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The great Indian wrestler Gama from the pre-Independence era used to practice 5000 squats everyday. Not everyone would aspire for such levels of dedication towards attaining an enormous physique, but squats allow you to reap the benefits in the long run.

The squat is one of the most basic bodyweight exercise, much like the push-up. While dropping down to do countless push-ups don't give anyone more than bragging rights, squats done in the correct manner and technique go a long way in making gains in the legs, which are often ignored in the gym.

Similar to other bodyweight exercises, you don’t need any equipment to perform squats; if you have enough space to stand, you can make do with it. According to a study by Annals of Internal Medicine, inactivity is one of the primary signs of early mortality. The squat is the simplest and most effective exercise to get rid of a sedentary lifestyle.

Stronger joints, bones, muscles and ligaments are all the side effects of performing squats, especially considering the lower half of our bodies hold some of the largest muscle groups in them. Strong muscles in the quadriceps, calves, hamstring, glutes, hips and lower back allow us to perform several functional tasks with relative ease.

  1. Types of squats
  2. Benefits of squats
  3. Variations of squats
  4. Front squats vs back squats
  5. Risk factors of performing squats
  6. Takeaway

Just like every other exercise, the squat also has several different styles developed through various regions and evolution. The squat is a major exercises for legs, and to maximize the outcomes, one can keep themselves busy with these basic versions:

Basic squat: Before going any further one should master the basic movement first and then move onto more complex movements. Just standing straight up and sitting straight down is the perfect start:

  • Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Lower your body by bending your knees.
  • Hinge your balance on your hips. Your hands should be raised straight in front of you. Do not let your knees fall ahead of the toes.
  • Make sure to keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  • Once your thighs are parallel to the floor pause for a few seconds.
  • Push your heels down to rise up to the starting position. This is one rep.

Weighted squats: This version can be performed by various pieces of equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells, a barbell or with resistance bands.
Deep squat: In this position, your torso should go deeper than the basic squat movement. Bend your knees as much as you can, going beyond the 90-degree angle.
Half squat: This one is a great exercise for beginners. Instead of going too far down, you can perform the exercise by going half the way down as compared to the standard squats.
Wall squat: Those who find it difficult to keep their back straight during the movement, this is a great method to begin. Stand straight with your back supported by a wall and perform the same movement.
Front squat: In this movement, the barbell is resting above your collarbone, parallel to your shoulders. 
Back squat: The most common sight with anyone performing squats, the barbell is placed behind the neck and on the shoulders. It is essential to keep your back straight and chest out throughout the movement.

Muscles worked

In this movement, we use our majority muscles of the legs such as quadriceps, glutes, adductor magnus, hamstrings, core, back, and calves.

The squats is one of the main bodyweight exercises that also counts as a compound movement as it works multiple muscles of the body at the same time. Push-ups, pull-ups and tricep dips make up the other major bodyweight exercises. Following are some of the benefits of the squats:

No equipment needed: Squats can be performed anywhere without any equipment required. All you need is enough space to stand and practice the movement.
Multiple muscles worked: The squat is an amazing exercise to strengthen your legs and core at the same time. Having a straight and stable body posture engages the core to build strength. The movement also helps to strengthen your lower back.
Less chances of injury: Due to the massive stability of your legs the risk of injuries goes down. Strengthening the lower back also decreases the risk of workout injuries while performing other exercises. According to the American Council on Exercise, bodyweight exercises help strengthen the ligaments, tendons and joints and hence reduces the risk of injury.
Calorie burner: You must be thinking about how a bodyweight exercise can burn a lot of calories. According to the Harvard Medical School, people weighing 56-70 kg burn 110 to 220 calories in just 30 minutes by performing any of the bodyweight exercises.
Numerous styles: Anyone bored by the standard movement can try the other styles. There are many styles of this exercise that can keep interest levels up. Modifying the squat position will keep you motivated towards your desired goals.
Great mobility exercise:  To start a workout routine, you need to mobilize your body to avoid injuries. Squats are one the best mobility exercises as they mobilize your entire body. Try to perform three sets of 15-20 reps to warm-up.

