Gym buffs and fitness experts always constantly remind us never to skip leg day. So much so that it has become a very popular meme in pop culture.
Why do people skip leg day? It’s either they don’t think it’s important enough to warrant a full day of exercise on its own, or it’s just so brutal and difficult, leaving people exhausted. No matter the reason, when it comes to strength and conditioning, people just love to skip leg day.
Of course, anyone can tell you that leg day is very important, especially if you’re serious about your physical fitness. You not only develop stronger, more durable legs, but it also improves your athleticism and flexibility. One of the best ways to work out your lower body is by doing squats.
Squats are amazing. It’s one of the simplest yet most effective workouts you can do. It’s easy enough to get right after only a couple of repetitions, but challenging enough to push you to the limit if you’re up for it.
If you want to maximise gains from your squats, you need to have impeccable form. If you’re not sure you’re doing your squats right, then we have a few tips for you to consider.
Today, Evolve Daily shares six essential tips to get the most out of your squats.
1) Keep your heels grounded
Your heels should never lift off from the ground as you squat. Having your feet firmly planted gives you better balance and distribution of force.
Heel liftoff can be an indication of a lack of mobility in your ankles or a lack of flexibility in the calves. Your weight moving too far forward as your heels rise can put you off balance, and really derail your focus. The weight can shift to the balls of your feet, and potentially tip you over.
Furthermore, you can only maximise your leg muscles when you keep your heels in contact with the floor, so try to keep your heels square on the ground.
2) Maintain centre of gravity
A very common squat mistake is that the knees go too far forward as your legs dip. This usually happens in conjunction with the heel lift-off. It’s best to keep your gravity centred, by equally distributing your weight.
When you squat, your knees should be centred as much as they can. Your feet should be about a shoulder’s width apart, toes facing forward. Both inward and outward-angled footing will cause an improper distribution of force and weight, and so will the knees going too far forward.
Still, given the variability of the human body structure, it can be expected that there will be some people with forward knees even when doing perfectly-postured squats. So keep that in mind when you’re doing them. Take it slowly and get the form right.
3) Take your time in setting up lift-off
Perfection takes time, as they say, so make sure not to rush your squats, especially when working with weights. Barbell squats mean that you are carrying extra weight that is not part of your body, so your control over them is extremely limited. Make sure that you are centred on the barbell before you lift it off.
Rushing your squats can cause you to improperly load your weight, and asymmetric weight distribution can tip you over. If you feel like you might be tipping over, then it’s best to drop the weights rather than have you fall with them.
4) Do full squats
A proper full squat is when your thighs become parallel to the ground. If you can’t do full squats with your current weights, then it may be too heavy for you.
A squat with impeccable form works better than a faulty squat with heavy weights, and half-squats definitely do not engage the muscles that full squats do. If you find squats to be challenging, practice the proper form with no weights until you get it down pat, then progressively add weights while keeping in mind the proper full form.
5) Don’t squat beyond 90 degrees
Now that we’re on the topic of full squats: while half-squats don’t engage the muscles you should be improving during squats, an overextended squat isn’t much better either. The perfect squat should go no lower than 90 degrees.
A squat lower than 90 degrees will naturally cause your lower back to round and cause stress to the lumbar area of your spine. Moreover, it puts too much stress on your knees and quads.
6) Mix up your squats
If you’ve perfected the standard full squat, then you might want to try other variations of squat exercises. This will allow you to engage your other leg muscles and break the monotony of doing weighted squats.
Try single-leg squats or more dynamic exercises such as Muay Thai squats. Just make sure to watch your form and keep everything on this list in your mind to maximize your gains as you try out a variety of squat exercises.
And don’t ever skip leg day.
This article, "Get The Most Out Of Your Squats With These 6 Tips", originally appeared on Evolve MMA, Asia’s No. 1 martial arts organisation.