There is a lot of discussion about proper squat form, do squats make your butt bigger, and are they really that important overall. First, allow me to address why I think they’re critical for even the most casual bodybuilder, male or female.
Heavy squats increase full-body strength and muscle growth because they:
Activate your central nervous system in such a way that it releases a flood of natural muscle building hormones.
Technically work your whole body (especially lower-back and abs), not just your legs.
According to an anabolic study done by the University of Texas, FLEX Magazine concluded:
The squat produced higher testosterone and GH and also cortisol levels immediately post-exercise and at 15 and 30 minutes of post-exercise.
Squats are clearly efficient at building a strong body, and truly one of the best uses of your time in the gym. Not to mention, heavy squats burn a ton of calories because they are so demanding on the body. Just notice your heartbeat the next time you execute an intense set; my heart feels like it’s beating out of my chest sometimes. I know, it’s somewhat odd that a simple “leg exercise” will affect your whole body in this way, but just ask any gym rat that you’ll notice strength gains in all of your other lifts as well.
Before I delve into “proper form” I want to point out that we are all shaped differently, and in fact our hip joints can vary person to person in terms of shape and movement.
This means the info below is nothing more than a starting place using solid fundamentals, but ultimately you have to find the squatting movement that feels right for you.
How to do squats
One of the most persistent myths in the conventional exercise paradigm is that squats below parallel are bad for the knees. It doesn’t help that MDs, physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, and chiropractors with good intention perpetuate this belief. On the other hand, well-experienced weightlifting professionals such as strength training coaches, bodybuilders, powerlifters, and enthusiasts like myself are willing to observe the movement of the knees and hips for a more accurate assessment.
The below-parallel (hips just below the knees) squat position is a perfectly natural position for the human body. Before the invention of the couch, humans historically spent time squatting as a resting position. Just look to the indigenous people of today for that matter, and all of them rise from the squatting position without injury.
The truth is, we’ve probably been squatting since homo sapiens had hips (even monkeys squat), and gradually loading this natural movement with a weighted barbell doesn’t suddenly make it a bad idea if you do them correctly. On the other hand, if you’re doing 100’s of squats as calisthenics, you’re going to get sore knees because of the volume of repetitions.
According to author Rob Faign, “There is a perverse situation prevailing in gyms across America: People are doing the right exercise (squats) the wrong way (half-way down) for the right reason (to protect their knees).”
Squat are a hips movement, the knees just go along for the ride; if you squat down, your knees have to bend, but they shouldn’t take the majority of the stress. This job is better suited for the hips because they are completely surrounded by muscle.
Squatting with correct form drives the hips back and the knees out to the side a little during the descent. This puts the majority of the force on the hips where it belongs, and the reason why squats using heavy weight (with proper form) at five reps per set won’t hurt your knees.
The full squat (past parallel) is not only safe for the knees, it strengthens the muscles that operate and protect the knees.
- Head up, chest up, abs in, stance should width, and butt back; maintain this form throughout the full movement.
- Squat down until your hip joint is lower than your knees (known as “below parallel”). The trick is to observe your hip joint, not your thighs because depending on the size of your thighs your squat may appear to be less deep than it truly is.
- Breathe out and drive up through your heels (keep the balls of your feet on the ground).
- Drive your knees out the same way you did on the way down, and squeeze your butt at the top to fully engage your glutes.
Going Deeper… In Explanation
I clipped the following from an article about how to do squats in HuffingtonPost.com that goes a little deeper:
“The quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh attach to the tibia (the shin bone) just below the kneecap, on the bump at the top of the bone on the front. When they pull on the knee, the force is directed forward relative to the knee joint. Balancing this forward force is the backward pull from the hamstrings, which attach on either side of the same bone (the top of the tibia). When the hamstrings are positioned correctly by the hips moving back and the torso leaning forward, the backward pull from the hamstrings balances the forward pull from the quads. This balance is optimum when the hips drop just below the level of the knees.
Partial squats have a marked tendency to leave the hamstrings — and their important backward-directed tension that protects the knees — out of the movement. This is because partial squats are so often performed with a more vertical back, either accidentally or due to poor instruction.
A partial squat also allows the use of much heavier weights, because you don’t have to move them as far… As a general rule, if the bar is so heavy that you cannot squat below parallel with it and stand back up, it’s too heavy to have on your back.”
- Always warm up with 1-2 sets using just the bar, even if you’re planning on squatting 405 lbs.
- Engage your body and core by keeping it tight the entire time; critical for heavy weight lifting.
- Starting Strength is probably the best book for beginners hands down.
- Westside Barbell is where the pros turn for advanced advice on strength training and form, here’s a great article by them Squatting 600lbs Easy.
Bottom Line: Go Deep
Proper squat form executed correctly, work all the leg muscles, hips, glutes, back, abdominal muscles, and damn near every other muscle in your body (even forehead), whereas half squats focus primarily on the quadriceps and risk pain and anguish.
The added bonus with going deep… is that it will protect the spine/neck, and knees; this is what allows us to safely, and progressively, life heavier weights using this form.
Do squats make your butt bigger?
Yes, squats make your butt bigger. However, a more accurate statement is that developing your glutes can enhance your butt and make it tighter, firmer, and more desirable. I’ve had women come to me and say that they already have a big butt and scared to do squats because they don’t want it to grow even larger.
This is a reasonable concern, however, the reality is… I have never seen a situation in which squats made someone’s ass look less desirable. In all cases it enhances the look and feel, and even if you have “a$$ for days,” squats will refine what you have already.
Bottom line is that no one ever wrote a song about a woman with a flat butt.
For better understanding about proper squat form, watch the below 2 videos –
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