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Why the Barbell Squat Is the Best Exercise in the Gym

Updated on May 14, 2019
Eoin Cunningham profile image

Health and Fitness is a huge passion of mine. Here is what I have learned...

What Makes the Barbell Squat so Great?

Anyone who knows anything about fitness will tell you that squats are an incredible exercise. They are a functional movement that improves performance not only in the weight room but out on the track and field as well, meaning everyone stands to gain something from performing them.

One of the many reasons squats are a great exercise is that they are a compound movement. A compound movement put in plain terms is an exercise that works several muscle groups all at once. They are highly beneficial as they allow us to breakdown more muscle fibres than isolation exercises equating to more bang for your buck. For those of you wondering, an isolation exercise is the opposite of a compound movement with one muscle group at a time active during isolation exercises. A bicep curl is a classic example of an isolation exercise.

Squatting is idyllic for people who do not have a lot of time to spend working out. Many workout programs include the squat as the sole lower body movement, a testament to its effectiveness. Squatting works your glutes, hamstrings, quads and core. If you are currently working these muscles individually and consider yourself to be someone strapped for time to spend in the gym, then it is worth considering swapping out your lower isolation exercises in favour of squats.

The squat is also great for maintaining your flexibility and preventing injury. It works lots of different muscles at once which helps ensure you do not begin to develop imbalances. Imbalances combined with a lack of flexibility are a recipe for disaster not to mention a surefire way to get injured.

Finally, the sense of fulfilment that the squat brings is by far one of the greatest things about it. You can track your progress from start to finish. To be able to see how far you have come is incredibly self-gratifying because you know you are the one who made it happen.


Practical Information Regarding the Squat.

The following are some practical tips and advice when it comes to squatting:

  • Develop proper technique before you start adding weight: I recommend starting out squatting three times per week if you are new to performing the exercise. Do not add weight until you have developed the proper technique. Remember, you cannot make progress if you are injured so learn the movement pattern before you begin to load the barbell.

  • Keep it simple: as a beginner, you do not need to worry about programming styles such as the conjugate method or daily undulating periodisation. Follow a simple linear progression of adding either more weight, sets or reps than you did the previous week. This approach will enable you to progress quickly while your body and nervous system are adapting to the newfound stimulus.

  • Add a second or third day: this tip applies to people who have been squatting for six months or more. You should be beginning to see diminishing returns at this point squatting once or twice per week so an extra day of squatting will provide your body with more volume to drive neuro-muscular adaptation.

  • Variations: there are many different variations of the squat. I enjoy doing box squats, split squats and front squats. The box squat is probably the most straightforward variation to perform as it only requires you to lower yourself to the surface of the box where you will pause for two seconds in a seated position then stand back up. Variations are a great way to spice up your workout if you are looking for an alternative to your standard barbell back squat.

  • Plan your progression: have a clear plan of how you want to progress by breaking your training into blocks. The best way to structure this is by having a hypertrophy or muscle building block followed by strength and power blocks. Your approach depends on your goals so customise your blocks to fit your needs explicitly meaning if you are only looking to build muscle, then you might want to perform two hypertrophy blocks and only one strength block disregarding the power block entirely. Regardless of what your goals are it is vital to deload at the end of a training block to aid recovery and prevent injury. A training block is usually 4-6 weeks in length.

  • Be patient: squatting is no different from any other walk of life. You will not see results after the one session, but after completing multiple gym sessions consistently, you will see the benefits.

Additional Information

The squat is a great exercise, but you should see a physiotherapist or physician before you begin to perform it. This step is just common sense especially if you are injured or have suffered an injury in the past. There is a plethora of information on Youtube regarding the squat and how to properly execute it. I recommend familiarising yourself with these videos as they will provide you with a good base of knowledge to begin squatting.


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