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Articles by natural health author Sarka-Jonae Miller
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Safely Squat Your Way to a Better Body
by Sárka-Jonae Miller
(The Best Years in Life) A video posted by Bryce Harper of the outfielder doing squats on an exercise ball is all over Facebook and Instagram, but before you try this there are much safer ways to tone your legs, improve hip flexibility, and challenge your core. Squats on an exercise ball are an advanced version reserved only for athletes like the National League's 2015 MVP. Yet, regular floor squats will fail to keep you progressing to your goals overtime. Here's a safe way to progress assuming you have no injuries.
Floor Squats with a Bar
If balance isn't a strength of yours, using a ballet bar or another fixed object of similar height while squatting will keep you from falling. Be sure not to use a piece of furniture that could fall on you, but a high counter, railing or a low fence could work depending on your height. By holding onto a bar, you can deepen your squat without losing your balance.
Extend your arms in front of you and grip a bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Stand with your feet hip- to shoulder-width distance and pointing forward. As you bend your knees, hinge your torso forward at the hip joint and shift your hips backward as if to sit in a chair. If you are very concerned about your balance, place a low stool behind you to catch you if you fall.
Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor. Deeper squats might improve flexibility but can put strain on the knees. Pushing through your heels, stand back up straight again. You may need to adjust your distance to the bar. Repeat 10 times.
Floor Squats and Weighted Versions
Perform floor squats without holding onto anything to challenge your balance. Arms extended forward will be more comfortable for some people, but hands on the hips is the more traditional position. An important note with these squats is am emphasis on the importance of tightening your abs. Do up to 20 repetitions.
Increase the difficulty by adding a free weight to each hand with arms hanging at your sides. Dumbbells and kettlebells work well. Try a weight 5 percent of your body weight and increase by 5 percent over time. Alternatively, if you are an experienced exercise place a barbell across your upper back and hold it there throughout the squat. Be sure not to rest the barbell on your cervical spine near the neck.
BOSU Ball Squats
The closest most people can safely come to Bryce Harper's exercise ball squats are squats on a BOSU ball. The BOSU ball looks like an exercise ball cut in half with a flat, hard plastic surface. There are two version of this exercise: one with the ball side up and one with the plastic side up.
To begin, try the easier version by placing the BOSU on the floor with the ball side up. Step onto the ball one foot at a time with your feet hip-width distance or slightly closer together. If you are uncomfortable standing on the BOSU, do not attempt the squat. Otherwise, extend your arms forward and prepare to squat. Bend your knees as you shift your hips backward and tilt your upper body forward. Only go as deep as you can control before standing back upright.
Once you can easily do three sets of 10 squats, try turning the BOSU over. A spotter to assist you while you stand on the BOSU and to offer an arm for support if you lose your balance is highly recommended. A broader stance of shoulder-width apart is better for squats while standing on the plastic side. These BOSU squats are great for your thighs, glutes, calves, core, and ankles.
Performing two to three sets of 10 to 20 reps three times per week will lead to a marketable improvement in tone, strength, and balance. However, skipping right to a ball squat could easily lead to injuries from falls, or damage to the joints or connective tissue. Build your strength, flexibility, and balance first by going through the squat progression.
About the Author
Sárka-Jonae Miller is a health and fitness expert. She began working in the fitness industry in 2000 while pursuing a BS in journalism at Syracuse University. She became certified as a personal fitness trainer and group exercise instructor in 2003. She has also received training in massage therapy. Sárka also writes fiction. She is the author of the chick lit novel, Between Boyfriends. Get more health and wellness tips on Sárka's Natural Healing Tips blog or join her on Facebook and Twitter.