Muscle building time! Talk about excuses: I’ve got a bad back. My knees are shot. It’s torture on my neck… yadda, yadda, yadda. You’d think the gym was hosting the local octogenarian crochet convention the way grown men whine like old women when it comes time to get under the rack. You’d figure that after all these years, they’d finally have it worked out – if you want to be a semi-buffed showboat, whine away – but if you want to be a bodybuilder, shut up and squat!
Why It’s Good For Building Muscle
There really isn’t that much involved in squatting. All you’re doing is going down into a sitting position and then standing up again – with a little resistance thrown in. Yet this simple movement is the most productive thing you can possibly do if you want to pack muscle onto your frame. Why? Because it works your entire body while giving you a **** good cardio workout. Unlike most upper body functional strength movements, the squat involves more than one prime mover and many synergists. The result, if you apply consistency and progressive resistance, is more muscle and less fat. Now, we could list virtually every muscle group in your body when it comes to squat stimulation, but here are the prime movers.
As the name implies, the quads are a muscle group comprising four individual muscles. The Rectus Femoris (Upper Quad) has the function of bending the hip and straightening the knee. The Vastus Lateralis (Outer Quad) assists in the straightening of the knee, as do the Vastus Intermedialis (which sits behind the Upper Quad) and the Vastus Medialis (Inner Quad). The squat mimics the function of each of these muscles allowing you the potential of fully developing them. All you’ve got to do is take a look at a guy who’s done just that to realize that it’s gonna be worth it – for the quads, when fully developed and striated, are a thing of absolute beauty.
The hamstrings sit behind the thighs and are the muscle group responsible for flexing (bending) the knee and extending the hip. The hammies make up a large percentage of the total volume of the upper leg and add balance and proportion for the look you’re after. In addition, well developed, strong hamstrings prevent injury and act as stabilizers for many other gym movements. The squat mimics their function giving them maximum stimulation.
The glutes consist of three separate muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medias and gluteus minimus. The three of them combine to lift the thigh forward, out to the side and to rotate the leg inward and outward. As well as contributing to that cute **** thing that women seem to adore, well developed, striated glutes contribute hugely to that awesome total body look (anybody remember Rich Gaspari?).
Spinal Erector & Abdominal Muscles
The spinal erectors work in conjunction with the abdominals to keep the spine upright (think of guy wires on opposite sides of a tent pole). Fully developed erector spinae will help ward off one of the major banes of the developed world – lower back pain. They’ll also give some awesome muscular detail to complement the lats. And heavy, consistent squatting will go a lot further to building a six-pack than spending all day on an ab-cruncher.
Sets, Reps & Frequency For Critical Mass
As you may have guessed by now, squatting the right way is **** hard work. As a result, most of us hate squatting. This is why you’re not likely to see guys doing set after set after set of squats the way you do on the bench. Well the good news is that you don’t have to squat till the cows come home to build an impressive lower body – but you do have to move some heavy weight. Here’s a squat program to kick your leg growth into overdrive:
Squat Frequency: Once Per Week
- Warm up set: 20 reps
- 1st working set: 12 reps
- 2nd working set: 10 reps
- 3rd working set: 6-8 reps
Concentrate on perfect form on every rep while pushing for more poundage on every set. And remember to leave your ego at the gym door. What matters is how hard the working muscles are being stressed not how impressive the iron on your back looks. With that in mind here’s a routine that will force you to drop your squat poundage while ramping up quad intensity:
Squat Warm-Up Set
- Leg extension 2 x 12 (toes pointed out and back against bench to hit outer quads)
- Squats as above
- Leg curls 3 x 12,10,8
- Calf Raises 3 x 15 (5 second hold at top of each rep)
- Treadmill hill program 15 minutes
- Bench Squats: Placing a box behind you allows you to squat to exactly the same depth every rep. This overcomes the tendency to cheat by only squatting partially as the reps get harder. As long as you don’t bounce off of the bench you won’t be risking vertebral damage. Just go down low enough to kiss the bench with your **** and you’ll be that much closer to the perfect set.
- Front Squats: This movement is more upright and so places a more direct workload on your quads. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as in the back version, though. Approach the squat rack and grab the bar with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Bring your elbows forward so your palms face up and bring the weight back to rest on your front delts. Initiating from the hips squat down to parallel and drive back up. The beauty of this movement is that it forces you to keep your back arched – if you don’t, the weight will spill off your shoulders.
- Hack Squat: This little used squat variation will bring that awesome teardrop effect to the thigh (as well as add outer sweep to the vastus medialis). Set the lower pins of your squat rack 8 – 12 inches from the floor. Rest the loaded bar on the pins. Place a couple of 10 pound plates on the floor to rest your heels on and then get into position in front of the bar and facing away from it, your feet shoulder width apart and resting on the plates. Squat down and grab the bar with a shoulder width under-hand grip. With back arched, rise to a stand. The bar will be resting against your hamstrings. Now lower until the bar touches the pins. That’s one rep.
Don’t Get Your Back Up
Some guys pull the old sore back excuse when it comes time to talk squats – and some don’t. If you’re one of those trainers who really does have lower spinal issues going on, then you are best advised to avoid heavy squatting. So, does that mean you’re never going to be able to build a decent pair of pins? No – it just means that you’re going to have to take a slightly different route. The leg press, for example, will do a nice replacement job for heavy squats without unduly stressing the lower back. You can safely go hard and heavy on the leg press and get a full range of motion without injury worries. After 4 heavy sets of leg presses, do 3 quick sets of 20 reps of bench squats with a light weight. From there do 2 supersets of leg extensions and leg curls. Finish with 15 minutes on the treadmill – just don’t plan on climbing any stairs for a few days.