Before we dive into the benefits of squats let’s talk about why leg day is such a dreaded workout. Few people actually like to do leg day at the gym. And it’s understandable because doing squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc.. is hard. If you’re resistant to doing leg day or find yourself asking “what are the benefits of squats for women,” read on.
The benefits of squats for women are, they burn a ton of calories, they help reduce bodyfat, and will curves in all the right places. Squats will also improve stability, balance, mobility, performance, and much more. It’s for these reasons that I love to hate squats and leg day for that matter.
Squats are highly demanding on the body. When you’re moving significant amounts of weight it gets the heart going, you start to sweat, and it’s just hard work. Some people might say they like leg day, but I think that’s really just a combination of them psyching themselves up to do the workout, and they know the benefits of working the lower half of your body. If you focus on how much the body benefits from doing leg day, you’ll be more inclined to get into the gym and get it done.
A common question you see is “what’s the best exercise for your body?” At the top or near the top of that list is the squat. Squats and other variations of the squat are great exercises for your entire body. This translates into burning body fat while maintain or building muscle, and this is the ultimate goal for weightlifting or exercising. Burning fat and building muscle….in one exercise!
The lower half of your body has the largest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus (aka your butt muscles). Without strong muscles, you’re susceptible to injury, which can develop into chronic pain and debilitation.
Top 5 Benefits of Squats and Leg Day
Builds A Strong Base – doing squats will build your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Additionally, doing squats creates an anabolic effect, which raises your testosterone levels. Testosterone is one of our key hormones for building muscles and staying in strong physical shape. The best part is, your entire body benefits from this. This natural muscle-building hormone isn’t just released in your legs, it’s released into the entire body, which promotes muscle growth and fat burning in your entire body. The benefits of testosterone are numerous, and exercising so that your body naturally releases it, is a huge benefit to your physique. One of the best parts is, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing a bodyweight workout at home, or if you’re in the gym sweating it out. Leg day will build your base!
Gluteus Maximus – as we mentioned above, your butt muscles constitute the largest muscle in your body. Your backside, bum, bumpers, tush, buns…is made up of the muscles in your glutes. The glutes are responsible for standing, walking upright, sitting, bending, and generally maintain proper posture. If your glutes lack muscle it forces your back to compensate, which can lead to severe back issues down the road. If your glutes are not developed or strong, your entire lower body alignment can pay the price. It can lead to hip problems, knee problems, and ankle issues. Neglecting your glutes would be the first move in becoming the ultimate couch potato.
Improves Core Strength – doing squats will build a stronger core. Having a strong core will act as a brace for your spine. The core completely surrounds your front and back and connects your upper body and lower body.
The core works in conjunction with your glutes in that it plays a huge role in your everyday activities, from getting out of bed in the morning, walking down the sidewalk and sitting back into bed at night. They literally help you stay upright. Your core and your glutes have a very symbiotic relationship in that if you squat more, you’ll have a stronger core, and if you have a strong core, you’ll squat more. If you don’t work on that core strength, it forces your other muscles to compensate.
Compensating with other muscles is the fast lane for injury and pain. Back pain injuries are common and a weak core is usually responsible. If it’s not the main cause it usually plays a part.
They Build Grit – this one might surprise you to make the list, but let me explain. When you do a hard leg day it’s not only physically demanding but mentally demanding too. Having the grit to push through fatigue and stress builds a strong mentality that can carry over into other parts of your life.
As they say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Adversity, obstacles, and hills will always be in our way to achieving success. If you crumble when it’s hard, you won’t achieve the results and goals you so desire. Life is not easy, and if it was we would all be walking around with 6-pack abs, driving expensive sports cars.
Those who get the most, are those who push the hardest. If you’re willing to do what others can’t, you will win. Powering through a tough leg day will help you to power through life.
They Torch Bodyfat – how do you get those 6-pack abs that are so elusive; you do squats! The more muscles we have, the more calories our bodies burn throughout the day. Since the lower body strengthens multiple large muscles and requires a bunch of effort, you’re increasing the number of calories burned during the workout.
Additionally, the number of calories burned that occur during and after the workout is higher compared to an upper-body workout. The longer and harder you train, the more calories you will burn. After squatting, your resting metabolism is revved up, as well as your testosterone and growth hormones. Both of these hormones help you build and maintain lean muscle.
Types of Squats
The traditional squat involves placing the barbell across your back or trapezius. This alone puts pressure on the spine and cause back pains. If you think this may be the culprit, you may consider using an alternative squat technique. Below are some alternatives to the traditional squat.
Fair warning, although they are alternatives to squats, doesn’t make them any easier. They will provide an opportunity to exercise the legs without having to place so much weight on the back. The alternatives below will also require a different form, technique, and range of motion. That being said one of these might work for you while simultaneously getting rid of the back pain from squatting.
Front squat – Similar to the back squat, but by placing the weight across your upper chest. The weight should be considerably less. Perform a normal squat, keeping the weight in your heels, and pushing the ground away to stand back up.
Goblet squat – This exercise is typically performed by holding a kettlebell in front of you, close to your chest. With your elbows pointing down, lower your body into the squat position, just like doing a body squat. Your elbows can come down and touch your knees or they may graze the inside of the knees. This exercise can also be done by just holding the kettlebell between your legs. Do whichever feels right to you.
