The squat is one of the most effective lower-body exercises you can do -- and you can do it just about anywhere.
No need for an intimidating weight rack or any fancy gear. All you must do is pay attention to a few key pointers:
- Plant your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider), with your toes pointing straight ahead.
- Keep your chest up and back flat, and then send your hips back, as if sitting in a chair.
- Concentrate on keeping your knees wide, roughly in line with the second toe of each foot.
- Drop your hips until they are roughly in line with your knees, then drive through your heels to stand.
What you decide to do with your arms doesn't matter so much, as long as wherever you put them doesn't cause your low back to arch, or your shoulders to elevate or hunch. Try keeping those arms level in front of you, tight by your sides or even over your head.
If you can't quite get the feel of it, try squatting with an actual chair or bench behind you. Tap it gently with your behind and you'll know you're doing it right! Don't cheat yourself by only going a portion of the way down or moving too quickly through your squat. Aim to take about two seconds to drop down, and then another two seconds to come back up.
Once you're a master of the traditional squat, it's time to get fancy. You can challenge yourself by adding weight -- like in front or back squats or, one of my favorites, the goblet squat -- but there are also some fun and easy ways to up the squat ante with just your body weight.
Here are some easy ways to do just that.
Isometric exercises -- including the more familiar plank -- build muscle strength and endurance with minimal movement. Sometimes called the squat hold, this variation involves spending more time at the bottom of your squat. At first, try holding the position for five seconds before returning to standing. Gradually, you can work your way up to lengthier holds. You can even try it against a wall (yes, the dreaded wall sit) if you need a little extra support.
Widening the stance and pointing the toes slightly outward allows you to recruit smaller lower-body muscles and work the big guns harder. In fact, the glutes are around 25 percent more engaged when you do a deep squat than when you only drop it as low as your knees, Greatist reported. Contrary to popular belief, deep squats won't destroy your knees -- as long as you're using good form. Discomfort in the ankles, knees or hips is a sign you're not quite ready to get low.
Don't expect to master this variation right off the bat, as the single-leg squat is a challenging progression. Not only will you be placing a greater amount of weight on that one leg, you'll also be calling on stabilizing muscles in your core to help you stay upright.
Rear Leg Elevated Squat
Already a single-leg squat pro? Take things up a notch with this elevated variation. Start a few lengths of your feet in front of a stable surface, like a weight bench. Rest the toes of one foot on the bench, which should ideally be slightly below your knee. Lower down and back (still imagining you're tapping that chair), keeping the front knee behind the foot and in line with the second toe.
So, love 'em or hate 'em? Let us know in the comments below.
All photos by Damon Dahlen for The Huffington Post