ones that help your body perform real life activities – and are one of the best and most natural ways of toning your body.
Contrary to what some may think, squats aren’t just for body builders or weight lifters; they’re for everyone wanting to tone up at any age and they can be done anywhere, at any time, without the need for specific equipment. Some people even say that squatting is the best exercise you can do.
When you bend to tie your shoelaces or to pick up something from the floor, you are actually squatting. It’s a natural form of exercise. The only difference between those actions and squatting workouts is that while doing squat exercises, you deliberately maintain a correct posture to gain some intended benefit.
Squat exercises can be done with or without weights. Either way will benefit you, and by adding weights will lead to improvements to overall muscle mass. However, if you do use weights be sure to squat correctly to avoid injury.
Check out more about squats at Boxing Bayside .
Twelve Major Benefits of Doing Squats
- Squats Help Build Muscle.
They don’t just help you achieve wonderful, toned legs; they promote body-wide muscle building by creating an anabolic (muscle building) environment in the body. They work up your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abdominal muscles, lower back and your butt too. Not many exercises can claim to recruit so many muscles at the same time!
- Squats Burn Calories Fast.
Because they help you build muscle, you’ll become more efficient at burning calories so you can get to that slimmer physique faster. Add weights to your squats and you’ll burn the calories even quicker.
- Squats Help Improve Flexibility.
Improving your flexibility should be part of any well-rounded workout training plan. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments become less elastic with age so doing all we can to slow down this process is a good idea. Squatting regularly will see you limber up and become more flexible as the exercise involves bending and stretching of the leg muscles.
- Squats Help with Mobility and Balance.
Strong legs are essential for staying mobile as you get older, and that’s where squats come in. Not only do they develop leg strength, they also work out your core, stabilising muscles. These muscles help you to maintain balance, while also improving the communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which helps prevent falls.
- Squats Help Strengthen Your Lungs and Heart.
The effort required to squat helps strengthen your cardiac muscles and improve your lung capacity, especially once you start adding weights.
- Squats Can Help Prevent Injuries.
Most athletic and workout injuries involve weak ligaments, connective tissues and stabiliser muscles (muscles that aren’t directly involved in a movement, but work to keep you steady so that your primary muscles can do their job). Squats actually help to strengthen these supportive tissues, which can mean the difference between an injury or not. Remember, though, technique is paramount when performing any exercise – including squats – in order to avoid injury.
- Squats Can Maintain & Improve Your Joints.
As squatting engages your hips, knees and ankles at the same time, the load not only helps build muscle, but also improves joint health and joint strength.
- Squatting Keeps Bones Strong.
As squatting is a load bearing exercise, it helps with overall strength which is great for younger people, and also older people who may have a low bone density. The strengthening will therefore help with injury prevention.
- Improves Your Speed and your Ability to Jump.
Due to improved strength in your body’s lower extremities, the ability to produce power is improved. As a result, your acceleration and jumping ability is improved. Great for your tennis game!
- Postural Improvements.
With improved core strength and leg strength, your posture will also benefit. This is because posture is influenced by muscles in your front back, which work together. However, be sure to combine squatting with stretching and mobilising!
- Squats Improve Digestion and Circulation.
An overlooked benefit of doing squats relates to circulation and digestion. The speed in which fluids travel through your body is improved when exercising your leg muscles, which allows more oxygen and nutrients to travel through your body’s organs. This includes improvements to small intestine efficiency.
- Improve Your Daily Life & Physical Abilities.
Naturally, with all of these improvements, daily tasks such as getting up from a seated position or lifting objects will become easier which is especially important for later in life.
In addition, squats are perfect for cardio and sports that involve the lower body. They’ll help you move and play longer.
Check out more about squats at Boxing Bayside .
Goblet Squat as Teaching Tool
One of the greatest benefits of the goblet squat is its value as a teaching tool. Simply put, it’s one of the best, if not the best squatting variation for a beginner to learn and become comfortable with squatting.
