The Gym Spy: Get the Most Out of Squats

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Flickr photo by GaryKA
Taylor Ryan, The Stir's personal trainer, is sleuthing the gyms and clubs, reporting on common workout mistakes that hold us back from the killer body we want.

The gym intell:

As I've been peeking around the corners of my gym this week spying on women (don't worry, I make sure I'm inconspicuous, not some weirdo), the number one mistake I see from newbies is improper form during squats -- the ultimate back, leg and core exercise.

I'm not surprised.

I don't have to explain to my clients how to do push-ups or lunges very often, but ask them to do squats and I have to go into full trainer/teacher mode (which I love). I wish I had the time and the ability to explain proper squatting to all the women who I see sit all wrong, but that's why I'm here!


The error:

It's all about body weight distribution. Many women doing squats for the first time perform the move by pushing up on their toes -- something I call "toeing" -- giving the feeling like you are going to tip over, rather than letting all the weight sink into the heels. This happens because of imbalances in muscles in the legs, knees and hips.

Doing the exercise wrong leads to more muscle imbalances, places stress on the joints, and won't give you the full benefit of the squat. And let me tell you, when done right, the squat is a wonderful move.

The squat is a total body exercise that works not just your butt and legs, but your core and back as well. It not only shapes you up, it helps you get through normal day activities. Just think how many times each day you squat ... to sit down, stand up, pick up stuff. It will even help you during fun activities like skiing and skating.

New workout mission:

If you're serious about strength training, I suggest mastering this move. There are so many variations of the squat that will help you progress with your workouts. But to get there you first need to master the basic squat:

Forget about weights for now. Begin with shifting your body weight to the proper position. After you perfect your form, then grab the dumbbells or barbell.

  • Start with your feet shoulder width apart (or slightly, very slightly wider), and toes pointed forward.
  • Concentrate on keeping your chest up -- do not lean forward -- as this will make sure you are working your core and back properly.The best way to do this is just to hold your arms up by your ears.
  • Keeping your weight in your heels, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. One way I make sure that I do this correctly is to lift my toes slightly so they are not touching the ground.
  • Slowly return to standing and repeat.

Try adding 2 to 3 sets of 12 reps each to your next workout. It's a big move that requires a lot of energy and concentration on form, so do it first or second routine in your workout and not last when you are too worn out to get the most out of it.


Taylor Ryan is head trainer for The Art of Weight Lifting and the Charleston, South Carolina-based Fat Blasting Boot Camps for Moms.  She's also at The Stir every Friday with a new Personal Training Workout.

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