Even though their name is somewhat mundane, squats are one of my favorite exercises. Squats are one of the most practical and functional ways of improving your lower body strength, which is key to fall prevention, gait, and simply being able to do all the things you want to do in your daily life.
Boring name? Definitely. But here are some unique ways you can vary your squats to optimize the benefits from this basic move:
Momentum Rocks: If you’ve ever struggled to get out of a low squishy chair or sofa, I recommend you practice these “momentum rocks.” Sit at the front of a chair, and lean back and let your feet come off the floor a little bit while letting both arms swing back. Using momentum, rock forward to lift yourself off the chair and hover for a second or two with your seat a few inches above the chair before sitting down again. If you need to use your hands to propel you off the chair, do so, but work towards being able to get off the chair with as little assistance from your arms as possible. Try swinging your arms forward and back with the motion.
When you are leaning forward, think of the cues of “nose over toes” or “chest over your knees.” This exercise will train your body to use its natural momentum to get you out of a low, soft couch or chair.
Sit to Stands:
My all time favorite exercise! From a seated position, stand up and sit back down. Here are a few variations to keep this incredibly functional exercise more interesting and effective:
- Stand up at a normal speed, but sit down very s-l-o-w-l-y.Defy gravity! This “eccentric” move will really help to improve your lower body strength.
- Stand up and sit back down as quickly as you can = Power Stands. See how many times you can stand up and sit back down (all the way – not just barely touching your seat) in a short amount of time (start with 15 seconds, and gradually increase to 30 seconds). Scientific research over the past ten years has proven that adding power to our workouts is actually more important for older adult function than raw strength.
- Change your arm position.It’s easier to stand up using your hands on the chair or on your thighs, but work towards the most challenging position which is with your arms folded over your chest. This will strengthen your lower body muscles even more.
You can intensify the benefits of squats (either from a chair or standing the entire time) by playing around with your foot position. If you have tender knees, try squatting with your feet much wider than your hips, and externally rotate your feet. This wide “plie” position is often easier on ouchy knees.
To strengthen one leg a bit more, or to reduce the workload on one leg (or knee) put one foot slightly in front in a “staggered” stance. If you place your right foot a few inches forward and left foot a little back, your left leg and glutes will get a better workout, and you’ll lesson the load on your right knee and leg. It’s surprising how this minor tweak can make such a big difference.
Going Nowhere Fast:
To intensify your squats without stressing your knees too much, try squatting half way down, with your hips back, and march in place with tiny, little steps. This is harder than it looks! Do your best to maintain your great posture with this move.
Pretend that you can’t decide whether to stand all the way up, or just half way up. Stand up all the way, then squat half way down, stand up again, and then squat as low as you can. Playing with the various heights is a great tweak.
If your knees and your back are agreeable to the idea, you can hold hand weights in your hands or, even tougher, rest the weights on your shoulders while squatting, but this will put more stress on your knees, so work up to this variation gradually.
As you can see, even though their name is somewhat humdrum, playing around with these squat variations can make them (almost) exciting! And SO beneficial!