When you think about exercises for losing weight, the squat might not be the first one that comes to mind. Your instinct might be to hit the treadmill and do an intense cardio session. But here’s why you need to start thinking about heading for the squat rack.
The 8 benefits of doing squats for weight loss are:
You will build more muscle.
Squatting can burn more calories than the treadmill per minute
You will have better body composition
You will get stronger
Squats trigger a metabolic and hormonal response conducive to weight loss
Your overall conditioning will improve
Squats will make you mentally tougher
Squats are one of the most functional exercises you can do in the gym
If you’re not sold on squatting for weight loss yet, keep reading, because we’re going to dive deeper on how you can reap these benefits.
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You will build more muscle.
Squats will allow you to build more overall muscle.
When you build muscle mass, you are able to burn more calories at rest compared with fat mass.
According to Dr. Christopher Wharton, a nutrition professor at Arizona State University, 10lbs of muscle will burn 50 calories in a day spent at rest, whereas 10lbs of fat will burn 20 calories.
Therefore, building muscle should be an important part of your weight loss strategy.
The squat is a quad-dominant movement, meaning your quadriceps are the main driving force of the lift. But you’re also using your hamstrings, glutes, and calves to lower yourself down into the bottom of the squat and then to lift yourself back to the starting position.
In addition, several upper body muscles are used to stabilize your torso, including your abdominals, mid-back, lats, and upper back.
So instead of targeting each of these muscle groups separately, the squat can be a much more effective exercise for building total body strength and mass.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that performing 6 sets of squats drives hormonal responses of growth hormone, cortisol, and insulin-like growth factor, all of which can play a significant role in stimulating muscle growth and tissue regeneration.
So when you’re in the gym, aim to get at least 6 total sets of squats from different variations, such as the back squat, front squat, or goblet squat.
Takeaway: Performing squats can help you build muscle, which allows you to burn more calories at rest.
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2. Squatting can burn more calories than the treadmill per minute
Squatting can burn more calories than if you spent an hour on a treadmill.
According to a study on the calorie-burning effects of a variety of exercises, researchers found that squats burned an average 35 calories per minute, the most of all the exercises tested.
They compared the squat against exercises like the leg press, leg extension, bench press, lat pulldown, bicep curl, and tricep extension, and found that lower body resistance training had a higher energy cost than upper body training, with squats being the most effective.
For comparison, running on the treadmill can burn between 5 to 9 calories in a minute, depending on your speed and level of incline.
The science behind losing weight with squats is simple: as you add weight to your squat, the intensity of the movement increases, causing an acceleration in your metabolism as your body burns through calories to repair the muscles you’ve used.
Takeaway: You can burn 3-6 times more calories in a minute of squatting compared with a minute of cardio on the treadmill.
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3. You will have better body composition
Squatting will help you attain a better overall body composition.
Body composition refers to how your body mass is compromised. For example, two people can weigh 150lbs, but the person who has 30% of their body-weight in fat mass compared with 15% will look noticeable more out-of-shape.
For evidence of the squat’s impact on body composition, an 8-week body mass-based squat exercise training plan decreased the body fat percentage of participants by 4.2%, while they also increased muscle size and strength.
Since squatting has been shown to build muscle in the lower body and contribute to higher caloric expenditures while working out, it should be used to improve overall body composition. The goal is to have more muscle mass and less fat mass, despite your bodyweight.
In order to maximize your body composition from squatting, cycle through periods of heavy weight with lower reps (3-5), lighter weight with higher reps (12-15), and moderate weight with moderate reps (6-10). You can also cycle through different squat variations to target different muscle groups.
For example, you can heavy back squats with five sets of five reps on one lower body day and then do lighter front squats with three sets of twelve reps on the second lower body day.
Takeaway: With effective workout progressions, you can change your overall body composition using squats.
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4. You will get stronger
Squatting is one of the best exercises in the gym for gaining lower body strength.
Using machines are effective for isolating a specific muscle, such as: leg extension and leg curl. However, isolation movements have shorter progression curves, meaning you might hit a plateau in strength quicker if all you do is machine exercises.
However, the squat is a compound movement utilizing all the muscle groups in your lower body.
As a result, you can add strength progressions from workout to workout over a longer timeframe and continue to see improvements. In other words, your strength won’t stall as quickly with squats compared with only doing isolation movements.