Believe it or not, a goblet squat is actually easier in a lot of ways than a body weight squat. Beginners have a tendency to lose their balance falling over backwards when they first try a body weight squat. The weight in the goblet squat provides a useful counterweight and helps keep you grounded and solid on your feet. Yes, there’s additional load, but even an untrained senior can usually do a few reps with a 10 or 20 lb dumbbell without much difficulty. Remember that a bodyweight squat is not squatting zero pounds. Your legs are lifting your body weight. Adding a 10 or 20 lb dumbbell is a fairly small percentage increase for most people.
Since new lifters generally tolerate the weight in the goblet squat quite well, and also benefit from the grounding effect of the additional load and counterweight, the goblet squat is the best way for a beginner to get started with squats.
Building Strength with the Goblet Squat
Once the pattern is in place and you have some confidence in the movement, it’s quite easy to increase weight. Many of my clients over the years have moved from a 10 lb dumbbell to a 50 or 60 lb dumbbell in just a few weeks. I like to push things as far as possible with the goblet squat before looking to progress to a barbell. Barbell squats are great, but they are technically complex and also put more stress on the spine and the body in general. This is not inherently bad, but it is something that we need to be aware of and manage.
How far you should push things with the goblet squat depends on the person. If there is no reason not too, I like to target a set of 10 reps with a 100 lb dumbbell before introducing barbell squats. However, there are many reasons why that might not be a good idea. For a smaller person, or someone with a wrist or forearm issue, lifting a dumbbell that size may not be safe or even possible, but the general principal of pushing things with the goblet squat as far as safely possible still applies.
Goblet Squat as a Regression
We’ve established that goblet squatting is useful as a starting point in your lifting career, but what about for more advanced lifters. Well, one way it can come in handy is as a regression. Let’s say someone has been squatting for a few years and is fully proficient in barbell variations of the squat. At some point this person may get injured and need to take some time off, and then gradually work their way back up to heavy barbell squatting. The goblet squat can be a useful tool for reintroducing load and the squatting pattern to help create a safe transition back to heavier squatting.
More Volume with Less Loading
Another way that a goblet squat can fit into the program of a more advanced lifter is as a way of providing additional volume, with minimal additional systemic load. If we’re considering a more advanced lifter, whether they’re a bodybuilder or power lifter, or really anyone doing a lower body training session, they might structure a training day around squats, where their main lift of the day would be a few sets of heavy front or back squats. They would then probably do some other lower body movements, whether that’s lunges, good mornings, step ups or leg curls. In this scenario, the goblet squat can also be a great choice as an accessory lift.
A few sets of 10-20 reps after some other more intense lower body work is a great way to drive further adaptation in the lower body and get more practice in the movement, in a way that’s still fairly low intensity, and more transferrable to sport or other athletic tasks than some other movements. It is certainly worth considering the goblet squat as an accessory lift on a lower body focused session, at least at some point throughout the year.
Bulgarian Split Squat Form, Muscles & Benefits
The Bulgarian split squat form can be difficult enough to manage if you are new to this fantastic exercise. Thankfully we have boiled it down to 4 simple steps below!
The split squat is a fantastic lower body exercise to use at home or in the Gym.
All you need to perform this exercise is your own body weight and a couch or bench to support your rear leg.
You may also want to use some external load in the form of dumbbells or weight plates as you progress with this challenging exercise.
The Bulgarian split squat is a unilateral exercise. Meaning it trains one leg at a time. This is great to not only target the quads and glutes like most other squatting movements but it also challenges your core control and balance.
The split squat is a “tough love” exercise. Although you will love the rewards of increased muscle, strength, and co-ordination these benefits are not easily earned.
It will take all of your will power and focus to complete a few sets of Bulgarian split squats, especially in the higher rep ranges.
- Step 1: Set up
You will need enough space to step forward. Make sure there is nothing on the floor in front of you that might cause you to slip.
It is very important you wear appropriate footwear when completing this exercise.
You will also need a box, bench, or even a chair if you are training at home. It needs to be about knee height, and be safe to use for exercise. So no.. you cannot use your dog!
