Squats are sometimes called the king of all exercises. They may also be called the queen of all exercises for their ability to strengthen those core muscles that are so important for moms, while working all of your leg muscles. According to the American Council on Exercise, squats are one of the best lower-body exercises, toning and shaping those troublesome areas such as the butt, hams and hips. You can do various types of squats depending on your capabilities, and you may or may not feel a pump while performing these exercises. But your primary concern should be squatting with proper technique to reduce risk of injury, and adequate intensity to make a real difference to those muscles.
1. The Pump
Known as hypertrophy, your muscles adapt to resistance exercises such as squats by getting bigger. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll get big, bulky leg muscles. Depending on your weights and repetitions, you may simply gain more lean muscle tissue, making your legs, hips and butt look and feel firm and toned. According to Len Kravitz, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico, the pump, caused by the accumulation of fluids from blood plasma into the working muscles, is transient or temporary hypertrophy.
Generally speaking, the more intense your squats routine, the greater the pump or accumulation of fluids in your legs. To reduce risk of injury and enable your muscles to perform more efficiently, always start with a warm-up. Increase your core temperature and loosen up your joints and muscles with 15 to 20 minutes on the stair climber or elliptical machine. For your squat routine, select a weight that allows you to do three sets of 12 to 15 reps with proper technique. You should feel a tightness in your legs as you squeeze out the last three reps of each set. Keep the intensity high with short rests of 60 to 90 seconds between sets.
3. Barbell Squats
The classic method of squatting is to balance a barbell, resting on your trapezius muscles across the back of your shoulders. Grasp the barbell to keep it secure, adopt a hip-width stance with your feet slightly angled outward, push your hips back and lower yourself into a squat while tightening your core to help keep your back straight. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor before pushing upright. Getting your thighs parallel to the floor ensures you fully engage your quadriceps, hamstrings and butt, increasing the likelihood of getting a pump in the working muscles.
4. Goblet Squats
It can be rather awkward performing barbell squats with a barbell precariously balanced across your shoulders. There is the added difficulty of keeping your back in the right position to avoid hurting your lower back as the weight pushes down on your spine. Goblet squats, gripping one end of a dumbbell held vertically against your chest, offer a less stressful alternative. As in barbell squats, push your hips back, with your heels flat on the floor as you go into a squat and fully engage your quads, hams and butt by getting your thighs parallel to the floor before pushing up.
5. Body-Weight Squats
Body-weight squats with no added resistance are ideal if you are new to exercise, or looking to get back in shape after a baby. Despite the lack of added resistance, body-weight squats work your lower body thoroughly. Adopt the same position as with barbell or goblet squats, and go into a squat in the same manner, with your hands clasped behind your head or arms held out in front of you. The pump you feel may not be as pronounced, but three sets of 15 to 25 reps should have your legs feeling pleasantly tight.
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE) Professionals Say Do More Squats, Lunges
- University of New Mexico: Resistance Training: Adaptations and Health Implications
- Harvard Health Productions: Strengthening Your Core: Right and Wrong Ways To Do Lunges, Squats, and Planks
- Oprah: Lose the Last 10 Pounds Workout
- Photodisc/Valueline/Getty Images