Squats are an excellent exercise that work the muscles of the lower body and are well-known for producing gluteal muscle hypertrophy leading to an increase in the size of the buttocks. A variation to this exercise is the skater squat which focuses on one side of the body rather than working on both sides of the body simultaneously.
The skater squat is a type of unilateral lower-body exercise that enhances the strength of the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, among others. Aside from being beneficial in almost every sport, the skater squat is also useful in both daily activities and those activities that require a great amount of stability and strength.
Performing the skater squat does not rely on the availability of any equipment as it is a bodyweight exercise. Nevertheless, it may be modified to include the use of weights or added resistance in order to make the workout more challenging and result in greater increases in strength and muscle size.
Apart from being a unilateral exercise, the skater squat is a workout that challenges the lower body's strength, coordination, and balance, thus helping prepare the body for movements required in daily life.
This is also easier on the knees as the movement is more focused on hip movements, which decreases knee strain and eliminates pain and discomfort.
A skater squat is performed by standing with the legs shoulder-width apart with one leg bent at the knee joint at a 90-degree angle so that it is hanging in the air. This will be the starting position.
Bend the leg planted on the ground as low as possible or until the opposite knee almost touches the ground. Stretch the arms forward to counter the weight and maintain balance.
Lastly, go back to the starting position by extending the leg planted on the ground while simultaneously extending the hanging leg. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set.
This exercise can also be done while holding a light lead ball or a dumbbell to make it easier to balance while performing the exercise.
The skater squat is a variation of the squat that is neither hip-dominant nor quad-dominant. It engages both muscle groups to a great extent but also engages the core to keep the trunk upright and braced.
The quad muscles, or quadriceps femoris, are a group of muscles located at the front of the thighs. It primarily works to extend the legs at the knee joint and flex it at the hip joint. This group of muscles is fundamentally responsible for lifting the weight that goes through the knee.
The hip flexion that happens in a skater squat may be attributed to the hip flexors, and in part, the quads, but it is substantially controlled by the gluteal muscles eccentrically. The gluteal muscles, which include the largest muscle in the body, function mainly to extend the leg at the hip joint. When contracting concentrically, it extends the hip as in assuming a standing position.
The hamstring muscles are responsible for knee flexion, but they also have a role in hip extension through their attachment to the hip. This group of muscles supports the gluteal muscles by limiting hip flexion when dropping into the squat. The hamstrings contract upon standing up from the squat against resistance.
The core muscles are the muscles that span the central part of the body including the pelvis, lower back, and abdomen. The obliques and abdominal muscles are recruited to maintain the form as balance and stability are challenged.
The skater squat is a very effective exercise for strengthening the quads and hamstrings, the two biggest muscle groups of the lower body. An increase in the strength of these two muscle groups, apart from the other lower body muscles, will produce explosive power in each leg. This assists in everyday activities and sporting activities.
In general, unilateral exercises like the skater squat improve stability and balance due to the creation of instability by loading only one side of the body. According to one study, even a single session of unilateral exercises may produce acute improvements in balance. However, this effect is only temporary. In order to produce longer-lasting effects on balance and stability, the skater squat or other unilateral exercises should be practiced regularly.
Unilateral exercises such as the skater squat eliminate muscle imbalances and asymmetry that may often go unnoticed and therefore unaddressed. The skater squat helps increase muscle hypertrophy and improve strength in the weaker leg as it isolates one side of the body thus preventing overuse or compensation by the dominant side.
A 2021 study that investigated changes in muscle activity imbalance of the lower limbs with the use of body-weight unilateral training found that unilateral exercises were able to address imbalances in some muscle groups of the lower body. Specifically, the study was able to describe a decrease in the muscle imbalance of the gluteal and hamstring muscles.
The mechanics of the skater squat train the ankle, knee, and hip to create a strong and stable structure that decreases the chances of knee or ankle injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, ankle sprains, and many more.
Unlike other squat exercises like the pistol squat, the free leg goes back in a skater squat creating a more vertical tibia. This allows for engagement of the glutes and quads while maintaining the ankles at a comfortable range in order to avoid pain, discomfort, and even injury.
The most common mistake that occurs when performing skater squats is allowing the back to hunch excessively. When this happens, it suggests that somewhere in the movement, the demand of the exercise is greater than the individual’s current capabilities.
This is remedied by decreasing the load by balancing oneself with the use of a stable fixture such as a pole or a doorknob. A block may be used to decrease the range of motion required for the knee touch, thus decreasing the demand. Additionally, this problem may also stem from heavy counterweights used for balance. A lighter counterweight may be utilized to prevent excessive rounding of the back.
The skater squat can be considered difficult as there is a high demand for balance and stability that takes place for its execution which is mostly a function of the core muscles. Losing the engagement or activation of the core muscles is thus a common mistake while performing the skater squat.
When this happens, the individual may experience a fall or a swaying movement while performing the skater squat. This may lead to improper weight distribution or, worse, injury.
The execution of the skater squat is optimized through the bending of the knees at different levels. However, it is important to avoid bending the knees too deep on the first try of the skater squat as this may lead to swaying movements, imbalances, or even falls.
A simple fix for this mistake is by starting with a slight bend on the front knees to perform the skater squat then slowly move deeper from there by observing where the deepest bend is possible. All this is done while still maintaining perfect balance.
While performing the skater squat, especially with a beginner, the front knee might be protruded too far forward. This is an outcome of insufficient hip extension on the rear leg that results in the suspended knee not reaching back far enough. Consequently, this may cause too much pressure on the knee joint, pain in the ankle, and imbalance that might lead to injury.
The skater squat is an excellent workout choice when wanting to strengthen the lower body muscles and receive all the other benefits mentioned above. However, the decision of whether or not the skater squat should be used in a workout regimen is dependent on the baseline functionality of the individual and their goals.
It is also important to take into consideration that before performing the skater squat, it is better to have a good foundation in terms of balance which may be achieved by doing other core exercises. Caution must also be taken with regard to the proper execution of this workout in order to avoid any injury and compromising the intended benefits of the skater squat.
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3. Mrzygłód S, Pietraszewski P, Golas A, Jarosz J, Matusiński A, Krzysztofik M. Changes in Muscle Activity Imbalance of the Lower Limbs Following 3 Weeks of Supplementary Body-Weight Unilateral Training. Applied Sciences. 2021 Feb 7;11(4):1494.
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