Fitness / 31.07.2015

How we learned to squat like a pro

By Roisin Dervish-O'Kane
Think you know squats? So did we. Here's how one of London's hippest PT's put us right

2014 Ev Sekkides

It’s a cold and mizzling Monday morning in London’s Shoreditch. I’ve already missed my stop on the train, ran for the bus and broken the zipper on my wallet. The 7am PT session at London’s dance fitness studio FRAME (think neon lights, graphic leggings, dance music at dawn) I’d booked in a flurry of optimism two weeks prior, isn’t the most alluring prospect.

I’m a big fan of a comfortable workout; I run to clear my head and alleviate pudding guilt, not smash PB’s. I’ve never seen myself as the girl by the squat rack, but after countless articles and Instagram posts, the ‘Strength Training is Non-Negotiable’ message has started to stick.

‘Whatever your cardio – running, or one of our dance fitness classes, it’s so important to complement it with strength training,’ explains my trainer Robb. ‘It’s near impossible for women to ‘bulk up’ by lifting weights alone, but working in some weights into your routine will help build lean muscle, and make you less likely to get injured,’ he adds.

If you master one move, I’m told, make it the squat, which Robb dubs ‘the king of exercises’. A good squat engages the entire lower half of the body – including the hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, as well as hitting the core, shoulders and back. It’s high metabolic demand also means you’ll burn through calories, all while building muscle.

The lazy girl inside me is relieved – I’ve had these down for years, right? So, so wrong. Heed these rules to squat like a pro. Your lifted bottom, taughter thighs and – bonus – defined lower abs, will thank you.

1. Your feet should be wider than you think
Judge ‘shoulder width apart’ from the inside of your foot, and stand with your toes pointed out, by about 10 degrees. Putting pressure on the outsides of your feet ensures you activate the correct muscles.

2. You can always go lower
For maximum bottom-lifting benefits, you should squat deep enough for your hip creases to go way below the knees, into a frog position. You torch more calories and, according to studies, work the Gluteus Maximus 25 per cent harder than if you stop half way.

3. Make it one smooth movement
When you come up, don’t drive through your hips and push yourself up that way. To do a proper deep squat you need to drive straight up from the frog position. This is hard, but it means you work the back of your thighs (where most women store fat) and your bottom. Squat half way and let the hips do the work and you work the quads and risk bulking the front of your thighs.

4. You don’t need weights to make things harder
Upping the intensity is vital to keep the exercise challenging and avoid the plateau. But if you can’t get to a gym, mix up your timings. Drive down for ten counts and then drive up for one. This might sound easy but after 10 minutes I’m dripping with sweat and my muscles are fatiguing, hard.

5. Think process, not numbers
‘Nothing is more important than focusing on your form. We get obsessed with numbers – how many squats can we do, how many kg can we lift, but if your knees are slipping and you’re using the wrong muscles, that’s when you risk getting injured,’ warns Robb.

Instead of hitting your 50-squat target, be mindful. ‘Think of opening from your hips, your toes with follow. Everything should come from the core,’ advises Robb.

6. You can’t do everything by yourself
Strength training has a rich bounty of benefits – but if, like me, you’re a newbie, get a pro to teach you the basics or risk opening up your body to a whole new range of injury risks. To get up close and personal with a FRAME personalised trainer (who gets that you have a life to live, and won’t be living on green tea and turkey breast) email or click here for more info .

What are your favourite multi-tasking gym moves? Tweet and tell us @healthymag or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

How we learned to squat like a pro
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How we learned to squat like a pro
A good squat engages the entire lower half of the body as well as hitting the core, shoulders and back. Here's how to do them properly.
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