Don’t forget: it’s not just your legs getting stronger, you’ll also be increasing your core strength by squatting.
Takeaway: Use squats to build overall strength.
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5. Squats trigger a metabolic and hormonal response conducive to weight loss
Squats increase your metabolism over a longer period of time, as well as boosts natural hormones within the body that contribute to weight loss.
Your metabolism is the process in which your body converts the food you eat into usable energy.
How does the squat increase your metabolism?
The fact that the movement requires so much work to move the weight means your body is drawing a tremendous amount of energy, which forces your body’s metabolic rate to increase. This increased metabolic rate continues in your post-workout recovery, as your body uses this energy to repair the muscles worked.
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In additional to the metabolic response your body gets from squats, you’ll also have a positive hormonal effect.
Your body requires certain hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone to build muscle and lose fat. In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, it was shown that participants got a 16% increase in testosterone immediately after squatting compared with those who used the leg press machine. This is simple due to the activation of more muscle groups in the squat.
These hormones will help you build muscle and increase strength, which will allow you to lift more weight and burn more calories in the process.
Takeaway: By using more musculature in the squat you can get greater metabolic and hormonal responses that are conducive to losing weight.
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6. Your overall conditioning will improve
Improving your conditioning means being able to do ‘more work’ in the same or less amount of time.
One of the best ways to improve your conditioning while you squat is to do what’s called ‘density sets’. Pick a load that is somewhere between 60-70% of your 1 rep max. Set a time for 15-minutes, and perform as many reps as possible within that specific timeframe. You can stop and rest as needed, but the goal is to only take short rests and to maximize the time you spend ‘working’ rather than ‘resting’.
Over time, your goal is to increase the total number of reps you do within this 15-minute timeframe. So be sure to track your progress and gauge whether your contioning is improving.
By doing several sets of high-repetition squats, you’ll find yourself breathing heavier as your body pumps oxygen to your muscles. This is essentially a cardiovascular activity that utilizes weight training.
The oxygen that you’re trying to get back into your system after completing the work comes during your recovery. It’s called exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) and it will keep your metabolism elevated well after your workout is complete.
As previously discussed, when your metabolism is elevated you can burn more calories over a longer period of time, which is an effective weight loss strategy.
Takeaway: As your conditioning improves, you will be able to do more work in a shorter amount of time, which will lead to greater weight loss results.
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7. Squats will make you mentally tougher
While being mentally tough won’t make you lose weight directly, having a strong mindset during the training process will allow you to overcome the many challenges that you’ll face along the way.
Any seasoned lifter will tell you about the mental challenge that comes from stacking weight on squat and getting yourself set under the bar. There’s a serious dose of mental toughness that comes from having a heavy load on your shoulders, squatting down until your hips are below parallel, and then driving your feet through the floor to get yourself back up.
If you can get through something mentally challenging like a tough squat workout, then you’ll be more adept at overcoming other challenges in your life that will contribute to your overall weight loss journey.
Takeaway: squats build mental toughness, which builds the character you need on your journey to losing weight.
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8. Squats are one of the most functional exercises you can do in the gym
Learning the squat will help you be more functional both inside and outside the gym.
Squatting is a basic functional movement for all humans. In fact, sitting in a deep squat is a resting position in many countries. People old and young may get into a deep squat and stay there for minutes at a time.
Unfortunately, many of us lose the ability to properly squat as we age. This is often as a result of simply neglecting to squat.
For many weightlifters, squats are not only programmed for strength and accessory work, but for warming up and movement preparation.
The next time you get up from a chair or pick up something off the ground, think about the functionality of the squat and its carryover to everyday life.
Takeaway: Even if your goal is to simply lose weight, you also want to be functional throughout the process.
The squat is an effective exercise to build muscle, strength and conditioning. By squatting, you increase the body’s metabolic rate and are able to burn more calories over a longer period of time compared with other cardiovascular activities. To squat effectively, you’ll want to practice the movement often, using various styles of the squat to target more or less of certain muscle groups. When programming the squat, cycle through heavy and light weights over a range of sets and reps.
If you like this article, check out 4 Benefits of Doing Deadlifts For Weight Loss.
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About The Author
Chris Castellano is an FDNY firefighter, US Army combat veteran, author of Fit For Travel, and the founder of Fittesttravel.com – a fitness website for frequent travelers.