In one camp you have the squat experts touting its worldly benefits and effectiveness claiming it the granddaddy of any and all exercises. The other side intensely defends its stance on the dangers to knees, lumbar and spinal column among other potentially chronic ailments.
Related: 4 Reasons You Should Never Barbell Squat
This is where we get a bit biased okay, maybe a lot biased on the benefits of the squat. My take? When done correctly the squat has no equal. For the average healthy lifter its benefits far outweigh the risks. You see, since so many gym bros are performing half reps, horrible hip, back and knee alignment and loading too much freaking weight on the bar it's no wonder that the squat has been vilified.
Below are 10 solid reasons you should squat. I know the list could be twice this length but we'll stick to the basics for now.
10 Reasons You Need to Squat
#1 - It works the whole bodyMuch like its close cousin the deadlift, the traditional barbell back squat works a lot of stuff. Yes, it hits your quads but you are looking over so much more. Your hamstrings, glutes and lumbar are all directly stimulated from squatting. Additionally, calves, upper back, traps, shoulder yoke, abs and all supporting muscles in between get involved as well.
Think of the squat as a full-body stimulation exercise. When you practice perfect form, proper depth and a tight, stabilized posture, only then will you reap the real rewards the squat can deliver. You can't get that same affect from leg presses or leg extensions.
#2 - It stimulates muscle-building hormonesIn relation to the point above regarding the massive amount of muscle the squat stimulates it also releases a truck load of muscle-building hormones namely human growth hormone naturally. Because of the heavy load and whole body work that is needed, the body will increase natural levels of hormones in response. This is good for aspiring young lifters wanting bigger, stronger legs.
This surge in hormone levels will also affect other areas of the body giving you ample opportunity to grow all over. Single-joint leg exercises, such as leg extensions, do little in regard to increasing hormones. You need big, multi-joint, weight-moving exercises to do just that and the squat is the obvious choice.
#3 - Nothing is more functionalFunctional movement followers normally shy away from the tried and true traditional lifts and conversely praise the latest banded, unilateral balancing exercise and shout the word functional at the top of their lungs. The truth is, when you break it down to simplicity, there is nothing more functional that the squat. Harnessing a huge amount of muscle mass in the lower body, stabilizing the back, abs and hips and keeping all necessary joints in alignment without the help from a machine track or lever takes serious functional strength, focus and mobility.
Much like the deadlift, the squat serves a very real-world role. Correctly hinging at your hips with a stabilized core and lumbar beats out bending at the waist any day. Squatting is natural and you've been doing it since you were a baby.
#4 - It's worth learning correct formMany naysayers will swear by the damage a squat can do. Everything from wrecking your knees and straining your back and neck to giving you a big butt and boasting that it does little for building the legs. But looking closer at these cases, most have used horrid form from the get-go. They practice less than ideal technique such as knees not aligning with their toes, a rounded back, half reps, descending too quickly stressing the knee joint and not hinging at the hips properly.
The truth is, you can potentially make any exercise hurt. Just perform it in the worst possible way and you are guaranteed to get injured.
#5 - It frees your hipsThe hidden problem for so many lifters when training legs is the lack of hip mobility during many leg exercises. Movements like the leg press, standing squat machine and hack squat all prohibit your hips from moving back. Instead they are locked in a fixed position without room to move. Now, this isn't the worst thing in the world as they are fine when used as assistance exercises to complement a squat workout, but far too many load up the weight and use said machines as their main lifts for legs.
Always include a squat variation every leg workout. One that allows your hips to move freely. Since everyone one is built a bit differently, we all can't quite fit into every machine the same. Give your hips the freedom to move in their own, unique range of motion.
#6 - It aids other liftsSince it stimulates so many muscles it also can potentially shore-up weak points regarding other lifts. The squat relies a lot on hip hinge strength. This can easily translate to more stability and strength during a bent-over row, T-bar row and Romanian deadlift just to name a few. Other standing overhead exercises will benefit as well such as the standing military press and push press.
It will also aid in other lifts regarding the aforementioned hormone surge. Expect bigger arms, shoulders and back from the after-effects of squats.
#7 - It jacks up your metabolismI like to tell people that a well thought-out and executed squat session will burn more fat than sloshing away on the treadmill for an hour. Now, I don't have the numbers to prove it but I know personally that I am spent after a great squat workout. This can be compounded if you dare venture into the realm of moderate to high rep squats. Since we are working so many muscles in addition to stimulating hormone release we get the end result of a revved-up metabolism which may stay elevated for a significant period of time after your workout.
If you truly put everything you have into performing a squat session you will subsequently turn up your metabolism, burn more calories and get leaner.
#8 - It trains your absAs mentioned before abs are stimulated to a large degree during a correctly performed squat. If you brace your midsection in order to help with the lift, you are virtually holding a crunch while squatting. This exercise places an enormous amount of pressure on the abdominal wall so practicing bracing of the midsection is critical for increasing stability and control. Almost all movements derive power and strength from this area so it behooves you to prevent "leaking" that power and strength and use it for lifting rather than expending it haphazardly.
During the lift (especially on the ascent) keep your abs in tight. Not so much that it starts detracting your attention away from the mechanics of the exercise but enough to keep the pressure in so it can be used to assist with the lift.
#9 - You have many optionsFor the sake of keeping things simple Ive been mostly referencing the traditional barbell back squat when breaking down these advantages. However, there are many versions to choose from if the back squat isn't your cup of tea. Front squats, barbell hack squats, Bulgarian split squats, goblet squats, dumbbell squats and even overhead squats are all viable options to fit your specific structure, abilities and preferences.
The key with all of the variations is the fact that you are able to freely move your hips into your own specific and personal position. Since everyone is built a bit differently you have many options to choose from.
#10 - You will need little elseSo many gym-goers who painfully yearn for bigger, stronger legs seem to perform every machine, angle and technique known to man. Workouts full of leg extensions, leg presses, hack squats and other contraptions fill agendas on leg day. The ironic thing is the fact that no matter how many fancy mechanics they utilize progress always seems to be just outside of their grasp.
Utilize, practice and perfect the squat. If you focus in on technique and progression you will be surprised at how little else you will need. If you still decide to use other machine work do so minimally and only to support your program which should be built around the squat.