If I asked you to think of a lower body exercise, I bet the squat would be one of the first exercises you thought of. But if you really want to up the ante and make your squats work even harder, dropping into a squat and holding it is a surefire way to get your legs burning. Holding a low squat isn’t easy, and holding a low squat for three minutes is a real challenge, as I found out when I added it to my workouts every day for a week just for fun. Read on to find out what happened
The benefits of squatting
The squat works excellently on the muscles of the lower body, especially the quads, hamstrings and glutes. The glutes work especially hard if you focus on pressing through the heel as you come up from the squat. Don’t just take my word for it – research has found that squatting can help build muscle in the lower body.
In addition to working the lower body, the squat also works the core muscles, because the abdominal muscles have to engage in order to keep the body upright when you sink into the exercise.
A low squat increases your time under tension (TUT), which means the muscles are kept under tension for longer, making them work harder. As I’ve mentioned in previous challenges, tension time creates muscle growth – holding your muscles under resistance challenges them in a way that normal weight squats don’t. When you squat, it’s normal for your leg muscles to shake—in fact, this is a sign that they may not be used to working against resistance for so long.
Resistance training has also been shown to increase bone strength, which is vital as we age – studies have also found that squatting helps improve bone mineral density.
How to do a squat
Ready to get started? Here’s how to squat with perfect form:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees and push your hips back as you lower. Keep your back straight and keep your eyes forward.
- When your thighs are parallel to the ground, pause, drive up through your heels, and come back to standing.
- When you’re holding a low squat instead of going up and standing, you’re just staying down with your feet firmly on the floor, keeping your eyes forward, and engaging your back and core so you don’t start to slouch.
Of course, all of this can be made more difficult by adding resistance, perhaps one of the best adjustable dumbbells held in both hands, or two dumbbells, one on each shoulder.
I chose to hold my low squat for three minutes, but you can simplify the movement by shortening this time, or make it harder by increasing it.
I did a 3 minute low squat every day for a week – here’s what happened
Three minutes goes by pretty quickly
You might think that three minutes would take time to pass with a low squat, but in my experience, it flew by. The first minute was confusion, the next 30 seconds started to feel fiery, and then the remaining time was spent moving around a bit more as I stopped to shake my legs. By the end of the week, I decided to challenge myself by adding a minute each day and found that I could hold a low squat for five minutes, even though I was shaking a lot.
Oh my four! If any muscle felt like it was burning more than any other, it was my quads. I have pretty strong quads from years of training, weights and running, but this simple bodyweight exercise made them cry out in pain.
This week-long challenge reminded me that the thrills never get any easier. However, by the end of my week, I’m pretty sure my quads would handle the low squat much better than they did at the beginning.
I added pulses due to the buttock burn
Even though my quads were burning the most during this challenge, my glutes were also kicking after a few minutes. To really feel my glutes doing double duty, I added small pulses. As someone who puts a lot of effort into maintaining strong glutes, I felt the need to make sure that this lower body challenge also gave my glutes a good workout. As the largest muscle in the body, strong glutes are important in everyday movements, but especially important for me as a marathon runner.
My form suffered
When doing a normal squat up and down, it is important to maintain a steady gaze backwards and forwards. Why? It is mostly to prevent muscle soreness and possible injury, especially if extra weight is involved in the form of dumbbells or barbells. When I held a low squat, I felt my back begin to arch—this exercise required me to touch the floor with my body at regular intervals, reconnect with my back and core, realign my hips, and keep my gaze forward.
As always, if you’re not sure about your fitness when you first train, it’s always a good idea to check with a personal trainer.
I took regular breaks
After a minute of squatting, the burn intensified. After 90 seconds I had to stand and shake before dropping back into a squat. After this I took two more quick breaks before the three minutes were up. So you could say I cheated a bit. Needless to say, by the end of the week my rest count was lower as my legs got used to the slightly lower squat position.
I did a 3 minute low squat every day for a week – here’s my verdict
Should you accept this challenge? 100% yes! Tensing the muscles of the lower body helps them become stronger, which is useful for general daily movement and other sports and exercise. Also, as I mentioned, any type of weight-bearing exercise, such as squats, helps keep bones strong.
While low squats may sound incredibly boring, time flies when you’re fighting the voice in your head telling you to give up and stand up.
If you have trouble holding a low squat for three minutes, start with two minutes and work your way up. If you want to make this even harder, try adding it to the finish of your next leg day workout, or add weights if you dare.
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