There is an absolute epidemic plaguing the fitness industry, particularly online. It can be seen around most gyms and on most fitness "influencers" pages. You have all seen it before. The absolute beef cake of a human around the gym. Shoulders as wide as the door and lats so big they can barely rest their arms by their side. All of that packed on top of two glorified bamboo poles for legs. Why so little leg development? I often ask myself, "What are people's reactions when they take their pants off?" I can only imagine it looks quite funny, disproportionate at best. Conversely, there is a population that continually exercises their legs, yet has trouble developing specific areas of their legs utilizing major compound lifts like the squat. More often than not, people will avoid or struggle with squatting or training legs because they are scared of injury or have previously had an injury. This is often due to the fact they are performing the squat with incorrect activation or are progressing the squat too rapidly for the body to adapt.
Squatting is one of the best total body exercises that you can do for yourself. Not only is it a functional movement pattern, but there is documented empirical evidence that it increases testosterone and growth hormone secretion, which is always good for those looking to make "gains". Some of the biggest mistakes made when squatting are: improper knee alignment, not enough/poor range of motion, varying spine angles and the use of assistive belts. How many times have you heard someone say, "I stopped squatting because it hurt my knees?" I can promise you that unless there is a massive injury or muscle atrophy present, their knee pain is directly related to improper knee tracking or executing the movement with poor range of motion. This is also a hallmark sign of someone who is probably not getting activation from their glutes in the movement or has movement issues that need to be addressed before squatting. A few simple drills, screenings and auxiliary exercises would be all that was needed to "fix" their squat. Instead, most will choose to abandon the movement altogether. What about, "I stopped squatting because I hurt my back?" I don't have any doubt that this is a result of two things: improper spine angle or compensation between the abdominals and erector spinae due to chronic use of an assistive belt. When squatting (an exception being the niche low bar position) your should never exceed a 45 degree angle with your pelvis. If you are squatting and find yourself leaning forward past this point, it is because the load is too heavy for your abdominals to hold. Do not use a belt when this happens. Instead lighten the load and practice with a proper spine angle. If you get into the habit of using a belt to squat, you will start to create a significant difference in strength between your abdominals and the muscles of your lower back. World class and elite lifters only use a belt for near maximal loads, so you should too. If you chronically use a belt, it will lead to you progressively overloading the movement too fast for your body to actually get the benefit of the movement. This will increase your risk for injury. The load used for your training should be challenging, yet allow for you to keep the best technique. Finally, leg development is quintessential to not only health and performance but also is important for a complete "aesthetic". Squatting is one of the best ways to develop your legs and core. The added hormonal benefits of utilizing this movement in your training regimen will also expedite the likelihood of you seeing gains in other areas. Squat right, squat for life. Don't be out here looking like an ostrich.