The beginner's guide to doing squats: Bodyweight, barbell, dumbbell and more

How to start doing the movement fitness fans call the "king of exercises"
The ultimate beginner's guide to squats

When it comes to exercises there aren't many as important to have in your workout armoury as the squat. Known as 'the king of exercises', the humble squat is a ridiculously powerful part of your training if done correctly.

Working the largest muscles in the body means that the squat doesn't just make your legs stronger, it also burns more calories. Evidence even shows that working the big muscles in the legs can encourage upper body muscular growth.

So, if you're looking to train efficiently whilst building strength and mass, squats are the way to go.

To get the lowdown on the benefits of the exercise we spoke to Frame instructor and British/European Deadlift Record Holder, Temi Nuga, about how and why to start including it into your workout plan.

What muscles does it work?

The main focus is the posterior chain: the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae, trapezius and posterior deltoids, as well as the hip and knee flexors.

However, the movement can help to train significantly more muscles across the body including the back, calves and core as well as help to train stability and ankle mobility.

Why do we need to squat?

Squats are an incredibly important functional movement. By that, we mean an exercise that has important strength and conditioning carry over across all sports as well as day-to-day life. That's why it's such an integral exercise for athletes.

A beginner's guide to squats

Squatting is a compound movement which means that it works multiple muscles across the body as part of one fluid exercise. That has multiple benefits for training, from being able to work as many muscles as possible in a shorter period of time (in contrast to isolation movements) to increasing metabolic rate and helping with things like mobility and flexibility.

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Type of squat

When we talk about squats we don't just mean chucking a barbell on your back and lifting as much weight as possible. Squat variations can take many forms, from using different types of weights like kettlebells or dumbbells to bodyweight squats and plyometric/jumping movements.

A beginner's guide to squats

  • Bodyweight squat (also known as an air squat) – Performing a squat without any weight
  • Jumping squat – A bodyweight squat that includes a jump off the ground
  • 180 squat jump A jumping squat which incorporates a spin in the air to land facing the opposite direction
  • Goblet squat – Squatting with a kettlebell
  • Dumbbell squat – Squatting with one or two dumbbells
  • Bulgarian split squat – A single leg squat where one leg is resting on a bench/raised platform
  • Landmine squat – A squat incorporating a weightlifting bar where one end acts as a fulcrum
  • Barbell back squats – Weighted squats where the bar rests on the back/shoulders
  • Front squat – Weighted squats where the bar rests on the hands and the chest
  • Zercher squat – Weighted squats where the bar rests in the crook of the elbow

How often should you squat?

To see continued benefits squats should be done at least 2-3 times a week. For weightlifters, or people training squats most days of the week, the exercise should be alternated between the front and back squat each day.

Step by step guide for performing a squat

A beginner's guide to squats

If you're new to a squat, make sure your heels don’t come off the floor and make sure your knees don’t collapse inwards. Try it without any weight at first and slowly build up. Correct form and posture are far more important than how much weight you're lifting,

Use this guide for performing a bodyweight squat before advancing to a weighted squat. As you progress in weight the movement becomes more complex with greater focus applied to specific elements. It's always best to receive guidance from a personal trainer or coach when moving onto heavier weights.

  1. Start by activating your core and glutes with a full-body warm-up.
  2. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hips.
  3. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward.
  4. Look straight in front of you.
  5. Put your arms straight out in front of you (keep your hands in line with your shoulders), keep your chest up, and your spine in a neutral position.
  6. Take a deep breath into your stomach, and send your hips back, like you want to sit in a chair.
  7. Come back up and repeat.

Temi's home squat workout

Incorporating squats into your home workouts is one of the easiest ways to maximise your session. More calories burned, more muscles worked and it's guaranteed to push you hard.

This workout is a 10-minute AMRAP, a term that means 'as many rounds as possible'. Perform each exercise for 10 reps before moving onto the next. Keep repeating the workout for the whole 10 minutes. Your final number of completed sets is your benchmark for your next workout.

  • Star jumps
  • High knees
  • Alternate lunges
  • Air squats
  • 180 squats
  • Mountain climbers

Temi is currently teaching a Learn To Lift workshop at Frame. For more information on the class click here.

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