Potentially the most versatile and beneficial movement for anybody to perform!
Such a simple and natural movement is one of the most used movements in CrossFit and there is a reason for that!
Crossfit is based around functional movement patterns. The core movements that they specify are squatting, deadlifting and pressing. Out of all of these, squats, to me, are the most transferable and beneficial. This can be highly debated between deadlift and squats. But, this is my opinion and I am a big supporter of the squat.
The squat has many variants between Olympic lifting and CrossFit movement standards, I'm going to break it down into four main variants.
1. Air Squat (bodyweight squat)
2. Back Squat
3. Front Squat
4. Over Head Squat
To start off with the bodyweight squat. Simple but useful. Just a bodyweight squat can be used for so much whether it be working on technique, mobility or building leg capacity bodyweight squats should be performed daily. Just by sitting in the bottom of the squat for a few minutes a day will open up your hips and improve your hip knee and ankle mobility. This is beneficial for your daily life not only just for your sporting and fitness goals. As you grow older, being able to squat is vital for daily function. Just getting out of chairs or walking upstairs is made so much easier by having such a simple movement in your arsenal.
With the air squat, place your feet shoulder-width apart and toes can be pointed slightly outwards(No more than 45 degrees.) Make sure that you keep your heals down and chest up through the movement. This is achieved by pushing the hips back and down as you move into the squat motion. This will shift your centre of mass backwards slightly and set you up in your heals. As you go down lift your arms up, this will activate the muscles in your thoracic spine and lift up your chest keeping your spine neutral. The aim is to break parallel by getting your hip crease below the knee. but only go down to where you can maintain a neutral spine without going into your toes. As you stand up keep arms ups and maintain the neutral spine.
This is the most common way to build leg strength in most strength sports and is a great way to safely build strength not just in your legs but also in your core and back. Back squats, like I have mentioned build strength, but are also a great tool in workouts. If you have the ability they can be used to work on leg endurance under load, cardiovascular capacity and many other aspects of the sport of fitness. They are normally avoided when it comes to workouts but used correctly can be really effective.
If you are taking the bar out of the rack set up your feet in your squat stance before you take any load. Align the bar over the top of your traps and bring your hips under the bar. Breath in and try to expand your stomach with even pressure around your core. This is call bracing. Once you are braced take the load and walk out with the weight. Initiate the squat by bracing your core and dropping hips back and down slightly. Maintain partial outward pressure on the knees so that you stay supported on the way through your squats and have a controlled descent on the way into your squat. Similar to the air squats try to break parallel but only go down to where you can maintain a neutral spine. As you drive up and exhale while maintaining outward knee pressure.
The front squat to me is the ultimate squat variant. Its main use is in Olympic lifting and has been developed into the fitness industry. front squats are most commonly used for the clean but again the sport of fitness as enveloped this movement and made it one of its staples whether it be thrusters or wall balls there are many movements that involve the front squat in the sport of fitness. Because the bar is on the frontal plane of the body it puts a lot of pressure on the thoracic spine. This is good as it helps build a lot of strength in the upper back and can help greatly with posture and spine stability. Because of all this the front squats, in my opinion, are one of the most beneficial squat variants to be performed regularly.
If taken from the rack, place your hands on the bar and bring your feet into squats stance align bar over the top of your shoulders. The bar should rest as far into your shoulders as you can to help pick up your elbows and reduce pressure on your wrists. bring your elbows up as high as you comfortably can, brace and take the load. While maintaining high elbows shift hips back and down. Aim to break parallel and maintain a neutral spine while keeping weight in your heels. As you stand up imaging that someone is pulling you up by your elbows. This will force you to maintain a neutral spine and keep your thoracic spine straight. As you stand up keep elbows up and knees out.
Over Head Squat
Last but certainly not least, the overhead squat. This is by far the most technical of the squats and for some the most frustrating. It combines leg strength shoulder stability and full-body mobility. Similar to the from squats this movement has been derived from Olympic lifting and enveloped by the sport of fitness. Because of how technical the overhead squat is it is only used in higher-level workouts and usually a bit lighter. But this is because people do not practice this movement enough. If you take the time to practice this movement it helps massively with movements like the snatch but also helps increase overall body mobility. One aspect that really features people from this movement is that it can cause some serious wrist pain if you do not hold the bar properly in your hands so ill try and help you get into the right position.
To get the bar overhead place the bar on the back of the shoulder and place your hands in snatch grip (Wider than you would have your hands that usual shoulder to overhead movements.) Push press or jerk the bar overhead. make sure that you try and push your knuckles upwards as you do this so that the bar is not just resting back on hand causing hyperextension of the wrist. This is the main cause of wrist pain. With the bar, overhead make sure you maintain upwards pressure the whole way through the movement. move the hips back and down and complete a slow and controlled descent into the bottom of the squat. If you are struggling with depth push you head through and sink more into your heels. keep your chest up through the movement and drive in a controlled manner out of the bottom of the squat.
Hopefully, I have given you a bit more detail about the squat and how versatile it is. There are tons more squat variations in the sport of fitness and I will go into these in more detail in the future. I will also give each squat variant I have highlighted today a more detailed breakdown in the future. I think that the squat is the best place to start this series of blog post as it is a fundamental movement not only in fitness but in life and should be mastered by everyone.