When it come to weight training for strength and combat the most effective exercises you can perform are compound exercises.
What are compound exercises?
Compound movements are motions that use more than one joint. They stimulate more than one muscle group. They take more effort and concentration to perform; that’s one reason newbies tend to shy away from them.
- Compound movements use multiple muscle groups. This makes them superior to the isolation movements such as bicep preacher curls or leg extension machines.
- They lead to better protein synthesis and more hormone release due to the overall stress they put on the multiple muscle groups.
- This, in turn, gives us greater strength and muscular gains.
- They also develop your core strength that is needed for striking power and speed.
The problem with compound movements is that they have the potential to injure you if you do not perform them correctly; there are certain ‘checkpoints’ you need to understand and imply when using compound movements.
The King of Weightlifting Exercises
Barbell squats is an exercise I avoided for a long time because I did not really understand the importance and benefits. I also I found them hard to do; I would find myself very tired and sometimes I injured my knees performing them, but when I got serious about learning how to train I started to research about compound movements and I started to get excellent results.
One thing kept popping up in all the books and online information I read.
What was it? Learn how to squat! Squatting builds the whole body and improves overall strength dramatically, mainly because squatting teaches you how to use your core efficiently; this is one of the most important factors in lifting heavy weights. Squatting also teaches you how to use your muscles in coordination.
I was sceptical about this at first, I never knew what using the ‘core’ really meant until I started to squat with proper form and then sure enough weights started to increase.
Now I squat regularly and I can promise you there is no exercise that comes close to building overall body strength than the squat. As my squats increased in weight I was able to do core exercises like L-sits and V sits that I could never do before.
When practicing combat techniques it is essential to have a strong core. For this reason, squats are excellent for MMA and boxing. The squat can be quite daunting for the newbie trainee. It is known as the KING of bodybuilding exercises and for good reason. Some benefits of the squat include;
- Builds muscle throughout the entire body
- Creates better mobility and balance
- Strengthens stabilizer muscles ligaments and connective tissues
- Burns fat
- Strengthens the core
- Boosts athletic performance e.g. running and jumping
- Teaches muscles to work in co-ordination with each other
If you’re serious about working out, then you need to master the squat. The squat is probably the hardest exercise to perform correctly as it has a few ‘checkpoints’ to consider.
Before squatting it is imperative to warm up. You need to work up a light sweat before you start to squat. Your body temperature needs to rise so your muscles warm up, this helps prevent injuries. You can do this any way you choose; running, jogging, boxing on a heavy bag, skipping, it’s your choice of preference.
Next, you need to lightly stretch the muscles of the legs. Dynamic stretches are best for this. You do not want to do static stretches for too long as this will weaken your legs for squatting. A dynamic stretch is an active form of movement that stretches the muscle but does not hold the muscle in a stretched position.
I suggest doing a minimum of 10 reps of the following stretches; afterward, you can then do a few LIGHT static stretches. Save the intense static stretches for after workouts and days off training. I suggest holding the static stretches explained below no more than 10seconds.
Static stretches can weaken the muscle at the time which will then interfere with your weight training. Stretching the shoulders and wrists is also very important as squatting can place a lot of strain on these joints.
Dynamic Leg swings;
- Start with feet firmly planted at shoulder width on the floor.
- Lift one foot off the ground keeping your supported foot firmly on the ground.
- Slowly with control, swing the leg forward in front of you then back under behind you.
- Do this for 10 reps then afterwards, switch directions swinging your leg out to the side then back to the centre of your body.
- Keep your upper body stable. You can hold onto something for balance if you wish.
Static stretch hamstrings and glutes;
- Keep both feet on the floor close together.
- Bend down slowly and try to touch your toes, hold his for 10 seconds.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Bend one leg backward holding your toes and bring your heel towards your glutes.
- You will feel a stretch in your quadriceps muscle. Hold it there for 10 seconds.
- Repeat with the other leg. You can hold onto something for balance support if needed. Repeat on the other side.
