It’s All in the Lower Body


From the time we were kids we have been led to believe that proving we were strong was to show off that arm muscle called the bicep. The one Popeye used to show off after swallowing a can of spinach. Ask any young child to show you their muscle.  Which one do you think they will show off to you?  That’s right, the bicep muscle.   Not many will show off their legs or neck. I have to admit, back in my early weight lifting days my workout consisted of chest and arm exercises only.  Those are the muscles that would turn heads.  Nobody wasted time with leg exercises at the age of 15 or 16 years old. Even till this day, walk into any weight lifting gym.  Most of what you will see is upper body workouts.  I believe it is just human nature to give these muscles priority.  But in reality, it’s those legs that really help us get through day.

Let’s look at this a bit more closely. We use are legs to get out of bed, walk , run, stand up, pushing & pulling objects, getting in and out of a car, jumping etc. They are also the muscles that assist in generating power in many sports such as boxing, baseball, martial arts, and golf just a name a few.  The turning and twisting of the legs and hips is what give us that additional power.  Just try pushing someone backwards using only one arm.  Now try doing this while twisting and turning the hip and legs into the push.  Big difference right?  Also being martial artist, I’m quite aware how important the legs and hips can be compared to any other muscles in the body.

Now let’s get practical.  In the real world, unless you are a bodybuilder or competing athlete, you are not going stay enthused about your workouts if you are spending your limited time strengthening all the different muscles of the legs.  Bodybuilders will isolate each part of the legs so that they are visible in posing competition. But for us everyday people, we need to keep it brief. Basically most of us want strong, firm legs with some shape. But if there was only one type of exercise that would help us with this.  Well guess what?  You’re in luck!  The exercise is called the squat, or deep leg bends some people call them. Doing this exercise correctly will strengthen and tone all the major muscles of the buttock, hip, front and rear of legs, and calves muscles. Due to the fact that performing squats requires us to bend three major pairs of joints which are the; hips, knees and ankles, all of the tendons, ligaments and muscles attached to these joints are going to receive a workout whether they like it or not.  Because squats also place pressure on the internal organs, the abdominal and transverse muscles also get their share of a workout and become stronger. Having said that, If your intention is to train for some serious strength, the way to truly perform the squat besides just simply lowering your torso down, is to tense every muscle in the body from your jaw down to your feet. Your toes should be gripping the floor.  When performing them this way, it requires additional energy, which will burn more calories and also making it less likely to do multiple reps.  Your reps will be quite a bit less for sure because you will tire quicker. In turn, by doing squats in this manner, you are strengthening almost every muscle and in the body. If there was one exercise I would recommend to someone who has limited time to exercise, I would say, DO THE SQUAT! Sounds like a dance almost right!  But seriously, squats will assist in weight loss, improved strength & cardiovascular performance, increased muscle tone and better posture.

Now the fact of the matter is, there are many types of squat exercises. Since I am strictly a body weight calisthenics trainer, no weights will be necessary or a gym membership for that matter. There are many different progressions of each squat exercise from beginner to advanced, but for the purpose of this article, I am going to concentrate on the basic Half Squat.

The squat performance is simply this; Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Place your hands on your knees or stretched out front for balance. Lower your torso at your knees to a 90 degree angle. Think of yourself sitting down into a chair.  Your upper body will automatically lean slightly forward as you are lowering yourself. This is correct form. When you reach this point, hold for a second, then back up to a standing position. This would count as one full rep. Perform as many as you can without going to total exhaustion.  Rest as long as needed and then start another set.  Two or three sets will do it.  If you are flexible enough to do a Full Squat, which is lowering yourself all the way down with your feet flat on the floor, this will add to the difficulty of the exercise, and not allow as many reps. An important note, if you have knee issues, you may want to speak to your doctor first. Especially if there is joint pain associated while doing these.  Also note that you may experience some muscle soreness for the next day or two after doing this exercise. This is quite normal especially if you have not exercised in a long time. Keep those muscles hydrated also by drinking plenty of water before and during your training. See ya next time and,   Happy squatting !!!