3 Muscles to Strengthen for an Improved Squat

You hit a plateau at the gym.  Don’t worry, we all do it.  The question is how do you overcome it?  Let’s talk about one of the mainstays of all lifts for everyone: squats!  If you’re a typical 9-to-5 worker who sits all day (yes WFH also), you have a constant battle of tight quadriceps (thighs), calf muscles, and hip flexors.  What you don’t realize are their weak counterparts that need strengthening to help you push through the plateau.

“I really don’t warm up except for a light stretch or 10 minutes on the treadmill, if that.”  Again, you’re a typical gym goer trying to maximize an hour away from kids, spouses, errands, and reality.  While you don’t really push yourself for fear of injury, you know there’s a hole in your heart because you’re capable of more.  I’m not talking about doing a 405lb max lift.  If you can get another 3-4 reps or add 20lbs more, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.

What are those complementary muscles I previously mentioned that need strengthening?  They are your hamstrings, anterior tibialis, and glute medius.  You’ve heard of hamstrings and glutes, but what are the anterior tibialis and glute medius?  The anterior tibialis is the muscle in your shin, they contract when you point your toes up.  The glute medius is on the side of your butt muscles and help pull/rotate your leg out/away from your body.  All these muscles become weak and lengthened as we sit for hours each day.  True, there are more muscles that could be strengthened, we will stick to these as a foundation.

Starting with the ground up, the anterior tibialis is rarely thought of much less worked.  A very simple exercise to increase mobility and strength is to do ankle flips.  Ankle flips are walking like you have swim fins on.  Take a step and put your heel on the ground and point your toes up high as possible.  Walk about half your normal stride, repeating this process with each step.  Perform 24 steps total (12 per foot) for two sets as part of your warm-ups.  Or, have a friend hold a band or tubing around your toes and pull your toes towards you without lifting your leg.  Strengthening these muscles reduces your forward lean and helps you stay balanced and get lower on your squat descent. 

The hamstrings are usually worked in a leg routine.  I’m going to discuss how to isolate and strengthen them as part of corrective exercise, not just your normal workout.  If your gym has a leg curl machine you can do with one leg at a time, use it.  Here’s the difference: you’re doing a 4 second down portion of the lift, 2 second hold on the bottom, and 1 second to raise back up.  Do 12-15 reps for 2 sets.  You can use a seated or lying leg curl machine for this tempo. This method is called eccentric or negative training and is very effective for overcoming muscle imbalances.

The glute medius is more worked by women in their attempts to get a shapely and/or bigger butt.  It is what it is, I’m not judging.  What most women don’t know is what muscle and why they’re doing it, only they read it in Shape magazine or saw a YouTube video.  From a functional standpoint of squatting, stable glute medius muscles are important to keep the knees in line with your toes and to counteract tight groin muscles.  You can put a band or tubing around your knees, squat slightly into an athletic position, and side shuffle deliberately 15 steps out then back.  Another option with or without bands, is to get on you hands and knees, then raise your leg like a dog at a fire hydrant/tree.  Be sure to concentrate on using the glute medius and not the leg muscles to raise your leg.  Keep your lower and upper leg at a 90 degree angle.

Integrating these three types of exercises into your regular routine or warm-up can pay big dividends in posture, reducing pain in the knees and hips, and increasing the amount of reps and pounds you squat. To learn more about preventing injuries, increasing mobility, reducing joint pain, and getting more out of life, please go to my website, mattpeale.com.  I offer group and personal instruction via Zoom weekly sessions to help your tennis, golf, workouts, and lifestyle hobbies.  Download my free report, 3 Tips to Reduce Back Pain Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.  Guaranteed to open your eyes and give you a new direction on staying healthy and active you didn’t know possible!

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