Most women join a gym for toning or body fat reduction. Unfortunately, the act of acquiring a membership has never accomplished this goal and although it seems quite obvious it is important to mention that one must schedule time to work out on a consistent basis to see lasting results. This can be challenging as most adults have busy schedules complicated by careers, children, etc. Therefore, if your goal is improving body composition (more shapely body with muscle, less fat) it is important to consider the most efficient use of your time before even stepping into the gym. In a nut shell: have a plan or plan to fail!
What is the most efficient use of gym time?
Many believe the best activity for fat loss is sweating it out on a piece of cardio equipment; the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bicycle, etc. Although I am certainly a fan of cardiovascular exercise, I will argue emphatically, that this form of exercise is significantly inferior to strength training for toning and fat loss! Ten years ago this opinion was of the minority. However, today a growing number of trainers and fitness professionals are testifying to the importance of strength training for fat loss. However, it is my opinion, judging from the plethora of articles both in fitness magazines and online, that most of these outlets are missing that crucial element of how to incorporate strength training into a weight loss routine. They fall conspicuously short in regards to detailing strength training technique instruction and routine planning.
There is no better single exercise for whole body toning and fat loss than the barbell squat. This article, and the accompanying video, is intended to fill that void in demonstrating the proper technique for a barbell squat and offer a simple yet effective program that includes vital elements such as resistance, progression, duration and frequency.
Form and Technique:
Proper technique will assure that the glutes, hamstring and other core muscles are incorporated during the squat and reduce stress on the knees. Additionally, because effective squats require the use of a heavy barbell, proper technique is imperative for safety. Use the following video to perfect your squatting form before starting a routine:
Please consult your doctor to makes sure that exercise and squatting is safe for you before starting a routine.
This is the key to success and unfortunately, the least discussed concept regarding strength training. Perhaps a sign of the times in the information age is a reduced attention span but without a disciplined, progressive routine, your success will be meager. Think of it this way: to look twice as good, you must become twice as strong. The only way to do this is through time and systematic progression. With every workout, your goal should be to make a slight increase in resistance weight.
Mrs. Mix aka my wife was the inspiration for this article. She asked that I give her a challenge to keep her motivated and focused that would reshape her legs and lift her butt. I proposed to her, and also to you, the following challenge:
Double your squat weight! No time limit (but I’m guessing that it will take somewhere around 4 to 6 months). You don’t have 4 to 6 months? That’s too bad. There is no short cut to transforming your physique. Systematic progression using the king of all exercises is the fastest way to do this! If you’re short on time and discipline maybe just grab the newest issue of Shape off the shelf and blast your booty with their newest 10 lunge varieties.
For those of you who are serious about making transformations, here is the plan:
Find your initial squatting weight and perfect your form. This may take a while. The key on day one is working on your form until it is perfect and absolutely repeatable and then finding the heaviest weight you can complete 10 reps at without breaking form.
Your goal for your first workout is to do 10 immaculate, slow repetitions with absolutely indisputably perfect form. These 10 reps should challenge you, meaning leave your legs tired, your heart rate pumping, but should not push your form away from perfect even on your last repetition. If you haven’t squatted before, this weight may be less than a standard Olympic 45 pound bar. If you’re at our gym (Mix it Up Fitness) we have a 15 pound aluminum bar to use. If your gym doesn’t have a light weight Olympic bar, tell them to get one, you pay good money for a membership.
For this workout, take as many sets as necessary to warm-up, focusing on perfect technique. Start with little or no weight and make this warm-up a priority for every workout. Your goal for this workout, and all future workouts, is to complete two working sets. Your first work set should be with a weight that is slightly below (eg 20% less) than the previous workouts final heavy set. For example, if your final set in week one was 60 pounds, than 47.5 to 50 pounds should be your first working set. Each working set is 10 perfect reps. Use your first work set to evaluate how much weight to put on for your final work set. If you felt really strong maybe try adding 10% to last workouts heavy set (5 to 6 pounds for a total of 65 pounds from the above example). If the first set was hard, be more conservative with perhaps a 5% increase.
The important element is consistent progression. Go after it! If you don’t get the full 10 reps in perfect form, just do as many as you can in that form, but don’t give up without a fight and make sure your limitation is physical and not mental. If you do come up short, ask yourself why? Did you do something that day or the previous to fatigue your body? If so, learn from your mistakes and make adjustments so you don’t sabotage your next squat workout.
Workouts 3 and beyond:
Repeat, repeat, repeat, week after week. If you give this an honest try, are mindful of your rest and prioritize your squat workouts, you will see incredible results. This is not just my opinion. I have seen this workout transform countless physiques in a relatively short period of time; women, men, children, old folk alike. Barbell squats are the king of all strength training exercises. Week in and week out you will get stronger and you will reshape your legs, glutes and core. Keep your goal in mind and make it a priority over all other forms of working out.
Your workouts shouldn’t be back to back or even every other day. Your squat workouts should be a full week apart. Why? Squats, when done correctly, are demanding and the time for transformation (reshaping your legs, butt and the rest of your physique) happens between workouts, during recovery and this process can’t be rushed!
If I only do this squat routine and nothing else will I get results? Yes, I am suggesting that. I know it sounds crazy, but if you did nothing else but the above routine for exercise, I’m positive you would see incredible results. In fact, I’m suggesting that your physique would transform more efficiently than if you were to randomly pick up a fitness magazine and religiously adopt one of their routines that had you working out 6 times a week.
For years (and years), I worked as a personal trainer and some variation of the above philosophy is how I trained all of my clients and it was always successful (former clients are welcome to chime in). I still get calls and emails from former clients lamenting physiques past when we trained together. They tried this and that program, other trainers, etc. but they just can’t get the same results. The only special attribute I had as a trainer was my ability to camouflage this squat routine (or some other multi-joint exercise), as it was always everyone’s least favorite part of the workout. Why? Squatting done correctly is brutally hard. With some clients I entertained them with exercises they found more enjoyable: boxing, balance work, yoga poses, etc. Some folks found all exercise disagreeable, so I mainly just conversed with them between sets of squats. Regardless, I attribute unequivocally the most important element of their training to these sets of squats and progressively getting stronger. Remember, if you accept this challenge, these squat routines are more important than anything else you will do for reshaping your physique so they should be your priority.
Am I advising you to do only one squat workout once a week for exercise?
Absolutely not. There are a ton of reasons to work out besides reshaping your butt. Additionally, this abbreviated squat routine will do little to benefit your cardiovascular conditioning, improve coordination, flexibility, balance or general functional fitness. All of which a more complete system of physical training will address. However, I want to make it clear that if your priority is a transformation to a more athletic firm physique, then make this squat workout the foundation of your training and add other pieces to fit your lifestyle goals and time constraints, but only to the point that they don’t detract from your squat progression.
It is not the scope of this article to go into depth about diet. However, it is important to state that if your goal is fat loss, then working out is only half the equation and you should be mindful of your nutrition. Here is an article I wrote that offers a little direction on nutrition and diets: Eat to lose weight.
Shameless product plug here: Try Mike’s Mix Protein First Recovery Drink for after your squats workout.
Best of luck and feel free to leave any questions in the comments. I will check this post periodically and am more than happy to fill in any gaps or offer specific advice.
Mike (Mr. Mix)