The single best exercise

by Jeff Howerton

If asked which part of your body you would most like to improve, what would that be? I imagine most people would point to an area that has collected too much fat. For men, the culprit is usually around the midsection and for women, the thighs and hips. How nice it would be to just wave a magic wand over that body part and watch the fat disappear and be replaced with lean, toned muscle. Well, that’s not an option. And, although we know that, we tend to exercise in routines that follow this incorrect logic. 

Too many of us practice the mythical concept called “targeted fat loss”, and men tend to be the guiltiest. How many guys have we seen performing sit-ups and crunches until the cows come home, all in an effort to remove that layer of fat around their stomach? Have you ever noticed how the efforts are so fruitless? Truth is, we can’t perform any one exercise and expect it to remove fat from a specific area. Yes, we can move a certain muscle group over and over, strengthening it and making it “firmer”. But that will not necessarily remove the fat lying over the muscle. The order of fat loss and the order of fat storing is determined the same way- genetically. Our personal make-up, as it relates to our gender and to our family, is the decider of how fat leaves our body. We have to choose exercises that will target our entire body instead of just one part.

So, if you were to choose the single best exercise to add to a workout routine with a slimmer waist, hips and thighs in mind, what would it be? The answer is the squat. The squat recruits lots of muscle groups including the stabilizing muscles of the lower back and abdominals, as well as the primary muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. When performed correctly, the squat not only provides strengthening and stability for the hips and knees, it also utilizes the largest muscles in the body. The greater muscle recruitment brings on bigger muscle tissue investment and bigger calorie burn. Every training routine should include a leg exercise like the squat.

That said, this movement can be tricky. It must be performed correctly so there is no knee damage done. Follow these steps below to ensure that you gain all the benefits of the squat and remain injury free.

1. Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart.  

2. Position your body with your bottom pushed back as if you were sitting in a chair placed behind you.

3. Hold your chest up and (early on) hold onto a chair back.

4. Lower your body by bending your knees.

5. As you lower, allow all your body weight to “sit” on your heels, keeping your knees from extending past your toes.

6. Lower until your quads are parallel to the floor and then push through the heel, returning to your standing position.

7. As you progress, keep your shoulders slightly forward so that you don’t rely on the chair to hold your balance.

8. You should feel sensations, primarily, in the front of your legs (quadriceps).

Jeff Howerton is a trainer and owner of LEAN personal training, where he and his trainers work with clients to lose fat, develop lean muscle and implement strategies for healthier living. LEAN (615) 279-1900 or 

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