The World's Greatest Exercise From The YMCA


UPDATED: Thursday April 25, 2013 4:23 PM

A good workout program must include some type of squat. This isn’t just about your legs, even though squats are the best way to build stronger quads, hamstrings and glutes. Regularly performing squats keeps your body moving the way it was designed to, while helping to protect you from injuries related to a sedentary lifestyle. Squatting is an exercise that requires every ounce of focus you got, and almost makes you feel like an athlete at the same time. Some people assume that squatting is beyond their current capabilities. But guess what: If you’ve picked something up off the ground, sat in a chair, or straddled a toilet seat today, congrats. You’ve performed a squat. But the real magic happens when you begin loading the basic squat with weight. This is what improves performance, increases muscle mass, burns fat, and helps offset postural imbalances. Squats are so demanding that they trigger the release of hormones like testosterone. Once those hormones enter the bloodstream, they support the growth of your whole body.

Improved Performance:  Whether your goal is to finally dunk a basketball in your rec league, look great for the beach, squats can help you get from point A to point B fast.  Squats target the “go” muscles of the legs, namely the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, which all play an important role in serious athletic endeavors like sprinting, jumping, landing, and change of direction.  Specifically, squats improve your power.  Power is the ability to apply a lot of force in a minimum amount of time, making it important in both athletics and many everyday activities. Squats also build strength, which is the foundation for everything. You can’t swing a baseball bat, or even zip past crowds of zombie-eyed shoppers on Black Friday, without having a pool of strength to tap in to.  The beauty of squats versus say, the leg extension or leg curl, is that squats force a lot of big muscles to work together to perform the movement.

Improved Muscle Gains:  Since squats make you stronger and more powerful, it’s not surprising that they can also increase muscle size. This is due in part to the squat recruiting so many muscles simultaneously, but there may also be a hormonal explanation. Squats are so demanding that they trigger the release of hormones like testosterone. And because squats are truly a full-body exercise, you burn a ton of calories when you perform them. When you place a loaded barbell on your back, every muscle in the body has to fire.  Your upper back muscles hold the weight and help keep the body upright throughout the set. Your core must fire to prevent the body from tipping over.  And of course, every muscle group in the lower body plays a part in the movement. So, even if your goal isn’t to add a lot of muscle mass although, to be fair, the more lean mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest; squats will help burn body-fat by the mere fact that hundreds of muscles are pitching in to get the job done.

Posture, Movement, Bone Density, and More:  Finally, squats help offset many of the muscular imbalances and weaknesses that we accumulate in our daily lives. We move so little as a society, spending most of our days sitting and staring at computers and televisions that we’ve seemingly forgotten how to move as well.  We didn’t start out this way. Squatting helps “relearn” the essential squatting pattern and alleviate many of the issues related to being sedentary. When you strengthen the glutes, the hip flexors, which are normally stiff or short, will become less tonic or active.  Also, by forcing you to engage your upper back, squatting helps reinforce proper posture. A movement that will help you stand taller, feel stronger, and stay lean? It’s no wonder that no workout plan is complete without squats, nature’s perfect full-body exercise.