If you’re looking for a powerful way to boost your overall fitness and get fast results, consider adding squats to your routine. Squats are relatively simple to perform, require no equipment and can be done just about anywhere. Importantly, while squats are often regarded as a leg exercise, they actually benefit your entire body, including your core.
Top 8 Benefits of Squats
What makes squats such a fantastic exercise? They:
Help your body produce nitric oxide (NO) — This is actually one of the primary reasons squats are so beneficial. NO is a soluble gas produced and stored in the lining of your endothelium (blood vessels), which acts as an important signaling molecule throughout your body.
When you exercise and your muscles ache, it’s because you’ve run out of oxygen, which your body compensates for by releasing NO (to dilate your blood vessels making it easier for oxygen to be delivered). This process fuels muscle development.
NO also promotes healthy endothelial function, heart health and healthy blood flow by helping your veins and arteries dilate. This, in turn, allows vital oxygen and nutrients to flow freely throughout your body. NO also plays a protective role in your mitochondrial health and improves your immune function.
By stimulating the thinning of your blood and decreasing its viscosity, squats may also help discourage the development of blood clots that could cause a heart attack or stroke.
Build muscle in your entire body and tone your abs and glutes — Squats obviously help to build your leg muscles (including your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves), but they also create an anabolic environment, which promotes bodywide muscle building.
In fact, when done properly, squats are so intense that they trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone in your body, which are vital for muscle growth and will also help to improve muscle mass when you train other areas of your body aside from your legs. So, squats can actually help you improve both your upper and lower body strength.
Burn more fat — One of the most time-efficient ways to burn more calories is to gain more muscle, as muscle is more metabolically active, and is thought to burn about three times more calories than fat, pound for pound.
Improve mobility and balance — Strong legs are crucial for maintaining mobility as you get older, and squats are phenomenal for increasing leg strength. They also work out your core, stabilizing muscles that are important for balance. They also improve communication between your brain and your muscle groups, which can help prevent falls. Taken together, these benefits translate into your body moving more efficiently.
Prevent athletic injuries — Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. Squats also help prevent injury by improving your flexibility (squats improve the range of motion in your ankles and hips) and balance, as noted above.
Boost sports performance — Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a mom who chases after a toddler, you’ll be interested to know that studies have linked squatting strength with athletic ability. Specifically, squatting helped athletes run faster and jump higher, which is why this exercise is part of virtually every professional athlete’s training program.
Improve insulin sensitivity — Muscles participate in the regulation of glucose metabolism, lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, so by building muscle throughout your body, squats help protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Help with waste removal — Squats also improve the movement of body fluids, thereby aiding in removal of waste and delivery of nutrition to all tissues, including organs and glands. They’re also useful for improved movement of feces through your colon and can lead to more regular bowel movements.
How to Perform Squats Properly
Squats have long been criticized as being destructive to your knees, but squats can actually improve knee stability and strengthen connective tissue when done properly. As noted in one scientific review:
“Concerns about degenerative changes of the tendofemoral complex and the apparent higher risk for chondromalacia, osteoarthritis, and osteochondritis in deep squats are unfounded …
Provided that technique is learned accurately under expert supervision and with progressive training loads, the deep squat presents an effective training exercise for protection against injuries and strengthening of the lower extremity. Contrary to commonly voiced concern, deep squats do not contribute increased risk of injury to passive tissues.”
In the featured video, personal trainer and coach Darin Steen demonstrates safe squat techniques for beginner, intermediate and advanced. Here’s a brief summary of the key points:
- Warm up first
- Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, feet parallel, toes pointing forward and the weight of your body distributed evenly between your heels and the ball of your foot
- Be sure to keep your back in a neutral position, and your knees centered over your feet
- On an in-breath, slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle. Make sure your quadriceps are engaged. Your behind should move back as though you’re about to sit in a chair while your arms move forward slightly for balance. You can do a shallower squat if you have knee or back pain
- Raise yourself back up to starting position as you breathe out. Repeat 15 to 20 times. Beginners are advised to not exceed two or three sets per session, and to not do squat exercises more than two or three times per week
The Four-Minute Nitric Oxide Dump Workout
Squats are one of the four movements included in the Nitric Oxide Dump workout, developed by Dr. Zach Bush. It’s a really simple yet effective form of high-intensity exercise that you can do just about anywhere.
While I’ve not made any changes to Bush’s movements, I do recommend breathing through your nose and not your mouth, as your nose regulates more than 30 physical processes, including the release of NO.
There are only four movements to learn for this workout: squats, alternating arm raises, nonjumping jacks and shoulder presses. For a demonstration, see the video above or the illustrations in the infographic below.
Start with four sets of 10 repetitions, moving to 20 repetitions as your fitness level increases. You can also add in weights as you progress. Ideally, you’d want to do this workout three times a day, with a minimum of two hours between each session.
Squats Are a Valuable Addition to Any Fitness Routine
Exercise is a key player in disease reduction, optimal psychological and physical health, and longevity. It’s really a phenomenal way to get the most out of your life!
Exercise also slows down the rate of aging itself, even stimulating the regeneration of the energy-producing mitochondria in your cells, providing perhaps the closest example of a real-life fountain of youth as we will ever find.
Unfortunately, many public health guidelines still focus primarily on the aerobic component of exercise. Strength training and high-intensity exercises are really important for optimal results, and become even more so with age.
That said, as you develop a workout routine that works for you, remember to listen to your body so it can guide you into a path that will provide you with the most efficient and effective benefits.
*Article originally appeared at Mercola. Reposted with permission.