I am a firm believer that there is no one “best” exercise for any particular muscle that can help you shape, or strengthen it in a way that another exercise cannot.
Then – there are squats, of course! Squats are the best way to shape, sculpt, and strengthen your thighs and the gluteus [butt]. It also works on the hamstrings, calves and lower back to a palpable extent.
It is an exercise that can be done anywhere – i.e., at the gym, in your bedroom, or your hotel room without any special equipment, provided you learn the technique well. Why? Because, squat is one of the exercises in which you can use your body weight as resistance.
If you want slimmer thighs, squat; if you want to add inches to your thighs, squat; if you want to lose inches on your butt, squat; and, if you want to reshape your butt, and give it that perfect “C” shape, you can squat some more!
It just depends on how you do it.
If you are targeting weight loss and inch loss on your lower body, you need to do 3-5 sets of free squats without weight, or with moderately heavy weights, each set consisting of 20-25 repetitions.
If you are targeting weight gain and inch gain on your lower body, you can do 3-5 sets again, but with only 8-10 repetitions. You may, of course, increase the weights in each set and each corresponding work-out, depending on your strength.
- The first most important rule to remember is to wear good shoes that give you a good grip; you do not want your feet slipping while you squat as this will put pressure on your knees
- While squatting, do not let your knees cross your toes as this only puts greater pressure on the knees, instead of the quadriceps [front of thigh]
- Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes and lower your body to the point when the thighs are just about parallel to the floor, but not lower
- Try to keep your back straight while squatting and avoid leaning forward as much as possible to avoid back injuries
- Always s-t-r-e-t-c-h your quads in-between sets before moving on to the next set
- If you are doing squats with weights, no matter how small the weights are, never do them without a spotter – i.e., your trainer who can take the weights from you, once your set is complete.
Avoid squats completely, if:
- If you have knee pain, even if it is minor. If the knee pain has just developed and your physiotherapist does not think it is a cause for concern, first strengthen your thigh muscles by doing floor work-outs for a month and then move on to squats. Sometimes, the knees just hurt due to body weight – especially, if you are overweight. So, it is a good idea to strengthen the thigh muscles to take the pressure off, instead of the knees
- If you have arthritis, squats are not for you even after the pain is gone
- If you have a bad lower back or weak back muscles, avoid squats initially, stretch and strengthen the lower back, and once the pain is totally gone can you start squatting.
Other quad and butt exercises
Leg lifts. This is one exercise you will appreciate as you can do it while lying down on your side without letting go of the TV remote! It works the side of your thigh, your inner thigh and calves. For inch loss, do three sets of 20 each with a 30-second rest in-between each set.
Doggy kicks. This is another simple exercise to work the hamstrings – i.e., the back of your thigh and butt. If you want to gain inches with both these exercises, do three sets of 10-12 repetitions, wearing ankle weights of ? kg on each leg. Increase the weight gradually to 1 kg depending on your strength.
Lunges. This is also an excellent lower body exercise which is effective in working and shaping the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and butt. Do it slowly, not allowing the knee to go beyond the toes. For inch loss, do two sets of 15-20 repetitions without weights initially and with moderately light weights eventually. For weight gain, do two sets of 10-12 repetitions holding dumbbells, or a bar, but never without a spotter.
While I hope you feel extremely motivated on reading this column, and you’d want to start squatting right away, make sure you learn the correct technique from a trained instructor. Do not try to do too much too soon. Instead try to increase your exercise gradually, or incrementally, and watch your lower body shape like never before!
Points to Ponder
The simple squat exercise has many benefits beyond the obvious activity for your legs.
- ? The squat is mostly associated with weight lifting where it is essential to get it right to avoid injury? The common error that most commit when doing a squat exercise is made even before we start. We think of it as a position that needs to be held, and then assume that to get into this “position” we have to do something? It is not a position that requires you to tighten the hamstrings to “pull” yourself down, rather it is a letting go of the legs to release it? The squat is a dynamic form that allows the lengthening of all the body’s muscles? The muscles keeping the legs straight are the quadriceps down the front of the leg from hips to just below the knee? To let the legs bend these muscles have to release. Because, you cannot control these muscles directly you will need to think of the movement and let your nervous system take care of the actual muscle activity? To do this, think of the space you have in front of the hip joints, behind the knees and in front of your ankles. This is where you are going to bend to do your squat exercise.
– Team CW