Two young women working out on a track doing squats.

The 1 Incredibly Effective Exercise You Should Do Every Day

See how this one move can improve your strength, endurance, bone health, and body image.


By Leah Maxwell

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all workout, but regardless of your fitness level, fitness goals, age, body type, and even schedule and space constraints (and barring certain physical or medical limitations), there is one move you should make time for every single day: the squat.

Whether you’re an athlete, a gym rat, a casual exerciser, or someone with no fitness regimen to speak of, doing squats is the key to a better body. That might mean being able to run faster and jump higher, to pick up your kids without grunting and groaning, or to get ready for swimsuit season. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, squats even helped women with bones weakened by osteoporosis. And Jen Rulon, a triathlon coach who specializes in strength training for endurance athletes, says in no uncertain terms: “If [squats] are not in your routine, they need to be as soon as possible.”

Rulon includes different types of squats in almost all of her fitness coaching sessions, because they work the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps -- all of which help her athletes perform better -- but she says squats are equally important for non-athletes. Aside from giving people a “fantastic overall lower-body lift” (read: a nice butt and legs), this simple functional fitness movement can also protect the body against strain and injury. “Squats should be a natural way of picking things up in everyday life – unfortunately that is not what everyone does,” she says. “They hinge at their waist, with stiff legs, and lift with their back.” And that can lead to both temporary and chronic back problems.

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Brett Hall, the owner and head coach at CrossFit Freedom in Libertyville, Illinois, agrees. Hall says squats play a “HUGE role” in his work with athletes, and he also believes that not incorporating squats into daily life leads to lack of function, loss of flexibility, and chronic joint-related issues for people of all ages at all fitness levels. He adds that a person’s ability to squat through the full range of motion -- while maintaining proper position of the ankles, knees, hips, and torso -- is one of the very best ways to maintain health, function, and longevity, Hall says.

 
   

What’s more, because squats work multiple muscles simultaneously -- strengthening different parts of your legs while working your lower back, abs, and obliques, and ,improving your endurance and agility – they’re the ultimate multitasking move, according to personal trainer, fitness expert, and author Joel Harper. And in answer to claims that squats can cause knee, lower-back, and hip problems, he says, “Yes, they most definitely can if they are not done properly. All it takes is a few tweaks to get it right.”

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Here, Harper’s five tips for doing a proper squat:

1. Always start standing up straight -- no slouching! Keep your chest up, your shoulders relaxed away from your ears, and your eyes straight ahead. Pretend you are being pulled by a string from the top of your head with a slight natural arch in your lower back.

2. Foot placement varies by which type of squat you do, but make sure both feet are doing the same thing. If one foot is straight, keep the other one straight too.

3. Always keep your knees in line with your feet and keep them from going out past your toes. Do not let your knees bow in, as this can cause knee injury.

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4. Ideally, you can squat down until your tailbone is in line with your knees or your quads are parallel to the ground. If this is too far, go to where feels most comfortable.

5. Breathing is important with any exercise, but even more so with squats. Take a deep inhale, suck your abs in (like you’re wearing a pair of tight jeans), and slowly drop as if you were going to sit in a chair. Go as low as feels comfortable. While coming up, exhale and maintain proper from. If you feel yourself starting to get sloppy, it is time to take a quick break. Resist holding your breath, and keep your breathing consistent throughout and your face relaxed. Make it look easy!

And now you have no excuses. As Harper says, “You can do squats with weights or simply by using your body as your gym, anytime and anywhere.”

How will you work squats into your routine?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/Georgijevic


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