If you have ever sat down and stood up out of a chair, then you have performed a Squat. If the movement is difficult for you, then you should probably start doing it a lot more often!
The Squat is the most important exercise you can perform at the gym, but it is also a very natural and fundamental human movement that should be practiced and trained by everyone. The inability to perform the movement in your daily life has some significant- and quite frankly – scary implications. A loss of strength and mobility in the hips and the legs can lead to a loss of functionality and ultimately a loss of independence. The ability to climb stairs, to walk long distances, to carry heavy objects, to move a piece of furniture, to pick up a bag of mulch are all daily activities that are completely dependent on the strength of the legs and the hips. Older adults don’t necessarily lose their mobility and their independence because their arms get too weak – they lose it when their legs and hips get too weak. Maintenance of the strength in the lower body should be the primary consideration of older adults looking to improve their fitness.
If you want to maintain or regain strength in the lower body then you should learn how to Squat. The Squat is unique in that, when done correctly, it eliminates the need for almost any other lower body exercise. A correctly performed Squat quite thoroughly trains all aspects of the Quadriceps (front of the thigh), Hamstrings (rear of the thigh), Glutes (the Butt), and Adductors (the inside of the thigh). When done weighted, the squats also require a significant contribution from the muscles of the abdominals and low back. This fundamental multi joint movement cannot be replicated by any series of isolation movements that target these areas individually. The body is not designed for muscles to work in isolation. The body is designed so that muscles work in unison with each other as a system. No other exercise works all the musculature of the lower body, as a system, more thoroughly than the Squat. Squats don’t just build muscle, however. Connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons are also strengthened in response to Squat training. This is critical to prevention of injury, especially if you are heavily active in activities outside of the gym.
Weighted Squats, especially heavy weighted Squats, are the best tool we have available for increasing bone density in older clients, especially older female clients. Squats are unique in their ability to provide a vertical compressive force to the skeleton. Increased bone density, especially in the hips and back, is one of the primary adaptations that occur in response to repeated exposure to heavier vertical compressive forces. This type of compressive force is not possible to replicate with any type of weight machine.
Squat training also has a significant impact on your body’s ability to burn fat. One of the only ways to increase the body’s metabolism is through the addition of muscle mass. There isn’t enough surface area on the arms and shoulders to have significant impacts on the body’s metabolism – but there is in the legs. More muscular legs means a faster more efficient metabolism and the best way to add that muscle is through the training of the Squat.
Many people are often hesitant to try and perform Squats by themselves for fear of injury. The truth is that any exercise can be dangerous when done incorrectly. A correctly performed Squat is a perfectly safe movement for people of all ages. Here at Kingwood Strength & Conditioning we have dozens of clients in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s performing Squats on a regular basis. For those who want to learn to Squat on their own, they should pick up the book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe. This is the best book available on how to perform the basic barbell exercises like the Squat.