As a gym owner, you might not feel the need to concern yourself with the actual exercises your clients are performing. After all, if your business is running smoothly and you have properly delegated responsibilities to your trainers and staff, then why would you need to get involved with the fitness side of things?
The answer to this question is multifaceted, but it essentially boils down to two reasons:• In order to provide the best service to your members, you must understand what they want from your gym.• In order to keep your members safe and happy, you must understand how each piece of equipment functions and how it should be properly used.
In each article of the Exercise Series, we will examine one type of exercise in depth so you can achieve both of these goals.
The squat: what it is and why it’s so important
Working in the fitness industry, you would be hard-pressed to find another exercise more widely used than the squat. A basic fundamental human movement, the squat can improve posture and core strength, help with leg strength and hip mobility, burn tons of calories, and sculpt a desirable physique. Done with proper form, squats also strengthen connective tissues in joints over time and often reduce or eliminate joint pain that happens when joints become weak and unstable.
Clients focusing on weight loss will appreciate the fact that squats blast through calories at a blistering pace. Those concerned with functional fitness will notice a huge improvement in mobility, flexibility, and stability from doing plenty of squats. And everyone, from athletes in top form to elderly clients trying to maintain independence, can benefit from the muscle-building anaerobic state that squatting provides. Aside from clients with injuries, almost everyone can and should be performing some variation on a standard squat as an integral part of their fitness routine.
Proper squat form
Though the squat is one of the basic movements humans were evolutionarily designed to perform, it is not often used anymore in day to day modern life. So, when people try to learn this movement, what feels most natural to them may not be the best form to keep their joints and muscles safe and strong. It is imperative to do squats with proper form to avoid injury. This is why you, as a gym owner and the manager of your staff of trainers, should recognize good or bad form when you see it so you can intercept clients or poor trainers before someone gets seriously injured.
To do a squat, start with your feet a little bit wider than hip-width apart. Your toes should point mostly forward, but very slightly outward. Balance your body weight across the heels and balls of your feet – not on your toes. Keep your chest up, your posture tight, and your back in a neutral (not hunched or over-extended) position throughout the entirety of the movement. When you’re in position, bend at the hips first, not the knees, and push your butt back until your knees bend naturally to compensate for this change in position. As your knees bend, keep them in line with and balanced over the tops of your feet, not wider or closer together.
In a proper squat, you should keep going until your hip joint is lower than your knee and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Some people, however, will need to start with much shallower squats until they build up the strength and joint flexibility to sink lower. When you’ve reached the bottom of the squat, stand back up straight by reversing all of these steps and driving your weight down primarily through your heels into the floor. Remember, your chest should be high, your core should be tight, and your back should be in a neutral position from the very beginning to the very end of the movement. Resist the urge to overextend your spine or let your posture sink forward. Both can cause back pain or injury, especially if you are doing squats with added weight.
How you can use this knowledge as a gym owner
As a business owner, you know it’s your responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment in which your members can exercise. If you spend any time on the gym floor as members are training, you are one more vital set of eyes keeping everything running smoothly.
Understanding how the squat is meant to be performed helps you keep an eye out and prevent potential injuries. Are patrons using equipment properly? Would you feel confident intercepting a member during a workout if they appeared to be using bad form that could lead to injury? Do you know which trainers practice and teach the best form, so you can recommend them to members who need extra help with form and technique? Will you be able to recognize when your squat equipment is worn, unsafe, or in need of replacement?
You also want to understand which types of equipment your patrons prefer, how best to arrange the equipment for optimal use, and when squatting equipment might need maintenance or replacement.
Consider the range of clientele in your gym and the type of equipment you may want to provide:• Beginners, elderly clients, and those working on mobility and rehabilitation will want an open area to practice bodyweight squats on firm floors.• Advanced lifters and athletes will appreciate dedicated squat racks with safety bars built in. Additionally, consider providing a few extra sets of barbells and weight plates for use with squat racks, so users don’t have to share between sets. • Some people prefer to use other types of equipment; kettlebells, dumbbells, and even resistance bands are all popular methods of adding resistance to squats for people who prefer not to use barbells. • Exercisers in the “general” population might be intimidated by athletes and heavy lifters in squat racks. Additionally, most people likely do not know how to maintain perfect form under heavy weights without guidance from a trainer. Many of these people enjoy having smith machines and other leg machinesthat replicate “squat-like” movements without requiring perfect form or a spotter. • Consider other pieces of equipment that will improve the experience for gymgoers who want to squat. Safety pins and bars are so vital, they should be mentioned again. Stable floor mats in the squat rack, back support braces, and barbell pads for shoulders all increase comfort for lifters, but often get overlooked in many gyms.
Putting it all together
While you don’t need to hold a fitness certification yourself in order to run a gym safely and efficiently, it does help to understand the needs of your patrons. By taking the time to learn popular exercises such as the squat, you will be better able to provide the safe and effective workout environment your members deserve.