Squats have many variations to target every single muscle of your body. There’s no denying the effectiveness of the basic squat movement, but exercising different variations and by adding wider, closer, intense or even weights, you can always keep your squat game interesting.

  • Sumo squat: Practising the same movement with the legs placed slightly wider than hip-width and bending the feet outwards.
  • Side squat (cossack squat): In this stance, your legs should be making a triangle on the floor. Start bending your right knee by putting your weight on it and sitting back as far as you can. Repeat the motion with the left leg.
  • Hindu squat (uthak-baithak): The Indian version of squats engage the shoulders and arms as well. With a similar movement of the legs as the conventional squat, swing your arms down while going down and raise your toes. Keep your toes raised while coming back to the starting position.
  • Pistol squat: The most advanced and tough form of squats, a pistol squat can only be done by a professional athlete or under expert supervision. In this, raise your left leg while going down to perform a squat on just one leg.
  • Plie squats: Stand straight with your feet wider than the shoulders. The feet should point out while squatting down.
  • Split squat: These squats are also known as standing lunges. Move one leg back and squat down.
  • Curtsy squat: Similar to the split squats, it's almost like a dance move. Move your right leg behind the left one while crossing to its side. Reverse and repeat with the other leg.
  • Jump squat: The basic squat with a jump on the way up makes this for a rigorous workout.
  • Thruster: Much like the weighted front squat, this one involves you to lift the barbell above your head on the way up.
  • Overhead squats: Comparable to the thruster, hold the weight overhead throughout the movement.

The back squat is a more common movement in any gym or fitness centre you may have come across. The back squat is a great exercise to train your glutes, hips and lower back, while the front squat, where the barbell rests on your collarbone instead, focuses more on the quadriceps and upper back.

You need more stability and mobility to perform a front squat as it requires more balance and stability in the body. However, these two variations quite different in various ways:

  • Muscles worked
  • Mobility
  • Stability
  • Health
  • Risk of injury

Both are great versions of the regular squat movement and can be performed on different days. If you want more muscle gains in the legs, the back squats are unquestionably better, but if your goal is to mobilize your body, then you must perform front squats.

Like any other exercise, if perform incorrectly, the squat can pose several risks of injury. Injury, however, depends on a variety of factors and even on the variation of the squat being performed. Some of the common risk factors behind injuries are:

  • Poor form and technique.
  • Lifting heavier than personal strength
  • Putting unnecessary stress on the spine, shoulders or arms.
  • Poor stability and mobility.
  • Poor body posture.
  • Unstable joints.

To avoid any kind of injury, lift as per your strength and always perform the exercise under expert supervision.

The squat is one of the most common and efficient bodyweight exercises that can train every muscle group of the body with the help of different variations.

Numerous people tend to skip leg days due to the pain that usually comes over the following day, but the benefits of performing squats are tremendous, as they help build muscles, gain strength and keep the lower half of your body in good shape and health. Its neverending variations also keep you motivated.

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References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6050697/
  2. Demers E. et al The Effect of Stance Width and Anthropometrics on Joint Range of Motion in the Lower Extremities during a Back Squat. Int J Exerc Sci. 2018 Jun 1;11(1):764-775. eCollection 2018. PMID: 29997725
  3. Lahti J. et al Effects of barbell back squat stance width on sagittal and frontal hip and knee kinetics. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019 Jan;29(1):44-54. doi: 10.1111/sms.13305. Epub 2018 Oct 11. PMID: 30230052
  4. Escamilla RF. et al A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of the squat during varying stance widths. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jun;33(6):984-98. PMID: 11404665
  5. Clark DR. et al Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Apr;26(4):1169-78. doi: 10.1519 PMID: 22373894
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