We all know that exercise in general can provide numerous benefits to the individual performing it.
However, certain benefits can only directly be achieved from the performance of heavy squat sets - hence the popularity of this particular exercise. These benefits can range anywhere from the obvious improvement of lower body muscular strength to changes made to the output of the endocrine system.
In short - yes, heavy squats do indeed provide many benefits, some of which can only truly be achieved through heavy squats themselves. Regardless of your training goals or what sort of exerciser you are, the addition of squats to your workout will doubtless improve your fitness.
The term “heavy squat” is somewhat broad, as what makes a particular weight heavy for one individual may be rather light for another.
Instead, a better way of approaching this concept is to look at the maximal load potential of an exerciser - or what is otherwise known as their one repetition maximum.
A heavy squat will generally be within 75-100% of this absolute maximum weight, meaning that the exertion and intensity of the repetition is quite high and will generally fatigue the lifter within 1-5 repetitions.
There are quite a number of different squat exercises, with the most common being the conventional barbell back squat.
However, the sort of benefits one would expect from these conventional squats can also apply to the majority of other squat variations, such as the zercher squat or front squat.
While this may be rather confusing, a good rule of thumb is that if the exercise recruits all the muscles of the legs and is an intense free weight resistance exercise, it will likely produce much of the same effects as the conventional squat as well.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of performing heavy squats is that the muscles of the leg develop in terms of both strength and size - with the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and various other smaller muscles all being stimulated into a state of hypertrophic growth by the resistance of heavy squat sets.
While certain portions of these muscle groups are trained to a greater degree by squats, it is nonetheless every single muscle group that is contracted during the exercise; thereby earning the squat the title of “king of exercises”.
Though not solely a benefit of heavy squats alone, systemic changes in the body of the lifter are nonetheless one of the many advantages of performing such exercises.
These include boosted endocrinological production of various positive hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone - as well as improvements in the cardiovascular system despite the anaerobic nature of squats.
Even the nervous system receives some small benefit from consistent performance of the squat, with multiple studies showing positive changes in the brain from periods of heavy weightlifting exercises and reinforcement of superficial nerve function as an added bonus.
Much like any other form of exercise, squats are capable of expending calories via raising the heart rate of the lifter, as well as forcing the muscles to expend more metabolic energy as they are placed into a state of contraction.
This expenditure in calories will, in turn, result in the body expending its fat stores in the event that the lifter does not make up for the energy lost during the workout.
The squat is a featured exercise in many athletic training programs for a reason - that being its capacity to develop practically any aspect of athleticism to significant effect.
Whether it be the maximum jump height of a basketball player, the 100m speed of a sprinter or even the hip rotation of a boxer’s punch; the squat can likely only improve such performances.
This is mostly in part due to the muscular developments that heavy squats trigger within the body, though certain other benefits related to heavy squatting such as central nervous system conditioning and improved proprioception are also major factors.
Heavy squats, when performed correctly, are capable of reducing the risk of injury in practically any activity one may be participating in.
Whether it be other heavy leg exercises, athletic activities or simple day to day actions - squats will likely reduce the chance that you end up hurting yourself in the process.
This is because of a two-fold advantage caused by squats, wherein the connective and osseous tissues of the body are reinforced due to the repeated stress and pressure placed upon them by heavy squat sets, and the greater mobility provided by repetitive squat workouts as a result of its large range of motion.
At a larger scale, such developments of the body will appear as the lifter possessing more durable and flexible legs, allowing them to perform better in athletic activities and creating a hardier body that is less likely to become injured when impacted.
We’ve covered the various benefits offered by heavy squats, but not yet how to achieve them.
To do so, the lifter will have to take steps further than simply squatting a percentage of their one rep max. Making use of proper recovery by resting the muscles and eating sufficient amounts of protein is of vital importance as well.
Furthermore, excessive performance of heavy squats - either by too much volume within a workout, or too many consecutive back-to-back squat workouts - will negate most of these benefits entirely, if not injure the lifter and stall their training progress.
As such, proper training programming is also an important factor to consider.
To tally it up, achieving the benefits of heavy squats will require proper execution of the exercise, sufficient recovery and an adequate diet, as well as proper training methodology that allows for such needs to be fulfilled.
Now that we’ve seen just how great heavy squats can be, you may feel as if it’s time to add them to your training regimen. But hold on.
First, we advise that you take a moment and begin learning proper squat execution and training methodology - because, as great as heavy squats are, performing them incorrectly can actually be quite detrimental to your progress.
As always, if you’re unsure of how to go about doing so, seek out the advice of a sports professional that can help you.
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3. Marián V, Katarína L, Dávid O, Matúš K, Simon W. Improved Maximum Strength, Vertical Jump and Sprint Performance after 8 Weeks of Jump Squat Training with Individualized Loads. J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Aug 5;15(3):492-500. PMID: 27803628; PMCID: PMC4974862.