Building a Solid Base – the Beginner Squat Series – Levels 1 – 3 in the JaxFit Base Progression
Thinking of all the things my legs do for me makes me want to thank them, take care of them, and use them while I have them.
This progression is all about your legs, making them stronger, keeping them healthy and all the while challenging them in ways that will help you burn fat and improve your body composition. Build a strong foundation, a solid base.
Let’s kick this off with level 1. Here we have two moves that I have taught to older adults, young kids, weight-loss seekers, athletes recovering from injury, and even novice weight-lifters. First we will transition from sitting to standing.
Here is a move most of us do daily without thinking about it. By focusing on our alignment, using strength rather than momentum (rocking to stand up) and adding repetitions, we can strengthen the legs and prepare the body for the squatting to follow. The sit-to-stand is a great place to start working on the legs and it’s a life lesson – sit less, it’s time to stand up!
The second move looks like the reverse of the first, going from standing to sitting, but look closely. We don’t actually sit down on the bench (or sturdy seat), we use it as a target, squatting to the bench and then standing back up. This is an excellent time to hone the fundamentals of squatting before we increase our range of motion and move away from the safety of a sturdy seat. Align your hips, knees and feet, don’t let them rotate, bend inward or flare outward. Work hard to keep your lower leg close to vertical so your knees don’t drift out in front of your feet. Go slow, even if it is tough, avoid rocking, bouncing or dropping.
When you are confident in your bench squat skills, a new challenge is in order. Step up to the supported squat, level 2. If I am able to convince you that the full squat (spoiler, it’s level 3) is one of the most important exercises you will master, then you will likely agree that the supported squat is the most important level in the progression. Here is the reason. Level 2 will enable you to safely build the strength and skill necessary to get to the full squat. You can focus on your form, avoid losing your balance and falling, slowly increase your range of motion, and even decrease the amount of bodyweight your legs are lifting, all through the use of arm support.
I find that supported squats are an important troubleshooting tool. Having a firm hold on a sturdy object allows me the freedom to watch every movement that my legs make as I lower into a full squat. It is not normally advised to look down while squatting as the act of lowering the gaze usually lowers the head. If the head and neck bend forward, the thoracic spine might round, placing pressure on the lumbar spine. The supported squat is uniquely safe in this regard because the weight (and leverage) of the upper body is supported by the arms, the lower back should feel no stress from looking downward. So try it. Are your knees tracking inline with your feet? Don’t let them collapse on each other. Keep feet close to hip width, and knees stacked perfectly between the feet and hips. You can see your feet, right? Don’t let those knees drift forward, obscuring the feet. The lower legs are to stay close to vertical.
Supported squats will help you prevent injury and may help you recover from an old injury as well. With the help of your arms, you can significantly reduce the load on your legs while controlling your range of motion, making it possible to squat without pain if you have suffered from ankle, knee, hip or lower back issues in the past. If you are unsure if this or any exercise is safe for you, consult your physician. Always listen to your body. Hard work is good, pain is not.
You can transition from level 2 to level 3 when you feel you no longer need the support. Ease off the supporting structure, but stay close to it incase you lose your balance, break from proper form, or fatigue more quickly than anticipated. Having the security of a sturdy object within your reach will also give you the confidence to squat with perfect form in mind rather than compromising your form for fear of falling. Build up to full range of motion in level 3. Add reps. Go slowly, avoid dropping and never bounce. Descend with control and pause at the bottom of your squat before rising.
Spend as much time as you need on these three levels. Full bodyweight squats that are performed slowly with proper form for 3 sets of up to 25 reps will strengthen and sculpt the legs of anyone I know. Trust me, I perform higher level squats from this progression and I still come back to levels 2 and 3 regularly. I love the challenge that full squatting provides and I am grateful for the healthy legs they have built.