Squats are, in my opinion, the king of all exercises, besides the deadlift, of course.
I see so many people at my gym (and they are mostly guys) who literally primarily work upper body, resulting in massively broad shoulders, a bulging chest and some rather daunting biceps. However, their legs show no signs of development... because they don't work legs.
I understand the thinking for a guy. "But I don't want big legs, I want a big chest and huge guns!!!" Well, that's fantastic but if you want a body that looks symmetric and not deformed, then you're going to have to work legs as well, and that means doing more than the decline leg press. Especially adding in some squats to your routine. And there's another benefit to doing squats other than just building tree trunks for legs!
Erin Stern has AMAZING legs. (Source)
When you do squats, you're working the largest muscles in your body, which are found in your legs. These include the quadriceps, hamstrings, and the glutes (which can be sub-divided even further because the muscle is so big). It's a proven fact that the more of a muscle you work, the more you tear down the muscle and the more calories you burn, hence why always working your tiny bicep muscles (in comparison to the huge leg muscles) doesn't get you as in shape as you would like to be in.
When you squat, you're working all of these, so you are tearing through calories and breaking the muscles down. And, on top of that, when you squat, you release testosterone. This is a hormone that males have abundantly, and women have very little of, but still have it. Testosterone is the hormone that is anabolic, A.K.A. builds muscle. Why do you think female bodybuilders take testosterone injections? Because they want to build a lot of muscle atypical for a woman to have. Why do you think men are more muscular and can bulk up faster than women? Because they naturally have more testosterone.
The more testosterone you release, the more muscle you build. Therefore, when you squat, you're not simply building up the muscles in your legs, but you're allowing your body to take in that testosterone, which can help you build muscle faster everywhere and stay lean as well.
Now let's talk about the anatomy of a squat. First and foremost, THIS is a squat:
This is what I like to call an "ass to the grass" squat. THIS is NOT a squat:
This is a quarter squat. This will simply not do.
I hate to be picky, but I hate seeing someone with so much potential not go down deep enough. Get that ASS to the GRASS (excuse my French). Sure, going down a quarter of the way will work the quads, which is fantastic, but to get the most bang for your buck, which is working the glutes and hamstrings as well and releasing more testosterone, you must go ALL THE WAY DOWN.
If you want to build a tight butt, you have to dig deeper because if you're not going down far enough, you're not working your glutes. I know people want to throw as much weight on the bar as they can, squat a quarter of the way, and say "LOOK HOW MUCH I SQUATTED!" I get it, I really do. But you're not getting stronger by letting your ego get in the way. Lighten the load, go down all the way, and you will see the difference (and feel it). You may notice that you're not that sore after doing quarter squats the next day, and the reason is simple: You didn't tax your legs hard enough because you didn't work all the muscles. When you get your butt to the ground, I guarantee you WILL feel it the next day and bask in your glory. That's how you get stronger--with proper form.
With that being said, there are also a few things that people need to work on when they squat, MYSELF included (and I have worked diligently over the past few weeks to perfect my squat). Here they are.
1. Letting your knees cave in.This is a big no-no. If your knees cave in, this is an indication that you have weak hip abductors and adductors and you need to strengthen those before you go too heavy on the squats. Push your knees OUT, do NOT let them cave in towards each other as you bring the weight back up.
2. Not looking up.
There's a reason people who are squatting look like they are admiring the ceiling. Looking up allows you to put more emphasis on the feet to push the weight back up; it's a balance thing. When you look straight or down, your body wants to tilt forward which is not good indeed.
3. Setting the bar in a bad place.
The bar should not be right on your neck. This will cause some intense neck pain the next day. Instead, it should be held on your back nice and snug so it's not resting right on your bone.
4. Tilting forward.This is very bad. You should always keep an erect back when squatting, because otherwise you will damage your lower back and tip forward, which could cause you to fall over, and well, you know the rest. Sometimes the weight may be too heavy as well, causing you to tilt, or your upper body to lean too far forward, so remove some of the weight and focus on proper form. Always make sure your back is straight and not rounded, and don't let your chest and shoulders droop forward.
5. Using your toes to push back up.You cannot do this if you want to properly engage the muscles. You MUST push through your heels. Pushing through your toes may still work the leg, but again, pushing through your heels guarantees that you are putting the most emphasis on the quads, hammies, and glutes. So focus on pushing through your heels as you come back up.
I'm sure there's more things you can improve on in your squat, but these are the biggest mistakes. There are so many variations of squats: back squats, front squats, overhead squats, split squats, narrow squats, sumo squats, hack squats, etc. Always make sure you are using proper form, and DON'T FORGET TO SQUAT IN THE FIRST PLACE! And add some resistance!!! They really are the king of exercises for a reason--they build muscle ALL around!
I love my squats, as you can tell. :)
Questions: Do you squat? Do you like it? Are there any no-nos I didn't include?