If you are not confident in your ability to complete at least one set on each leg you can set up beside additional support (not your dog!) which you place your hands on to assist your completion of difficult reps.
- Step 2: Feet positioning
Standing with the back of our legs by the edge of your platform, start with hands placed on the hips, and your feet shoulder-width apart.
You will be stepping forward about 1.5x your normal stride length, this is to allow you enough space. You will begin by working your dominant side, so place the laces of the shoe of the supporting leg on the edge of your platform. Woof!
- Step 3: Start of the Rep
Once you have your feet in position, shift your body weight onto the working leg and brace your core. Keep your chest up and pre-tense the muscles of your leg in advance of the exercise.
The forward foot will remain fully on the floor, but be aware as you shift your weight forward the rear foot will act in helping you keep your balance. If you feel pressure through the supporting legs hip, this is as a result of relying on the other leg to assist in the rep.
This should be minimized as much as possible.
- Step 4: Completing the set
Drive the knee diagonally forward over the small toes, imagine your working leg as a spring, the movement should look as if you are sitting straight down onto your foot and compressing a spring.
We are aiming to keep our torso upright (a slight lean forward is okay and can assist with the activation of the glutes) and the working sides foot fully on the floor with the knee over the toes.
It can be difficult to achieve full depth on the first attempt. You should start by hitting a comfortable depth and build up from there.
The Hack Squat: Target Muscles, Benefits, Exercise Instructions, And Variations
he hack squat is much different than the conventional free weight barbell squat. But both movements target the same primary muscle groups and the strength benefits are very similar as well. However, it’s beneficial to know what differentiates the two and how to incorporate the hack squat in your training regime.
Now, the hack squat is generally safe to perform for most people and it’s unique in that you’re at an angle during the movement. There are benefits to this which we’ll discuss but it’s hard to go wrong with the hack squat as it’s a viable alternative to the barbell squat. However, it’s definitely not a replacement, especially if you’re training for complete development.
Check out more about squats at Boxing Bayside .
The hack squat is a compound movement that works all lower-body muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and hip flexors) and the core muscles; which include the rectus abdominis and internal/external obliques.
The quadriceps are usually the main, target muscle during any variation of a squat. But the upper posterior chain (Backside of the body) of muscles are heavily involved as well.
So, the glutes and hamstrings are engaged, especially since you’re squatting the weight up using your heels. Calves are stimulated as a result and the core muscles play a big role in stabilization. But the hip flexor muscles also do a lot of work as they contribute to lower body exercises by default.
Hack Squat Benefits
The squat is a beneficial exercise in general because it’s a lower-body strength and mass builder.
- Muscle mass
You can build as much muscle with the hack squat as you can with the barbell back squat, although trunk activation is not as prominent which we’ll explain further. But if you’re using a challenging weight while continuing to implement progressive overload, you’ll still activate the trunk muscles to an extent.
Now, athletes can use the hack squat for lower body development as well. But it’s not the best option if training for functional performance since this variation does not require as many stabilizer muscles. Moderation is important and using a combination of free weight and machines is ideal.
- Increased strength
Again, the hack squat will increase lower body and posterior chain strength. You have the ability to lift maximal loads due to not having to stabilize the weight. Just be sure to incorporate some free weight stability training as well to improve functional strength and develop stabilizer muscles of the legs too.
- Less spine stress overall
The hack squat is also beneficial because the weight load is distributed through your center of mass at an angle. This alleviates stress on the spine and allows more weight to be lifted overall.
Hack Squat Exercise Instructions
Feet should be in front of your knees with legs spread slightly wider than hip-width. Keep your feet higher up on the platform (not too high though) so that you’re squatting through your heels and not the balls of your feet. It’s generally safer for the knees if they don’t pass your feet during lower body compound exercises. So, keep your shins as vertical as you can.
Always warm-up with a few sets of 40 to 50-60% of your one-rep max before training heavy, as it’s important for your safety.
Adjust the machine so that you’re shoulders are comfortably under the padding while standing on the platform.
