By Coach Tim:
Walk into the box on any given day and there is a pretty good chance that squats will be somewhere in the program. They could come at any time… the warmup, strength or mobility work, the WOD, or all of the above. They could come in one of dozens of variations and could incorporate dumbbells, barbells, wall balls or kettlebells. They could be combined with other movements to form a thruster, cluster, or other complex movement. From the air squat to the hang squat snatch, the basic points of performance are always there: *hips back and down*, *knees track over the toes*, *weight in the heels*, *good lumbar curve*, *hip crease below parallel*. Regardless of what form they take, one thing is certain for the CrossFit athlete. You are going to squat… A LOT.
So what’s the deal? Why so much squatting? The basic air squat is a litmus test for fitness. Watch someone squat and it will give you a pretty good indicator of their level of fitness and give you insight to their mobility, balance and strength. Of the nine foundational CrossFit movements, three are variations of the squat (air, front and overhead) and some of the others share common characteristics. If your foundational movements are solid, you have the platform you need to start improving your physical performance, both inside and outside of the gym. As a core piece of the CrossFit methodology, the benefits of the squat are numerous:
- Squats are a full body, compound, functional movement – They train your quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips and core musculature while strengthening the bones, ligaments and insertion of tendons throughout the lower body. From a functional perspective, they require the natural range of motion that your ankles, knees, hips and spine were designed to accommodate.
- Squats will measurably improve your athletic performance – Most people think of squats as a movement to build muscle and lower body strength, but that strength has more applications than just moving weight. Improved strength in your core, hips and legs will also help you run faster and jump higher.
- Squats help build muscle in your entire body – It makes sense that squats build the muscles actively involved in the movement, but they also create an anabolic reaction, promoting muscle growth throughout the body. In fact, when done properly, the intensity of squatting triggers the release of testosterone and human growth hormone and increases the impact of training other areas.
- Squats help burn more fat – especially in the places where our bodies likes to store it – Another benefit of building muscle is that it accelerates your body’s ability to burn fat. For every new pound of muscle, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day. Because squats train our lower body and core, they tone and tighten the thighs, hips, glutes and abs.
- Squats reduce the chance of injury and illness – By strengthening bones, ligaments and the major muscle groups of the core and lower body, squats provide more stability around your joints when your body is in motion. They also expand the range of motion in your ankles, knees and hips, giving you greater flexibility and balance. What’s more, the added muscle will accelerate your body’s ability to metabolize sugars and fats and will improve your insulin sensitivity, helping to protect you against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The squat is a natural, instinctive movement of the human body. As you train and improve the quality of your squat, you will most assuredly see improvements in your overall physical performance and appearance while providing a hedge against injuries and disease. So the next time you are working your way down to the bottom of your squat, struggling to keep your knees in line and your torso upright until your hips finally descend to the proper depth (perhaps with some colorful language running around in your head), find your happy place and think about all of the benefits that come along with it.