Ah, the beloved and dreaded squat. The squat, a lower-body exercise that requires you to shoulder a barbell and literally squat, is a great way to strengthen your legs. When the 122-pound Deidre was powerlifting at the world-class level, she was able to do eight repetitions with 185 pounds. In competition, her personal record is 330 pounds. Each time she did these, however, she thought, "Dear Lord, don't let me crumble under this stack of iron." While no

sane person (at least no sane 122-pound person) will attempt to do that much weight, the point is that squatting is a demanding exercise. Despite its incredible payback, it is extremely important that you pay strict attention to your form—and that you never lift more than you can safely handle. We'll omit squats from beginning programs, but we'll keep them in the arsenal for when you get the hang of things.

A few other words of warning: Work with a spotter whenever possible, and make sure that you're good and warmed up. Squatting when your legs are stiff is a great way to court injury. If a spotter isn't around, be sure to use an apparatus that's designed for squatting. A cage, such as the one pictured in the following figures, is designed to catch you if you can't get up from the squatting position.

Squat start/finish position. Squat middle position.

Here is how you properly perform a squat:

1. Stand underneath the barbell with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

2. With your arms holding the barbell with a grip about six to eight inches from your shoulders, lift the barbell off the rack.

Squat start/finish side view.

Squat middle position side view.

3. Take one step backward so you don't hit the racks as you squat, and keep your toes pointed slightly outward.

4. Keeping your back straight, begin to bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Don't squat deeper. However, if you squat too little you're not maximizing the benefits of the exercise—remember that a greater range of motion ensures full strength gains.

5. Return to your starting position.

The following is a list of don'ts:

>- Lean forward as you squat.

> Squat without a spotter or safety rack.

> Place the bar across your neck.

Spot Me

While some trainers consider it safer to do a quarter squat where you only bend to about 45°, we question whether that's the case. When you cut the range of motion that far, there's a tendency to greatly increase the weight that's used, which puts much more stress on your back.

The following is a list of do's:

>- Keep your abdominals tight.

> Keep your weight on your heels, not on your toes.

> Maintain an upright posture.

> Place the bar across your upper back.

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