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Squats are exercises which are designed to benefit the lower body, particularly the thighs, hips, and buttocks. These exercises are used to strengthen, tone, and build muscle, and they are utilized by a variety of athletes. Squats can be done with weights or without, and there are scores of variations on the basic exercise which can be used by people at varying levels of fitness and ability. People who are not sure about which types of exercise are safe for them should consult their doctors and work with a personal trainer to develop an exercise plan which will meet their needs while remaining safe.
As the name implies, squats all center around the use of a squatting position, in which someone supports the weight on the heels, squats, holds the position, and then rises. A full squat starts at a stand, with the exerciser moving into a squat and then straightening again. This exercise promotes stability and flexibility in the lower body in addition to working the muscles and ligaments. Squats can often return results very quickly, especially when people add weights to the exercise.
In a basic squat, the feet are placed about shoulder width apart. Keeping the back straight, the athlete moves into a squatting position, with the thighs ending up parallel to the ground. It is important to gaze straight ahead during a squat, and to keep the knees stable. They should drift out to about the toes and stay there; if they move further forward, it destabilizes the squat and this can be unsafe.
The movement in a squat should be controlled, with the glutes being squeezed through the exercise and the athlete breathing deeply. If someone trembles or shakes, it is easy to lose control, and the squats can become unbalanced. It is also wise to stretch before doing squats rather than plunging right into them.
The classic position for a weight while doing squats is a bar over the shoulders. However, people can carry and move weights in other ways. For people who cannot handle weights safely, a small ball can be held out in front of the body with the arms extended during a squat. A personal trainer can help design a squatting technique which will be productive and safe. People in exercise classes may want to take advantage of the setting to ask for tips on their form and suggestions for other exercises they could integrate into their routine.
@jennythelib - People think of squats as being great for the legs, but squats can also benefit the muscles of the pelvic floor! After pregnancy, things can, ahem, loosen up a bit, and apparently doing all sorts of squats (from the ones you described, including the plie, to the yoga "garland" pose) helps keep your pelvic floor sort of in the right place.
I love squats and lunges - they just seem like a more natural way to work your leg muscles than using a leg press machine or anything like that.
The biggest mistake I see people making when they do squats is not sticking out their behind far enough. They seem to confuse a squat with a plie.
In a plie, you stand with your legs wide apart and toes pointed outward. You hold your body very straight as you bend your knees (keeping them over your toes) with your tailbone tucked under. This move is very effective for working the inner and outer thighs).
But in a squat, you sort of lean forward and stick your behind out, well, behind you, with your toes straight ahead. Legs are usually about hips' width apart. That way, the squat works your glutes and quads while protecting your knees.
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