Is THIS the World's Greatest Exercise?

Consider this your wakeup call: A good workout program must include some type of squat.

More than just a 'leg exercise,' squats put you on the fast track to full-body fitness. (Image: Klaus Vedfelt/Taxi/Getty Images)

This isn’t just about your legs, even though squats are the best way to build stronger quads, hamstrings and glutes. From a functional training standpoint, you can’t do better.

Squatting is a fundamental pattern that’s basic to human movement. Regularly performing squats keeps your body moving the way it was designed to, while helping to protect you from injuries related to a sedentary lifestyle.

Squats are also heart healthy. Forget the butt-numbing stationary bike or elipitical machine; sets of higher rep squats will jack up your heart rate to near sprint-like levels.

Finally, squatting is just plain fun. It’s good old-fashioned hard work that requires every ounce of focus you got, and almost makes you feel like an athlete at the same time. What’s not to love?

Some people assume that squatting is beyond their current capabilities. But guess what: If you’ve picked something up off the ground, sat in a chair, or straddled a toilet seat today, congrats. You’ve performed a squat.

But the real magic happens when you begin loading the basic squat with weight. This is what improves performance, increases muscle mass, burns fat, and helps offset postural imbalances.

Squats are so demanding that they trigger the release of hormones like testosterone.

Dr. Jeff Volek, author of "The TNT Diet"

1. Squats Improve Performance, Power & Strength

Squats target the “go” muscles of the legs: the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. (Image: Mike Harrington/Taxi/Getty Images)

Whether your goal is to finally dunk a basketball in your rec league, look great for the beach, or simply be able to bound up stairs two at a time, squats can help you get from point A to point B fast.

Squats target the “go” muscles of the legs -- namely the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings -- which all play an important role in serious athletic endeavors like sprinting, jumping, landing, and change of direction.

Specifically, squats improve your power. Power is the ability to apply a lot of force in a minimum amount of time, making it important in both athletics and many everyday activities.

Squats also build strength, which is the foundation for everything. You can’t swing a baseball bat, or even zip past crowds of zombie-eyed shoppers on Black Friday, without having a pool of strength to tap in to.

The beauty of squats versus say, the leg extension or leg curl, is that squats force a lot of big muscles to work together to perform the movement. Because of this, it’s common for trainees to see serious improvements in strength very quickly.

2. Squats Burn a Ton of Calories

Squats help burn body fat by the mere fact that hundreds of muscles are working. (Image: Mike Powell/DigitalVision/Getty)

Since squats make you stronger and more powerful, it’s not surprising that they can also increase muscle size. This is due in part to the squat recruiting so many muscles simultaneously, but there may also be a hormonal explanation.

According to Dr. Jeff Volek, author of "The TNT Diet," squats are so demanding that they trigger the release of hormones like testosterone. Once those hormones enter the bloodstream, they support the growth of your whole body.

And because squats are truly a full-body exercise, you burn a ton of calories when you perform them.

How can a “leg exercise” be a full body? When you place a loaded barbell on your back, every muscle in the body has to fire.

• Your upper back muscles hold the weight and help keep the body upright throughout the set.

• Your core must fire to prevent the body from tipping over.

• And of course, every muscle group in the lower body plays a part in the movement.

So, even if your goal isn’t to add a lot of muscle mass -- although, to be fair, the more lean mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest -- squats will help burn body fat by the mere fact that hundreds of muscles are pitching in to get the job done.

3. Squats Improve Posture, Movement & Bone Density

Ever watch a two-year old squat while playing? It’s a picture perfect squat every time. (Image: Kevin Liu/Moment/Getty Images)

Finally, and arguably most important of all, squats help offset many of the muscular imbalances and weaknesses that we accumulate in our daily lives.

We move so little as a society, spending most of our days sitting and staring at computers and televisions like zombies, that we’ve seemingly forgotten how to move as well.

We didn’t start out this way. Ever watch a two-year old bend down to pick something up off the floor? It’s a picture perfect squat every time.

Squatting helps “relearn” this essential pattern and alleviate many of the issues related to being sedentary. When you strengthen the glutes, the hip flexors (muscles in the front of your thighs and hips), which are normally stiff or short, will become less tonic or active.

Also, by forcing you to engage your upper back, squatting helps reinforce proper posture, something your 9 to 5 desk job can slowly rob from you.

A movement that will help you stand taller, feel stronger, and stay lean? It’s no wonder that no workout plan is complete without squats, nature’s perfect full-body exercise.

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