Move over leg press; move over leg extensions, want massive thighs? You got to squat! I'm not dissing the other leg exercises; they have their place in every workout. But fact: Too many bodybuilders find excuses NOT to squat instead of giving it a try. Maybe you've heard of top pros that have great leg development that swear by the leg press, hack squat etc.
But how many of us have the freaky genetics of a Dorian Yates or Kevin Levrone to afford NOT to squat? Whether you're trying to shed fat or build muscle, no other exercise works better at stressing the quads, hams and glutes in one single movement. The bottom line is, squatting produces results.
Why Is Squatting The King Of Exercises?
Most leg exercises target one or two particular muscles in the upper leg. Leg extensions for example, isolate the quads, specifically the vastus medialis - the innermost head of the quad muscle. Leg curls isolate the hamstrings. Leg presses are great, but full range of motion and tempo are often sacrificed in favor of a 10-plates-a-side mentality.
Bodybuilders lower the leg press a couple of inches before ramming it back, placing extreme stress on the knees and never getting the most out of the exercise. Squats tax all the muscles in the legs - quads, hams, glutes, even calves. They also strengthen the hips and lower back, which help prevent injury.
Will It Help Me Get Ripped?
For those trying to get shredded, there are 3 keys to remember - cardio, diet, and maintaining fat-burning muscle. Think about it. The legs hold almost half the body's musculature. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn when you're resting. It's true that other leg exercises will build muscle in the legs, but the squat holds the trump card because it works the entire body. Squatting has long been associated as a total body exercise.
When you squat, your entire upper body is working to stabilize the weight. The muscles of the chest, shoulders, arms, back and abs all work in the movement. While squatting won't give you huge arms, it is a great exercise that develops strength, stability and endurance while working the cardiovascular system as well. Therefore, it speeds up the body's metabolism.
What About The A$$/waist Issue?
Won't squatting make my waist and a$$ huge? The answer is - it depends. Squatting will work the glutes and there isn't much you can do to prevent it except making sure your stance isn't too wide. Placing a one-inch board under your heels is also a good way to reduce glute involvement.
Many top bodybuilders have built their superb legs around the squat. Yet when you see pictures of them, their waists are streamlined and their hips, thighs and glutes are all in perfect proportion.
Therefore, how small your waist can get is genetically determined. Do you have naturally wide or narrow hips? Is your butt along the same vertical plane as your shoulders (i.e. does it stick out naturally)? When it comes to measurements, some bodybuilders can dial it in at a tight 28-inch waist; others may have to settle for a wider midsection around 30 inches. Focus on ripping up the midsection before worrying about a large butt.
Key Points To Remember!
- Always squat till your thighs are parallel or slightly below parallel to the floor. Doing this ensures the stress is transferred away from the knees to the quads, hams and glutes.
- Squat. Don't bounce up and down. Emphasize slower, controlled movements over heavy weights and poor form.
- Look straight ahead when squatting. Looking up or down will cause excessive arching or rounding of the back, which could lead to injury.
- Stretch your quads and hams before, during and after your leg workouts.
Kick-ass Leg Routines!
A great upper-leg workout with squats would be something along the lines of:
Barbell Squats - 5 x 10-12
Leg Extensions - 4 x 10-15
Superset with Leg Curls - 4 x 10-15
As always, there are different ways to incorporate squats into a workout, depending on what works for you. One way to shock your legs into growth is to set aside a day for squatting alone, no other exercises. Working with a partner, pyramid up in weight, then back off with a light set, then pyramid up again, for as many sets as you can.
Do it in "You go, I go" fashion (i.e. taking turns between sets) with your training partner. Be ready to crawl all the way home.
Pre-exhausting the quads with leg extensions before squats is also a good idea. It ensures that the quads are fatigued before performing squats. This won't allow you to go as heavy, but you'll get a great pump. Finally, experiment with different positions of the feet and your stance. A wider stance activates the glutes and hams more, which helps you lift more weight.
A narrower, shoulder-width stance focuses mainly on the quads and building overall leg mass. Now, go squat!