Squats are up there among the absolute best exercises you can do. They encourage strength, balance and stability. They are also an extremely time-efficient fat burning tool and because they are so neurologically demanding, they promote the release of growth hormone and testosterone throughout the entire body- essential for the development of lean tissue. Squats are quite simply, awesome, and you should do them.
BUT… you should always do them with the CORRECT FORM, and one of the quickest ways to improve form is to work on mobility. The two main culprits that often impact squat form are tight hip flexors (which cause the lifter to lean forwards excessively at the hips) and underactive glutes, which can limit the amount of weight lifted.
There are a couple of quick fixes we use that take a matter of minutes, and can be included into your warm up. See Below for a visual demonstration of a Hip Flexor stretch, and a Glute Activation technique.
Instabilities in the knees or hips can make it difficult to recruit the correct muscles needed to squat to your full potential.
So how do we overcome this?
The Vastus Medialis Oblique (VMO) is one of the four muscles which make up your quadriceps (thigh). It plays an important role in extending the knee, and is crucial for knee stability and knee health. Despite this, it is commonly neglected. It is also one of the hardest muscles in the body to make grow, and one of the quickest to break down when not used. If you can make it strong, you will be able to not only squat more, but also jump higher and run faster, all whilst reducing the risk of injury.
To train your VMO and ensure greater knee health, stability and overall performance, try adding Peterson step ups or Poliquin step ups into your workout plan. These exercises specifically target the VMO.
You won’t regret it.
Another simple tip to get the most out of this outstanding exercise is to perform a leg curl or Glute Ham Raise BEFORE you squat. These flexion-based posterior chain exercises will enhance blood flow to your Hamstrings. The Hamstrings cross over the back of the knee in 3 different places, which means increasing blood flow to this area will stabilise both your knees and your hips, giving you a lower risk of injury and enabling you to squat more.
So before performing a squat you could introduce for example a superset of:
A1. 3 x 12 Peterson step ups
A2. 3 x 8 lying leg curls
This will instantly improve performance.