Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Squats, Why Did It Have To Be Squats?!?

One of the things I most want to work on as a developing runner is the strength in my legs.  I hear over and over again that powerful legs will make running easier (seems reasonable, doesn’t it?).  To achieve that desired result, I endure the dreaded squat.

So why squat?  Simply put, squats build muscle strength.  While running helps your muscles gain endurance, squats work to make those same muscles very strong.    That means that you will be able to run faster and longer.  I think that’s every runner’s ultimate goal, regardless of the distance or the level of experience.

Here are my top 3 tips for getting through a love/hate relationship with your squats:

1) Practice proper form.  If you’re not doing it the right way, there really isn’t much point.  When I first started doing squats, I leaned way too far forward, putting my weight in the wrong places.  Instead, you should keep your back straight with your weight on your heels.  I also make sure that my arms are in front of me instead of at my sides.  To truly master the form, try facing a wall with your feet firmly planted on the ground at shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed out about 45 degrees and touching the wall.  Slowly bend your knees until they touch the wall as well.  Keep your chest up, and pretend that you are about to sit down in an invisible chair below you, bringing your legs to a 90 degree angle.  All of the correct muscles will be engaged this way.  Take a look at this great visual example from Runkeeper.

2) Challenge yourself.  I make games out of all my exercise activities, because I’m weird like that.  J  It helps keep you motivated though, especially if you’re just beginning to get serious about fitness.  I mix up my routine often, trying different challenges every week to keep my muscles guessing.  My current challenge (found here) adds 5 additional squats every day until reaching the pinnacle of 250 squats on Day 30.  Ooh, I feel the burn already, just thinking about it!

3) Spice it up.  Try adding in some variations to the plain old squat.  Do a little jump when you come up from your squat, or raise up on your toes like a ballerina while in the squat position.  Squat on one leg, or twist and pivot through the movement.  There are so many ways that you can make this necessary evil exercise a fun and even enjoyable activity.  Check out Shape magazine’s cool options for bringing your squat out of the doldrums.

Alrighty then…go drop it like a squat!

Do you incorporate squats into your training schedule?  
What techniques do you like for strengthening your legs?

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