If your hamstrings are weak, why aren't you doing squats to strengthen them? Squats are known as one of the best exercises to strengthen your lower body, including your legs, buttocks and abs. Whether you're a newbie who wants to add some definition to the legs or are a more advanced exerciser who wants bigger upper legs, there's a squat for your fitness level.
The Benefits of Squats
The squat is a functional, compound exercise. This means that its range of motion mimics real-life movements while targeting multiple muscles at the same time. This boosts your metabolism, improves your mobility and balance, eases daily activities and improves your athletic performance. Because you use your quadriceps, which are at the front of your upper thighs, and your hamstrings, which are at the back of your upper thighs, during squats, you improve the stability of your knee joint, therefore also reducing your risk of injuries.
About Your Hams
The long and short biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus make up your hamstrings at the back of your upper legs. These muscles are activated when you bend your knees to bring your heels toward your buttocks, or when you extend your hips, for instance, when you sit down on a chair. During squats, the hamstrings are mainly activated at the bottom of the range of motion. They help to keep your pelvis straight so your torso doesn't tilt too much forward. The deeper you squat, the greater the hamstring involvement is.
Proper Squat Form
Proper squat form prevents injuries and delivers optimal results. To master good form, avoid using weights and monitor yourself in a mirror or have a certified trainer check your form. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, pointing your toes slightly out. Engage your core, push your hips back, and then, bend your knees directly over your toes and lower down as far as you comfortably can. Aim to lower your hips until your thighs are parallel or slightly past parallel to the floor. Place most of your weight on your heels and reach forward with your hands to maintain your balance. Avoid letting your knees pass over your toes and face forward to avoid rounding or arching your back. Push through your heels to return to the starting point.
Squat Varieties Galore
Beginners could try sitting down on a chair and standing up, wall squats with or without a stability ball behind the back or squats while holding onto a counter for support. Doing the exercise in a squat machine can also help you maintain proper form. More challenging varieties include dumbbell squats, one-legged squats or split squats, while advanced squat varieties include front and back squats with a barbell. Always stretch your hamstrings after exercising them to keep them from tightening up.