Lose Fat, Gain Muscle: The Importance of the Squat

by Darrin on May 19, 2010

Ask any guy what his two biggest fitness goals are and you’re likely to hear “lose fat,” “gain muscle,” or variants thereof. Most people will translate this as “run on the treadmill a lot and do lots of machine exercises.” If you’ve been following the articles here on LMVM, you’ll know that I am NOT a fan of this method. Not that I don’t think it doesn’t work, but rather that it is an inefficient waste of time. One thing you can do to get a lot of leverage on these goals is to do what most guys neglect: work on your lower body.

The Forgotten Lower Body

For years, I did NO lifts that worked my legs at all. This was mostly because I was doing lots of running as I trained for marathons. But it seems like a LOT of guys ignore their legs entirely or just throw in a couple exercises every now and then almost as an afterthought.

Since our legs are about as far away from our pecs, biceps, and abs as possible, guys tend to seriously neglect them. The “glamour muscles” get all the attention although they are a poor indicator of total-body strength.

Hips: The Axis of the Body

The muscles of your glutes, hamstrings, and quads constitute the foundation of strength in your body. Without them, we wouldn’t have the strength and power necessary to move massive objects around, something our species has undoubtedly needed for survival during our evolution.

Intense, compound, lower-body exercises will unleash anabolic hormones throughout your body, which burn fat and leads to incredible muscle growth. Steady-state cardio and isolation exercises will fail miserably at this task.

And as I mentioned in a previous post, women are attracted to three aspects of a man’s body:

  • Broad chest, shoulders, and upper arms
  • Narrow waist and muscular legs
  • A muscular and tight butt

So whether you’re married, single, or anywhere in between, you now have even more reason to work on your lower body.

It’s easy to look at the freakishly huge legs of bodybuilders and say “hell no, I don’t want that!” But trust me, building strength and power in your lower body will pay enormous dividends. (And you won’t end up looking like a ‘roided up bodybuilder.)

The Squat: “King” of Exercises

The squat is often called the king of exercises. I think there are a few others that have a strong claim to the title as well, but there is no understating the importance of this exercise, which will utilize all of your lower-body muscles.

  1. Set up the barbell on a rack at a level that is slightly lower than shoulder height and load it up with weight. Make sure you have safety bars at hip height to catch the barbell if necessary.
  2. Get underneath the bar and place it on top of your shoulder blades. Put your hands about 1 ½ shoulder width apart on either side of the bar.
  3. With a stiff back, slowly stand up and walk the barbell back.
  4. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width.
  5. Slowly, and with a stiff back, bend your knees and stick your butt out until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  6. Extend your legs to return to standing.

The squat can be a very intense exercise for beginners, if you haven’t done them before (or if you have back or knee problems), I strongly suggest starting out doing air squats to work on your form, which are still a great exercise.

Important Squat Variants

Once you are good at squats, try doing front squats as well. This exercise puts more emphasis on your quads rather than your glutes, but you cannot do as much weight as back squats. It’s also a great exercise to learn as it is a foundational movement in the clean, which I will return to in a later article.

  1. Set up the barbell the same as for a back squat.
  2. Set your body up underneath the bar as though you were to attempt a shoulder press, but with wrists bent back. Place the bar across your clavicle and shoulders, with arms slightly wider than shoulder width.
  3. Unload the bar and walk back.
  4. Squat the same as you did for the back squat, but leaning back slightly more.

The last squat variant you’ll want to master is the overhead squat. This move requires a lot of balance and gives your core a tremendous workout. It is also an important lift to learn because of the role it plays in the snatch, another Olympic lift.

  1. Start with the barbell overhead and your body positioned the same as the extended position in the shoulder press.
  2. Squat as before with the other lifts, taking care to stabilize the bar over your head.

To Be Continued…

The importance and span of lower body exercises are too much to be contained in one post. In the next post, I will show you the lift where you can move the most weight as well as show you some good “miscellaneous” exercises you can do at home with minimal equipment. Let me know in the comments how much emphasis on your lower body you place in your exercise routine.

{ 7 comments }

Dave May 20, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Darrin,
The squat is certainly a great exercise for building mass and gaining strength. I’ve gotten away from lower body strength training as I think that my legs get enough exercise from HIIT and plyometrics (primarily bodyweight leg training). For any beginner though, I’d agree that the ability to squat is a necessity.
Dave

Darrin May 21, 2010 at 12:43 am

@Dave:
I’ve been doing lots of plyometrics recently too. (Trying to conserve funds for a while.) I’m definitely going to go over how to stay in great shape for dirt cheap. But there still ain’t nothing quite like barbell squats (in my humble opinion). In addition to the gains in strength, you also get some great balance and coordination training, components of fitness that are oft-forgotten. Plus, you get an excellent core workout due to the amount of stabilization necessary.

Mike Navin May 21, 2010 at 5:01 am

“Plus, you get an excellent core workout due to the amount of stabilization necessary.”

Yup, from my understanding, core/abdominal muscle activation is highest in the squat and deadlift then in any other exercise. I get a lot of head scratching when I tell my clients that since all they want to do is crunches.:)

Darrin May 21, 2010 at 9:43 am

@Mike:
Yeah, when I learned that little gem, I dropped crunches for good. Plus, I don’t have to worry about getting the occasional whiplash anymore!

Thomas June 3, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Great post Darrin as squats will definitely help you build muscle mass on your lower body. I tend to teach my lady friends to just do sprints or lunges. For guys I think squats work just don’t over do them and have them bulging out of jeans. You are right though when you say too many people forget about the lower body and only work the top.

Darrin June 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm

@Thomas:
Thanks for preaching to the ladies to do lower body workouts! Can’t go wrong with maximizing the curvature. :-)

Dave October 12, 2010 at 8:36 am

I was overweight three years ago and want to reveal one tip which really helped me to drop my fat: jogging. I think, it’s the best cardio excercise that can help achieve fantastic results. Just combine it with a proper diet program and you will notice how your body changes. All the best.

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