Raphael Calzadilla

The value of anything is based directly on the effort needed to obtain it. Having the good things in life instantly, even if it were possible, would be an empty pursuit. Such a life would have no value. -Daily Guru

There is one exercise that most people avoid like the plague - the squat. However, if you're seeking tight, shapely legs then there is no other leg exercise on the planet that is as effective!

Is it difficult? Yes. Does it burn? Yes. Does it give you fabulous legs? Definitely!

As in most cases in life, the most difficult endeavors always yield the greatest rewards. Performing the squat does not mean you'll have legs that burst the seams of your clothes. Yes, you can achieve bodybuilder-type legs if that's your goal, but you can also develop legs that are lean and tight.

It's dependent upon execution, frequency, weight, repetitions and intensity. People who choose not to perform the squat always tell me they don't want "big legs" or a "big backside". Unfortunately, they don't know the mechanics and method of manipulation for this marvelous exercise. The squat does not discriminate by gender - it's the perfect lower-body exercise for both men and women.

The primary muscles worked during squats are the quadriceps (front of the thigh), hamstrings (back of the leg), hips, gluteus (bum) and lower back. Secondary muscles used are the abdominals and practically every muscle in your lower body. So if you want great legs and a great backside, you must practice the squat.

THE SQUAT

1. Preparation

Beginners - Begin by standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart or slightly closer than shoulder-width. Practice the movement with no weight and your hands on your hips, or place a broomstick across your shoulders. Be sure the broomstick is not resting on your neck. It must be positioned on the upper part of the back. You should also place a chair behind you for safety. Beginners should attempt two sets of 15 repetitions on three alternate days of the week.

Intermediate/advanced - Stand facing a squat rack with barbell upper chest height, walk under the bar and position it on the most upper part of the back and grasp barbell to sides. Space hands evenly on the barbell, shoulder-width (or wider, if comfortable) apart. Dismount bar from rack and take a step backward.

2. Descending phase

• Knees should be in line with the toes. Maintain a neutral spine and a slight bend in the knees. Concentrating on the quadriceps muscles, begin to lower your body by bending from your hips and knees.

• Think about sitting back in a chair as you are lowering.

• Stick your bum out.

• Your feet should be shoulder-width apart or slightly closer than shoulder width, weight distributed from balls of feet to heels. Keep your chest out, eyes straight ahead, shoulders back slightly and lower back straight and flat (but not vertical).

• The bar should descend in a vertical path so that the distribution of the weight is kept over the ankle.

• Breathe in as you lower down.

• Stop when your thighs are parallel with the floor. Do not bounce at the bottom of the movement and do not let your knees ride over your toes. You should be able to see your toes.

3. Ascending phase

• Using the quadriceps (front of the thigh) and hips, slowly push off with your heels (keep foot flat) as you return to the starting position stopping just short of your knees fully extending.

• Maintain control throughout the entire range of motion.

• Breathe out while returning to the starting position.

• As in the descending phase, do not let your knees ride over your toes (you should be able to see your feet at all times).

• It helps to find a marker on the wall to keep your eye on as you lift and lower; otherwise, your head may tend to fall forward, and your body will follow.

Common mistakes to avoid

1. Stopping your descent phase before thighs are parallel to the ground.

2. Not keeping your head up and eyes forward.

3. Allowing the knees to extend in front of toes.

4. Keeping your back too vertical and not flat or slightly arched.

5. Locking your knees at the top part of the movement.

6. Holding your breath.

7. Using excessive weight.

8. Performing a squat with an injured lower back.

9. Not perfecting form and technique.

10. Descending lower than parallel.

During my personal-training experience, I have found that women respond well to higher repetition ranges (15-20) and men tend to get best response in a repetition range of 8-15.

This is one of the few exercises that I recommend in higher rep ranges. Whatever your goal is, squats will give you sensational-looking legs!