Crush Your Squat Challenge With This Helpful Guide
Social media is overflowing with hashtags flaunting how many squats someone performed while participating in various challenges. Part of the appeal of a squat challenge is simplicity. It’s one exercise, a precise rep assignment, a clear time frame (ten minutes, 30 days), and a clear goal (better legs, a stronger barbell squat, a better rear view).
If you’re into the SMART formula (choosing goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound), a squat challenge neatly tics all the boxes. It’s a kind of no-brainer fitness challenge that the Internet loves, ready-made for posting. Just look up #squatchallenge for proof.
Interested in taking up the squat challenge gauntlet? Here’s how.
Benefits of Squats
Squats are on just about everyone’s go-to list of terrific exercises:
- They’re a basic movement pattern.
- They recruit your body’s largest muscles.
- They’re adaptable to nearly any fitness level.
- You can do the bodyweight version virtually anywhere.
Do them correctly — with good form, gradually adding reps, weight, or sets each time you work out — and you’ll safely build strength and muscle in your quadriceps, glutes, and — to a lesser extent — the hamstrings, calves, and lower back.
Maintaining leg strength is also linked to healthy aging. A 2011 study found that, compared to other physical health indicators, leg strength was the strongest predictor of physical function in late adulthood.
That’s a lot of payoff for one convenient and straightforward move.
Can You Do Too Many Squats?
Some squat challenges have you doing up to hundreds of squats a day, so it’s understandable to ask if too many reps can hurt you.
“Too many reps of anything can hurt you,” says Angelo Poli, ISSN, creator of the MetPro diet and exercise app. Performed too often and too intensely, repetitious movement of any kind can ultimately lead to injury, especially — in the case of squats — in the knees and lower back. And if you progress too fast, use too much weight, or perform the movement with poor form, your chances of injury increase significantly.
Strength-training exercises also lose their effectiveness over time. So while you’ll likely see good results from 30 days of squatting, you’ll probably see less improvement if you keep going much longer than that without switching things up.
That’s why squat challenges have an end-date, says Poli. “They’re a great way to shock the body with a new stimulus, but after the challenge is over, it’s important to do something different.”
As always, respect your body’s limits and never work through pain. “Burning and soreness in your working muscles is fine,” says Poli, “but if you feel joint pain, proceed with caution. And if it goes on or gets worse, consider ending the challenge right there.”
What Squat Variations Should I Do?
One way to make a squat challenge safer — and more effective — is to perform numerous variations of the move. By changing the stimulus a little bit — day to day, or week to week, or even set to set — you reduce your chances of incurring a repetitive-use injury. If you discover that one version causes you joint pain, switch to another one that doesn’t.
- With your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, slowly bend your knees and hips, sitting back until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your back flat throughout the movement.
- Reverse the move, slowly standing back up, and repeat.
2. Goblet squat
- Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically in front of your chest, cupping the top end in both hands (imagine it’s a heavy goblet). Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back flat and elbows pointed down, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground (your elbows should touch the insides of your knees).
- Pause, and then slowly push yourself back up to the starting position.
3. Ballet squat
- Spread your feet wide, toes pointed out.
- Keeping your torso vertical, bend your knees and hips, lowering yourself as far as possible.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
4. Suspension trainer squat
- Lean back slightly while holding the handles of a TRX (or equivalent), and perform the squat as described.
- This modification activates the extensor muscles of the spine, helping you to keep the torso upright throughout the move.
5. Heels-elevated squat
- Place a pair of ten-pound weight plates (or pair of books or boards up to an inch thick) underneath your heels.
- Perform bodyweight squats as described above. This simple trick reduces the degree of ankle mobility required to execute the exercise with good form.
30-Day Squat Challenge
1. Beginner version
One no-brainer version of the 30-day squat challenge goes like this:
- Day 1: If you wish, snap a “before” photo (front and sides) of your lower body to track your progress. Perform a comfortable number of bodyweight squats without taking a break. Be sure your form is immaculate: back flat, gaze forward, tops of thighs parallel to the floor at the bottom of the move.
- Day 2: Perform Day 1’s number again — plus another 5-10 reps.
- Continue like this until you’ve done 30 days’ worth.
- As the reps add up, you may need to split the reps into more than one set. That’s fine. Just get them done.
- Skip every fourth day.
- At the end of the month, record the number of squats you did. Snap another photo, and bask in the glory.
2. Advanced 30-day squat challenge
If you currently are able to perform 50 bodyweight squats, you can try this more accelerated version. Good luck!