Slowly squat down so your upper legs are at or slightly below parallel.
Squat back up through your heels into a standing position.
Complete the desired number of reps.
Hack Squat vs. Back Squat
The hack squat (HS) differs from the barbell back (BS) squat in many ways. And according to studies, the BS elicits greater trunk activation than the HS. That’s because the trunk is highly supported at an angle against a backrest. (2, 3)
So, the back squat is actually better for trunk development and core stability. This is ideal for athletes which means free weights are preferred overall due to better stabilizer muscle development/maintenance.
But that doesn’t mean you should neglect the hack squat as it’s still a powerful exercise for building those wheels! Both variations will elicit similar results for pure strength and hypertrophy overall.
Some fitness centers do not have a hack squat machine. But no worries, there are some variations you can do to mimic the movement and they’re very effective.
- Smith Machine Squat
The Smith machine is one of the most useful pieces of equipment available. You can work every muscle in multiple ways and you don’t need to worry about stabilizing weight.
Set up the bar so that you’re comfortably beneath it similar to a barbell back squat.
Angle yourself similar to the hack machine by stepping out and keeping your feet flat on the floor. You should be leaning back against the bar.
Squat down to parallel or slightly below.
Then push up through your heels and repeat for repetitions.
Barbell hack squat
The barbell hack squat is a free weight alternative if you don’t have access to a hack squat machine or even if you just want to switch things up a bit.
- Barbell Hack Squat
It actually more closely resembles a deadlift since you’re lifting from the floor but it’s very effective nonetheless.
Start with the loaded barbell on the floor and face away from it with your Achilles touching the bar.
With your back straight, bend down and grip the barbell with arms slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart.
Squat the weight up through your heels and thrust your hips forward as you pull. This will allow the weight to move smoothly up your posterior chain.
Return the weight back to the floor but keep your core tight and immediately repeat the movement.
Never arch or round your back as this can cause pain and injury.
Use a weight that will not compromise good form and always make sure to focus on a mind/muscle connection for optimal results.
Squat through your heels and never the ball of your feet. This is likely to result in knee issues especially if using heavy weight.
Avoid using the hack squat as a primary lower body exercise. You don’t want to limit trunk activation so incorporate free weights as well.
Start off light and gradually increase your working weights as you become stronger.
How To Add The Hack Squat To Your Workout Routine?
It’s entirely up to you. Utilize the hack squat along with your conventional squats, deadlift, lunges, or any other leg exercises. The hack squat can be used as a significant mass and strength builder as well so don’t think it’s inferior because it’s a machine movement.
Also, utilize different rep ranges based on your goals.
Strength – Stick with 3-6 reps using heavier weight. Utilize longer rest periods (2-4 minutes)
Hypertrophy – Stick with 8-15 reps using moderate-heavy weight. Utilize shorter rest periods (1-2 minutes)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What muscles does the hack squat work?
The hack squat works the muscles of the lower body including the legs, hip flexors, and even the core muscles.
Is the hack squat an effective lower body exercise?
Absolutely! You can build big, strong legs using the hack squat machine as you can really load up the weight and challenge your lower body.
Is there an advantage of the hack squat over the conventional barbell squat?
As a matter of fact, there is. The hack squat allows you to focus more on the actually exercise rather than having to stabilize the weight which you’d need to do with the conventional barbell squat.
It may also be a safer way to lift maximum poundages.
Is the hack squat one of the best leg exercises?
It’s a very effective leg exercise and there’s no reason to not include in your lower body mass and strength-building routine.
Because you’re locked in during the movement, you don’t have to use your stabilizer muscles, therefore, you may be able to lift more weight overall which is a huge benefit.
The hack squat is a beneficial exercise you should consider adding to your leg day. It’s effective for building muscle and strength; plus, you don’t need to balance a barbell on your traps; which is appealing for many.
However, it’s no substitute for free weight training but it’s a viable option. And if your gym doesn’t have a hack squat machine you can always do one of the variations/alternatives above to get similar results.
So, try out the hack squat and experience for yourself just how functional it really is!