Static Shoulder stretch;
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Raise one arm out to the side until it is parallel with the floor.
- Next, bring it across your body so the hand is facing the opposite direction. You will feel a stretch on the shoulder.
- Hold it in place for 10 seconds with the other hand. Repeat on the other side.
Static wrist stretch;
- Extend your arm keeping your elbow locked with palms facing down.
- Pull on your four fingers and take your wrist backwards using your other hand until you feel a mild stretch in your forearm.
Squat Bar and hand positioning;
There are 2 most common variations of squats; the front squat and the back squat. The back squat is more popular so I will be going over that variation.
The back squat has 2 bar positions; low bar and high bar. The one I will be discussing today is the low bar squat. This is the squat that powerlifters use and it enables you to lift the most weight, therefore building more strength which in turn leads to more muscle.
Low bar position;
The bar needs to be positioned just BELOW the trap muscles and on top of the shoulder blades. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, this will create an area for the bar to sit and also the tension will aid in stability.
Ideally, you want to grip the bar just outside shoulder width. Sometimes people experience shoulder pain and have their grip wider. If this is the case then you need to work on your shoulder flexibility.
The closer your hands are the more engaged your lats are. This increases stability. Some people use the closed hand grip but I prefer open hand grip. I get wrist pains when I use a closed hand grip with the thumbs wrapped around the bar.
I’ve found out that open hand works best for me, but everyone is different. You can try both and see what you prefer. When squatting, always start with a light weight for a few reps and work your way up in small increments to the heavier weights.
This will warm the leg muscles up and prevent injury. You can perform a few body weight squats beforehand to get the muscles moving in motion.
How it’s done;
1) Un-rack the bar and stand with your feet just outside shoulder width.
2) Toes can be pointing out slightly.
They do not have to be straight, everyone is different and what might be ‘right’ for someone else may not be comfortable for you. I have my feet facing outwards slightly.
3) Keep your eyes fixed in front of you.
I usually fix them on the point where the floor meets the wall. Do not look up when squatting. This can cause you to fall off balance.
4) Tense your whole body and squeeze the bar tight.
Engage your lats by tensing them and pinch your shoulder blades together.
5) Take a deep breath and brace your core by pushing your abs out.
Keep your back straight. Push your chest outwards throughout the movement.
6) Now break at the hips by pushing your hips and glutes right back.
(As if you were to sit on the toilet).
7) Next, drop down keeping your body tense.
The angle of your back depends on your body type. Do not force your back to stay upright in a vertical 90degree angle. It should be at an angle that allows the bar to be over mid-foot as shown in the picture above. Usually, this is a lot more forward. However, the spine must remain straight at all times, DONT CURVE YOUR SPINE this can lead to serious injury.
Important Things to remember;
- There should be no tension in the knees on the way down. They should just track your hips.
- Your knees should follow in line with the direction your feet are pointing, and the bar should be over mid foot in the bottom position.
- The knees should never go past your toes.
- Mindfully keep your knees out pushed outwards. Never let them cave inwards. This will lead to injury.
- Remember to sit back with your hips and go down to where your upper leg is parallel to the floor.
8) Now push back up through your heels leading with your glutes (Imagine a chain pulling you up from your lower back/glutes area).
Your glutes should take the lead on the way up. Do not push from the balls of your feet. Push from your heels. Sometimes it can feel as if you will fall back pushing through your heels but you won’t. You will get used to it with practice. As you push back up, pull on the bar tightly as if you are trying to bend it over your back.
9) Return to the starting position and let out your breath. Your hips should be placed directly under the bar.
So there’s the breakdown of performing a PROPER squat. If you follow these steps you will be able to lift more weight, get stronger and avoid injuries. Proper form is very important when training in compound exercises, even if you have to sacrifice some weight to get your form down to the T, I highly recommend you do so. It will most certainly benefit you in the long run.
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Enjoy the rest of the week!