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Strength Training Tips – Squats Are the BEST Exercise!

What is the single most important functional exercise? Without question, it is the squat, an exercise that works the large muscles of the legs to improve our mobility, stability and ability to carry out our daily activities with ease. The squat is identical to the movement we need to get up from a chair or go down to the floor. It strengthens the muscles of the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps in an integrated fashion to create stability in the lower body and empower our movements. And as a bonus, it is one of the best exercises for shaping the buttocks and thighs.

It is essential to master the proper technique of squatting to minimize stress on the knees. These three exercises offer a progression for building up strength and learning the correct form, i.e. how to keep your weight back on your heels and your knees behind your toes in the lowered position. For all variations, begin with one set of 10-15 reps and progress to 2-3 sets.

Wall Squat: Begin with the Wall Squat, in which you lean some of your body weight against the wall and slide up and down.

  • Stand with your back against the wall.
  • Take a giant step out and plant both feet securely on the floor about hip-width apart.
  • Slowly bend your knees and slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as far as you can comfortably go (if you are just beginning, slide partway down the wall).
  • Make sure that in the fully bent position, your knees are over your ankles, not forward of them.
  • Pause, then exhale and squeeze the buttocks as you slide back up, keeping your head, shoulders and hips against the wall.
  • This exercise is also called The Olympic Rest because it is a great ski-conditioning exercise that can be done outdoors, leaning against a tree. For this kind of endurance training, hold the position for as long as you can, for example 30-90 seconds.

Chair Squat: Sit to Stand This movement rehearses the one we need everyday in order to get up from a seated position.

  • Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair, your knees bent at a right angle and positioned over your ankles. Your feet should be parallel and hip width apart. Place your hands on your waist.
  • Lean forward from the hip with your spine straight.
  • Exhale and squeeze the buttocks as you press through your feet to stand up.
  • Straighten your knees (without locking them) at the end of the movement to come to a fully upright position.
  • Pause, then slowing sit back down, reaching your hips back toward the seat, heels firmly planted on the floor.

Chair Squat: Stand to Sit This version of the squat uses the chair behind you to cue you into the proper body mechanics and to help determine a full range of motion.

  • Stand in front of a chair with your feet parallel, hip-width apart.
  • Shift your weight back onto your heels: imagine that they are nailed to the floor.
  • Bring your arms forward for balance and look straight ahead.
  • Inhale as you bend your knees and reach back with your hips, lowering yourself toward the chair as if you were going to sit down.
  • Continue to bend your knees until you tap the edge of the chair with your hips (don’t actually sit down). If you are testing out your knees, just go partway down.
  • Exhale as you squeeze your buttocks to return to the start position.

If I were to recommend one exercise for life, it would definitely be the squat. It is a very functional move, requires no equipment and takes only a few minutes to complete a set or two. For a minimum investment of time and energy, the pay-off is dramatic in terms of benefit to your well-being.

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