There isn’t a day that goes by when you won’t have to squat or bend at some point. Sometimes, it might be just to sit on or stand up from a chair, pick up your shoes, or perhaps something else as part of your job. These movements develop strength and stability around the ankle, knee and hip joints. A lack of strength around these joints can contribute to poor balance and stability, difficulty with everyday tasks, added wear and tear on joints, and fatigue during activity.
As well as having excellent health benefits, the exercises shown here will also strengthen, tighten and tone the muscle around your buttocks and thighs, improving your body shape.
The squat is one of the most functional and versatile movements that you can do. It is used by everyone from bodybuilders trying to get bigger legs to physiotherapists dealing with rehabilitation of the lower body. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘king’ of all resistance training exercises, not only for its wide range of applications, but also for the large amount of muscle you use when performing it.
The basic squat movement is one of the most functional movement patterns that we use every day. This is the basic variation of the exercise. If you find it difficult to maintain form on this, use a stability ball behind you to create extra support.
Start with your feet a comfortable distance apart, slightly wider than shoulder-width.
Your arms can be folded across your chest or held out to the front.
Bend at the hips, knees and ankle as if sitting on a chair.
Keep your knees over your toes and lower your body towards the floor.
Return to the start position by extending through your knees and hips.
Note: Squat depth – how far down you should squat – is a contentious issue among fitness professionals. Many texts wrongly suggest that squatting beyond a point where your thighs are parallel with the floor is dangerous, but this is not always true. You should squat as far down as you can while maintaining good form. For most people (particularly when starting out), this is around the point at which the thighs are parallel with the floor. If you suffer from knee pain, use a shorter, pain-free, range of movement.
Split stance squat
The split stance squat is an excellent alternative to the basic squat. This simple exercise really mimics how we stand to lift and move objects, and develops real functional strength in the legs and hips.
Start by taking a short stride forward, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
A Bend through your knees and ankles, lowering your hips to the floor, keeping your trunk upright. • Extend through your knees and ankles back to the start position.
This is one exercise that is a lot harder to do than it looks. Not only does it develop great leg strength, but it also helps to improve core strength and shoulder mobility. You can use a piece of rubber tubing or simply a towel to do this exercise.
Start as for the basic squat.
Raise your arms straight overhead, keeping the towel or tubing held tightly between them.
Squat, keeping your arms directly overhead; avoid arching your back or allowing your arms to fall forward.
Keep good alignment of your knees over your toes; only go down as far as you can while keeping excellent form.
The Bulgarian-style squat really challenges the muscles at the front of the thigh and, as well as building strength, it is an excellent move for improving stability around the knee joint.
Take a good-sized stride forwards, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
Place your rear foot onto a step (or you can use a chair or low table).
Keeping your hands at your hips and your trunk upright, lower your hips towards the floor.
Keep your knee in good alignment over your toes.
Single leg squat – arms out to front
Not an exercise for the fainthearted, the single leg squat is one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises you can do for the legs. This exercise can help build strength throughout the whole body and really challenges the muscles that stabilise the body during movement. Stand on one leg, with the raised leg bent at the knee and ankle, and held next to the supporting leg throughout the movement.
Squat, bending at the hip, knee and ankle. Only go as far as possible, keeping good form.
Ensure your knee doesn’t collapse and that it remains over your toes.
Extend through your knee and hips back to the start position.