Whether you play soccer, basketball, or football on the weekends, research has proven over and over that athletes who squat injure themselves less frequently than athletes who do not squat.1 Full range of motion squats strengthen the gluts, hamstrings, and hip musculature that controls the motion of the knee. Knees that are properly controlled are better protected when jumping, landing, changing direction, and decelerating.
2. Save time
Why waste precious time in the gym cranking out reps on machines? Whether you’re standing, lying, or sitting on these machines, calf raises, hamstring curls, and knee extensions give you a smaller bang for your buck than a compound exercise like the squat.
3. Perform better
You can run faster if you can drive with stronger hip extension. You can jump higher if you can generate stronger power from your gluteal muscles. You can cut faster on a turf field if the musculature covering the sides of your hips is strong and firing properly.
4. Heal knee pain
Squatting through knee pain is not advised without obtaining a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional. For a small percentage of knee injuries, squatting is contraindicated (at least for a certain period of time). Once you rule out that category of knee pain, squatting can help restore gluteal strength and quad strength. It’s interesting to note that healing knee pain often entails the same program as preventing knee pain…strengthen the surrounding and controlling musculature.
5. Balance your body
We live in the modern world of crunched-up computer posture and prolonged chair sitting. Unfortunately these positions leave us with chronically shortened hip-flexors. Tight muscles are one thing, but the situation is made worse by a tricky little principal called reciprocal inhibition. Similarly to how your triceps muscles automatically relax when you attempt a bicep curl, the muscle on the opposite side of the hip joint “turns off” when the hip flexors are held in that contracted position. This can create a condition called Dead Butt Syndrome, in which the fibers of the gluteus maximus muscle can’t contract properly. These gluteal muscles are the largest in the body, they are our prime movers, and the squat is one exercise that can get them fired up again and create balance in the body.
6. Free your breath
Studies have shown that connecting your movement with your breath helps reduce anxiety and lowers blood pressure. Many people find this true with yoga, but the deliberate breathing required during the squat exercise is another way to find this connection.
7. Feel your power
How accomplished do you feel when you increase the weight by 5 pounds on the calf raise machine? Maybe a little bit, if you can even remember which resistance setting you chose last time! Admit it, like most of us, you haphazardly place the pin in the weight stack at about the same location every time. Compare that to how awesome and powerful you feel when you hit a new PR on your squat!
8. Monitor your progress
It’s easy to track where your overall strength stands. Performing heavy squats will tell you pretty quickly when you have one rep left in the tank, and when you don’t!
9. No more sit-ups
Raise your hand if you actually enjoy performing sit-ups! When you start squatting heavy weights, you will engage your entire core to keep yourself in a stable position. This bracing is far more effective than training the rectus muscle (the “front” abs) with crunches or sit-ups. Furthermore, studies from Professor Stuart McGill, director of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada, have indicated that repeated flexion of the spine can damage spinal discs (the cushioning between each vertebrae) over time.
10. Improve everyday movements
Squats very much train your body in a functional movement. An example of a non-functional movement would be doing knee extensions on a machine. With the possible exception of kicking a soccer ball, you wouldn’t fire your quadriceps to straighten your knee with your feet up in the air! Why, then, would you train in a non-functional manner? Squatting is a closed-chain exercise that preps us for performing the daily actions of squatting to grab something from the floor, pick up your tired child, or harvest tomatoes from your garden.
1. Clin J Sport Med. 2013 Sep;23(5):407-8. doi: 10.1097/01.jsm.0000433153.51313.6b.
Neuromuscular training to prevent knee injuries in adolescent female soccer players. Wingfield K.
Picture: Everkinetic [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons