The Single Best Exercise You Can Do

The title of ‘Number One Exercise’ is a pretty big one but hopefully after reading this article you will only be able to agree with me.

There are thousands of exercises you can do to give you great results but in my experience this exercise yields the BEST results.

This exercise is the good old SQUAT.

There are many different squat variations you can do (I will discuss a few of them later) but on the whole the benefits you can get from squatting are massive.

What’s so good about the squat?

It’s a basic movement of the body, its natural to squat down.

It’s a position that some cultures still take to go to the toilet and to sit down (on their haunches).

I would say that one of the biggest benefits of being able to squat is how it can be transferred into your everyday life.

If you aren’t able to squat then you saying aren’t able to sit down and get back up again!

If you lose leg strength and getting in and out of a chair becomes difficult your life will spiral downwards very quickly.  It’s of vital importance to keep this basic movement going throughout your life.

Without this ability you will really struggle to do much.

Someone once said to me “I can’t squat Rich because my knees hurt”, I asked them what their knees were like getting in and out of a chair, they said “Oh that’s fine”, we then started to squat without any problems.

How & why was I able to do this?

I will come to the How in a second.

Firstly the why….Over the years I have seen thousands of people squat and the most common issue I see is people trying to squat down with their weight forwards on their toes, and their heels off the floor, this is a big MISTAKE, especially for your knees as it puts most of the pressure through the thigh and knee joint!

Conversely when you sit on the toilet or on a chair your feet stay flatter and your weight is through the heels, because your bum is pushed backward to sit down.

That’s why some people can’t squat but can sit and stand without any trouble.  So all we need to do in this situation is to use the correct type of squat to help the person (with the bad knees) build up the right, and safe, technique.

Squatting helps to promote good mobility and balance.

You notice as people get older their walking ability suffers. By performing squats it will help to keep strong legs and a strong core. This will help with posture and balance, and as mentioned will be very important when you get older in helping you to avoid falls and move around more.

Irrelevant of the types of squats you are doing or the weight you are lifting with, squats should be a part of every single person’s fitness program. It requires limited space and can easily be done without equipment.

People may think that they don’t want big legs so they don’t squat, which is a myth as its not exercise that dictates this its food.

A squat can benefit your whole body, particularly your core and abdominal region.  One study of over 4000 people proved that squats (and dead lifts) develop the abdominal area better than abdominal exercises. (Nuzzon & James et al, Journal of Strength & conditioning Research, January 2008)

Doing this exercise is will help to promote whole body muscle building due to the stimulation a squat creates.  By successfully training with squats you enable the release of more testosterone and human growth hormone, which are great for health, energy and fat loss.

Squats are amazing at burning fat. The more muscle you have the more calories you burn. As squats help to develop entire body muscle growth it helps to make your body a fat burning furnace!!

More or less every one of you who plays sports and is interested in being able to run faster and jump higher should include squats into your training, even if you are an endurance athlete.

So what is the correct way to perform a squat?

A squat movement is probably one of the most common exercises that are performed wrongly in every gym around the county. If you complain of knee or lower back pain when squatting it is extremely likely that you are performing the exercise wrong. It is also vital that you squat down low enough to get the maximum results. You don’t have to go for the ‘ass to grass’ approach but the lower you can go, and be able to come back up again safely the better.

The key coaching points when performing a standard squat are as follows:

  • Stand straight with your feet just over shoulder width apart
  • Flat feet, with weight through the heels
  • Maintain a neutral spine and keep your knees centred over your feet
  • Toes point naturally outwards
  • With everything facing forward, push the hips back and slowly bend your knees(as if you were going to sit on the loo), hips and ankles until you reach a 90 degree angle
  • Avoid arching your back by engaging your abdominals and pulling them tight whilst keeping your head up
  • Ensure that you sit back into it and stick your bum out behind, also make sure your knees aren’t further forward than your toes
  • Drive back through the legs to the starting position
  • Check your breathing – inhale as you go down and exhale as you push up to standing

Bad technique usually results in doing too much or too heavy a weight.  Master the body weight version first, then load it up lightly, then build up.

Different types of squats

There are easily 20-30 different squat movements you can perform but today I will discuss four types of squats (my favourite and most used).

1. Standard Squat

The standard squat movement can be performed with or without weights. It is advisable to master the squat technique by performing bodyweight squats before introducing weights. Once you are ready to introduce weights you can use either dumbbells or a barbell. When using a barbell the bar should be placed on the top of the back, you should be able to find a comfortable (ish) place for the bar to rest before performing the squat. Always have a spotter when you squat and for the safest squatting use a squat rack.

2. Box Squat (this is one for you if you have bad knees)

If you are new to squatting performing box squats is a good way to start. That’s all you need is a box and this method will really help you to perform squats the correct way. The size of the box is important; you need to ensure that your hips are lower than your knees when you sit down on the box. UNLESS you have bad knees then a box which keeps the knee at 90 degrees is best to START of, build yourself up over a few months.

Performing box squats will help you a great deal with your technique. It will help you to get to know the depth in which you should be squatting. The further down you go the better results you get! Just position yourself in front of the box and using the technique of a standard squat go down until you reach the box and power back up.

It works more hamstring and bum, along with the thighs.

3. Goblet Squat

The third squat I want to discuss is known as the goblet squat. You need a weight for this one, hold one dumbbell vertically with one of the heads up. Point your toes slightly out with your legs a little more than shoulder width apart. Sit back and bring your ass back, keep your chest up, go as low as possible with your feet planted on the floor, brush your elbows down the inside of your leg and power back up.

The goblet squat is a great exercise for beginners and is a good way of adding weight to the squat before using a barbell. This promotes good form.

This type of squat works more upper body and abs, along with legs.

4. Front Squat

The front squat involves the weight resting on the front of your body, this switch from the weight behind as mentioned in squat number 1 means the quads have to work harder. You need a good level of flexibility to perform this movement and if your technique is slightly out you could drop the bar.

The bar should be balanced over your collar bone area usually using an underhand grip, keep the weight towards the front of your toes and squat down.

Front squats are very popular amongst people who play sport. It helps with flexibility, power, speed and mobility. Studies also suggest that the front squat works the quads, rectus abdominus and erector spinae muscles more than the standard back squat.

Works more upper body and abs, along with legs.

Squats better than sit ups for your abs?

As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of research that suggests that performing squats are better than sit ups/stability balls for building up your abdominal region.

Performing a technically correct squat with weight requires a hell of a lot of core strength and all the muscles in your abdominal region are needed to maintain balance and good form.

Also as I mentioned earlier squats are a massive fat burner, because of the hormones released, which helps to give you a leaner more muscular physique.

Try adding more squats rather than sit ups and crunches into your training and notice the difference in your abs!

There is no question in my mind that squats are the most important exercise that everyone should be performing in their training. I’m not saying to do squats everyday because it’s the best exercise out there, but I am saying you should be performing squats at least once a week in your training.

The benefits are massive and with the many different varieties of squats you won’t be doing the same thing all the time.

Also make sure that your technique is spot on (get someone to check) before you even think about adding resistance to your squat, once this is achieved you are away to go and on the right track to seeing some serious results!

Train hard, be safe

Richard

PS – If you have any questions or comments just leave them below

 

12 thoughts on “The Single Best Exercise You Can Do”

  1. Perfect timing Clarkey!

    Just about to start training after over a year out, and I was going to build my schedule around squats!

    In your opinion, whats the best reps/sets for size and strength?

    Rob.

    1. Hi Rob,

      Thats great to hear(about starting back) and using plenty of squats.

      Size = 8-12 reps
      Strength = less than 5 reps

      I would do your first set as heavy as you can for 3-5 reps,no rest, then drop down the weight and do 10-12 reps, then drop down the weight again and finish with 18 reps of body weight or light stuff to burn it out.

      That should do the trick Rob.

      Take care,

      Richard (Clarkey!) 😉

  2. Hi Richard

    I am doing squats to firm and tone my inner thighs using two five kilogramme weights. I do three sets of twenty, but I am finding that my lower back is causing me some discomfort. I am obviously doing something wrong, but what I don’t know. Can you offer any advice please?

    1. Hi June,

      I can only give you some pointers as i dont know any of your details, you should see your GP always before you try anything new.

      If you came to see me i would go through this sort of stuff:

      Its not necessarily that you are doing something wrong, maybe that you have done too much, too soon, too heavy weights and too many repetitions, or some combination of them, basically leaving you with a sore back/inflammation.

      First thing i would do is to rest and take some time off until your back is feeling better(get rid of the inflammation).

      Ease things back a bit.

      Drop the weights, you dont need them until you are very good at doing them without weights.

      Are you ok getting in and out of a chair pain free?

      If not you should not be attempting squats.
      When you squat you should not be in any acute pain during the movement.

      If you are ok(no pain) in and out of a chair and up and down stairs in general, try this:
      Start off with a “box squat” which is basically “getting in and out of a chair”, a firm kitchen chair is best for this.
      Start off with 1 lot of 5-10 and wait and see how you feel for a couple of days, if ok and no bad reactions, build it up to doing a few more each time you try it. Do not do it everyday, every other day at most.

      Build up your general leg strength is always a good idea, you can do this simply by walking more.
      I hope that gives you an idea of things to consider and how to make it a bit safer for yourself.

      thanks for the question, take care,

      Richard x

  3. Really great article I have been doing squats for a couple of weeks and yesterday my knee started hurting. Tomorrow I will adjust my technique.

    1. Hi Francesca,

      Glad you enjoyed, let me know how you get on. We talked about your comment on the podcast as lots of people suffer with this.

      Thanks, Rich x

  4. I have for years included squats in my workouts as a rule and thought I was doing good work on my quads and glutes. In November I had a slipped disc and have developed SI joint problems which now mainly affects my left hip and knees as well as tight piriformis. My physio says actually I have terribly weak glutes and pelvic floor(which I am now trying to rectify ) but strong hams and quads. I want to get back to doing squats again but seems to aggravate the disk a bit – would you advise to steer clear – I really want to get back into them.

    1. Hi Natalie, you need to see a physio or come see me to build yourself back up slowly and without pain.

      If an exercise aggravates your back you should not do it.

      Take care,

      Rich

  5. Richard, am loving all your daily stories, finding it very encouraging and have lost 2.6 kilos. I really thought you were going to say walking (well I was hoping it was going to be walking), cos that I can do !! Squats I cannot do but now I will commit to trying because I want to be able to walk well forever. Thanks for the emails. I left a review on Amazon about your cook book, also want to purchase your new book, do I get it from you or Amazon? Best regards, Candy

    1. Hi Candy,

      yes lots of people think they can’t do squats. i have one question, do you use a chair ok? can you get in and out of a chair pain free? If so i can get you squatting.

      thanks,

      Richard

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