About to take on the 30-day squat challenge? Here's what you need to know...
Ok, so squatting gets you a great butt and toned thighs - we're not going to deny that. Just one look at instagram-er's 'before' and 'after' pics when it comes to squats is proof enough. Squats help build your leg muscles - your hamstrings, calves and quads - but they can also help to burn fat and boost your stability and flexibility. Want a fantastic butt? Squats are a great addition to your workout routine. But how often should you be squatting, and how many squats should you be doing? If you're even considering doing the 30-Day squat challenge, here's what you need to know first.
Squats aren't an everyday exercise
It can be tempting to think that an exercise that targets the areas you're trying to build muscle in and tone should be done as often as possible. But there's a reason why you shouldn't squat every day. Working out those muscles every day breaks them down without giving them time to rebuild and recover, which can lead to muscle wastage and actually give you the opposite of the result you're looking for. Muscles need time to recover from exercise, and your diet has a part to play in your results too - you need to consume plenty of protein to rebuild those muscles - adding protein shakes and high-protein snacks to your diet can help. You might even need a couple of days recovery if your workout has been particularly intense - as any personal trainer will tell you, you shouldn't be doing squats again until any muscular pain has gone.
Why the 30-Day Squat Challenge is bad news
This fitness fad is all over the internet, with pictures of pert round butts enough to tempt any woman into giving it a go - and it's not just women who are signing up; men are too, with the hope of building muscles and strength. Basically, you'll perform up to 250 squats a day (!), often with no rest days and time for your muscles to recover inbetween sets. Here's why that's bad news:
- Many people don't know how to peform squats correctly, and poor form can lead to injury, particularly if you're doing hundreds of reps a day. It's not as important how many squats you do as it is to carry them out correctly
- It's not about how many reps you do, it's about how many sets you do! Most people taking on the 30 Day Squat Challenge have no idea how many sets they should break their reps into. Day one specifies 50 squats, but should that be 5 sets of 10 squats or 2 sets of 25? What if you can't do 50 squats in a row? How long should you rest for between sets?
- There's no advice on when to squat - 250 squats a day is a lot, but can you break this up into sets of fewer reps - say 10 before breakfast, 20 after lunch etc? Or do all 250 need to be done in one go?
- There are no other exercises included in the challenge! Shouldn't you be doing other exercises to ensure you're working other parts of the body? Most of us will realise this isn't a complete program, but there are people out there taking on the challenge without any previous experience of squatting, and squats is all they will do. Not to mention, starting with 50 squats a day if you're unfit is going to put you at serious risk of injury!
Improving on the challenge
The good news is that squats can help reshape your body and if carried out properly, they can be a great exercise! There are a few mods you can make to the 30-Day Squat Challenge to make it a healthier, more balanced routine - check these out.
Vary your rep ranges, rest period and weight lifted
Variety ensures your muscles have to think fast, and always surprising them by changing the reps, sets and rest period means they will work harder to ensure great results from your squats. So try using heavy weights one day, doing sets of 8 to 10 reps, with 2 to 3 minute rests (until you reach the target number for the day). Then another day you might want to try using medium weights and doing sets of 12 to 15 reps and 30 to 60 seconds rest between sets. Remember, it's best to squat on alternate days rather than for 30 consecutive days - so technically it's the 60-Day squat challenge! Squat one day, do another form of exercise the next. If you're looking for workouts which target your lower body, we have leg exercises for you to try, or try cycling, swimming or running.
Vary your speed
The speed of your squats can not only impact your results, it can also increase or decrease your risk of injury. Slowing down your squats can help to damage muscle fibres (in a good way!) so that when they repair they are stronger. Speeding up your squats can improve your power, so keep things varied for the best results. But be careful, doing exercises more slowly can cause Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), that ache you get the day after exercise and slowing down your squats may mean you need a longer rest period before you can do more.
Vary the type of squats
By the time you get to day 30 (day 60), you'll probably find doing 250 squats is pretty boring. Get bored of any exercise and it's harder to find the motivation you need to keep going. But you don't just have to stick to plain old regular squats - there are loads of different variations out there that can help to keep the challenge interesting. Try jump squats to raise your heart rate, increasing speed and muscle power and getting those endorphins flowing. Or give single leg squats a go to improve your balance - this can reduce your risk of injury when doing other exercises, such as running or ballet barre classes.
We're not saying the 30-Day Squat Challenge is a bad idea - far from it - just that you should be aware of proper form, and think about the way you're going to approach the challenge. Make sure you carry out your squats correctly, keep your reps, rest periods and weight varied and make sure you don't squat everyday - give yourself a break!