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Why squats aren’t working for you and what you should do instead



Squats are often the first thing suggested to beginners. From Youtube videos to gym classes, it’s recommended, literally, everywhere. Chances are that you too believe squats are THE exercise you should first do.


The problem is, squats are actually NOT the best option for everyone. Reality is that depending on how you do them, you can end up with unwanted bulky muscles and back pain.


As a trainer myself, I rarely suggest squatting as an introduction to exercise to my clients. That’s because they often don’t have the muscle strength needed to perform correct squats in the first place.

Today we’ll talk about who should avoid squats and what they should do instead.


Popular, but not for everyone

Squats are popular because they can target legs, where large muscle groups are concentrated. The quadriceps in the front thighs are the largest volumetric muscle group in the body. By moving them, you can effectively increase calorie consumption during exercise and increase your daily basal metabolism as you train.


But the concept of burning calories isn't as easy as it looks. Here’s the catch: it only works for people who have good physical condition to begin with. If you’re working in offices all day sitting in front of your computer, chances are that your joints and muscles have adjusted to that lifestyle and you can hurt your knees or back doing squats.


Although the calorie burning theory seems attractive, the average person doesn’t need to commit to squats. There’s many other exercises that are effective. And especially if you’re a beginner in strength training, it’s just better to start with other exercises and improve your body functions before doing squats. Squatting and standing up may seem simple, but it is actually a very difficult exercise that even weight-lifting professionals need to constantly check their form. People who usually spend their day sitting all day long cannot achieve the same results by doing the same exercises as the professionals.


People who should avoid squats

There’s certain types of people who should avoid squats. It’s people who favor using their front thighs instead of hamstrings or glutes. The common causes are stiffness of the hip joints, stiffness and weakness of the glute muscles or hamstrings. And this happens because of posture, sedentary lifestyle, past exercise history, etc.


Here are some common characteristics of people who favor using front thighs

People who:

  • play or used to play sports as a hobby (especially ball games, rowing, and other sports that require a lot of forward leaning)

  • Work in an office

  • Sit for more than 10 hours a day

  • Ride bicycles

  • Have bow legs

  • Often wear heels

  • Can’t reach toes when bending forward

  • get back pain after standing/walking for several hours.

  • don't stretch on a regular basis

  • have relatively flat bum (less glute muscle mass)


Feel that this is you? Good news, you have a billion options other than squatting so don’t fret.


What to do if you're not cut out for it.



To be able to squat effectively, you need to:

  1. Improve hip joint flexibility

  2. Activate muscles that have become stiff and weak

  3. Improve posture

  4. Start with slow squats.



1. Improve hip joint flexibility

The hip joint is inherently one of the most mobile joints that can be moved in a variety of directions. But for the majority who only move from chair to chair now, the hip function probably has become limited.


What you need to do is to improve hip flexibility. Like stretching hamstrings and glutes, doing yoga and swimming.


2. Activate muscles that have become stiff and weak.

Once hip flexibility has been improved, the next step is to activate the muscles around the hip joints so that they can be used effectively.


Some exercises you can try are: Romanian deadlift, Glute bridge, Clamshell, Hip Thrust, and Walking Lunges.

These exercises can target hamstrings and glutes more than squats. Instead of trying these exercises with fast-paced music, start with videos that explain how to do them correctly so you can learn them slowly and carefully.



3. Improve your posture and movement habits.

Say you train your thighs and glutes for 30 minutes a day, what about the remaining 23 hours and


30 minutes? You need to learn how to use the muscles correctly!


In your daily life, try doing the following:

  • Reduce the amount of time sitting

  • Wear heels less often

  • Tie your shoelaces every time you put your shoes on

  • Pay attention to your posture

  • Improve the high arch in your lower back


Doing these for a minute every day is still better than nothing.


4. Start with slow squats.

Once the movements in your hamstrings and glutes are well, now you’re finally ready to start squatting. Remember, start slowly. Doing them fast brings back bad habits. Look in the mirror to see if you can use your hamstrings rather than your quads (front thighs).



There are several types of squats. The easiest squats you can do to target hamstrings, glutes, and inner thighs are the Wide Squat (Sumo Squat) and the Row Bar Squat.

Try squatting without weights first, using your own body weight to work the glutes.


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Just squatting might help you with burning calories, but won’t lead to the results you want. Take some time to learn how to do them correctly before jumping in. Squats aren’t necessarily the best option for everyone, so choose what works for you the best for your needs!

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