Squats are one of the best lower body exercises around. Not only do they recruit your quads (thighs) very effectively, but they also target your hips, glutes, and hamstrings. Done correctly, they are one of the most efficient movements to build leg strength and power. But did you know there are actually a few things you can do to strengthen your legs and add more weight to your squats? Try these simple tricks for squatting more:
Pause at the Bottom
When squatting, don’t immediately come back up once you reach the bottom of the movement. If you pause at the bottom of your squat, this prevents your muscles from reacting as if you were stretching them. Imagine your muscles are rubber bands, that have a lot of “snap” when you pull them as you squat. By pausing at the bottom of the squat, you prevent the natural snap or bounce, forcing your muscles to generate true power in order to move out of the squat position. Try pausing for a second or two at the bottom–a movement known as the “Anderson Squat”. It will be highly effective for generating proper leg strength and power.
Tighten the Screw
Before performing any squat, think of the soles of your feet as a tightening screw. Drive your heels into the floor, and push your toes outward. Don’t actually move your feet, but just imagine that motion in your head. This will cause the arches of your feet to become more pronounced, tighten your glutes, and prepare you for the squat. It will also help your knees to stay properly aligned with your toes as you go into the squat. It’s a beautifully simple trick, but it works wonders to help you squat more!
Shift Your Toes
Did you know that even a slight change in the position of your feet can have drastic effects on your muscular recruitment? If your toes are pointed directly forward, try shifting them outward just a bit. This will help to engage more of your leg muscles, giving you more power for your squats.
Change the Load
The way you load the weight can drastically change the effect of the workout. Place the load on your back, and you will find a lot of the burden shifted to your lower back and glutes. Place the load in front of you, and it hits the quads and hips more. It also reduces the strain on your lower back, reducing your risk of injury. If at all possible, try to load the weight on the front of your body. Even if you have to grip a dumbbell at chest level (Goblet Squats), you can get an safer workout that’s easier on your lower back.
Widen Your Stance
Try the Sumo Squat: feet spread past shoulder width apart, with your toes pointed at a 45-degree angle outward. This movement helps to focus on the hip joints and muscles as well as the glutes, giving you greater hip strength and mobility. You’ll find that it can be more effective for building lower body strength than the regular narrow-stance squat, and may even be more comfortable for those who have knee problems.
Add a Half-Rep
If you don’t have the strength to increase your weight but want to up the difficulty of your squats, try mixing in a half-rep at the bottom of the movement. Perform a normal squat, come halfway up, and go back down again before returning to standing position. There’s no complex movement involved, but it’s incredibly difficult on your leg muscles. You’ll feel the burn in no time!