Dumbbell squat – Like the traditional squat, you keep your back straight, core tight, and lower your body into a squat position. Unlike the goblet squat, you’ll grab a hold of a dumbbell in each hand to use as resistance and hold them at your side.
Bulgarian split-squat – Yeah, I’m not going to lie, this one is as lethal as it sounds. It’s an advanced leg exercise, but it will provide amazing results. Stand a few feet in front of a chair, bench, box, or whatever is handy with your back facing the chair. Reach back with one foot and place it on the chair. Slowly lower down, so that your thigh in front of you is parallel to the floor again, and slowly rise back up. Avoid leaning forward so that your knee is past your toes. Your shin should be parallel to the wall in front of you. I would advise starting out with no weight and then as you increase your strength you can slowly add weight. Keep in mind this is a single-leg workout, so you don’t need to add much weight to get good resistance.
Pistol squat – this one is actually tough and that’s why I put it last on this list. I would highly recommend starting out with no weight, even for intermediate lifters. To perform this lift you start out just like a body squat but instead of going down with both legs you put all of your weight on one leg while putting the other leg straight out in front of you. This squat requires a lot of strength and great balance. As you progress, you can start to add small dumbbells for additional resistance.
Jump squat – Adding an explosive movement like jumping will add a degree of difficulty, but it will continue to increase your leg power. To do this right, only lower down to where your things are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a 3-5 count and jump straight up into the air, while landing softly into the bottom position. Jump squats can both build muscle and tone in your legs, glutes, and calves.
As you can see there are a wide variety of squats, and they all work different parts of the lower body. Switching up your leg day routine will give you a well-rounded leg day workout.
That being said, squats can also cause some issues for those that do them incorrectly. Just like all workouts, form and technique are critical to preventing injury. If you’re new to squats, the first few weeks, you’ll most likely be a little sore, so be sure to start light and go slow.
If you’ve been doing squats for several weeks and you find that you’re not overcoming the soreness that’s common with an intense workout, it might be time to review your squat technique.
Lower Back Pain From Squatting
Using the correct range of motion, form, and technique will help eliminate any back pain from squatting. Depth is another big component of squatting. You may have heard all sorts of advice on how deep to go…90-degree minimum, ass to grass, hamstring to calves, etc. The truth is some people can’t go as deep as others.
This may come as a shock to you but we’re not all built the same, therefore doing the same depth isn’t necessary for everybody. Going too deep for some may cause additional harm and injury. Something as simple as having your feet turned too far inward or outward can cause knee and ankle problems.
While this isn’t directly a back issue, these issues could force you to take longer breaks or even stop doing leg days altogether. And maintaining an exercise routine is simpler than starting over again.
The goal is to do the right squat properly, with good form and technique while using the correct amount of weight.
Adjustments To Make
First, go light on the amount of weight you’re using. If you’re new to lifting or an amateur you’ll need to get a feel for how much is too much. It’s pretty common to establish what your 1 rep max is, and then base your workout routine on that number. There are websites that can show you approximately what your max is, without having to actually max out. By putting a moderate amount of weight on and going close to failure it will tell you what your max is…or close to. Using this number you may start out only doing 50% and then building up.
Second, be sure you’re bracing your abs during your lifts. This is an easy one to forget. By tightening your core muscles you’re preventing your back from rounding. When you round your back you’re placing a great amount of strain on your back, which can cause lower back pain.
Third, keep your knees apart when squatting. If you have your knees caving or pointing directly forward it can cause back pain. The weight should be on the heels with the heels about shoulder (traditional squat) width apart, and as you go down the knees should be in line with your toes. The toes should be out at about 30 degrees.
Fourth, you may be trying to go too deep. If you squat too deep it’s difficult to maintain the straight back that’s absolutely necessary when performing the squat. If you go too deep the back will have a tendency to round and put a strain on the lower back.
Fifth, beware of over-arching the back. The goal is to keep the back in a straight neutral position. Over-arching can put additional pressure on your spine causing injury.
The breath is important during your squats. It helps to keep the core stable and tight. It’s recommended you either inhale on the way down or even hold your breath during the eccentric. As you come back up, release the breath.
Warm up the legs. By getting the body temperature up and getting the blood flowing you’ll prepare the body for exercise. This will allow your joints and muscles to be a little more flexible and ready to take on the load. This is can be done by walking, jumping rope, bodyweight squats, or anything light to get the leg muscles slightly engorged with blood.
Should you wear a belt or not? There doesn’t seem to be a full consensus on this topic. If you’re talking to powerlifters they’ll probably advise you to use one, while bodybuilders maybe 50/50. Some argue that they can increase your risk of injury over the long-term, while others swear by them. Here are some pros and cons of using a belt.
-May prevent injuring your back
-Can assist in squats, leading to better performance.
-Can give your abs something to press against during the concentric, which can help.
-May weaken your back over the long-term.
-Can become dependent on it.
-Not exactly cheap. Belts can easily approach $100 to purchase. Click here for a solid, inexpensive belt
Wrapping up Benefits of Squats For Women
Developing strength, tone, and definition to your lower half are just a few of the many benefits of including squats in your workouts.
When performed correctly, this functional exercise also boosts your calorie burn, helps prevent injuries, strengthens your core, and improves your balance and posture.
If you have a health condition or an injury, be sure to talk to your doctor or a certified personal trainer before adding squats to your fitness routine.