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Fitness & Health

05th Jun 2018

Squats can boost your brain function, study finds

Skipping leg day makes it difficult for your body to produce new nerve cells.

Alex Roberts

Barbell squats are one of the best leg-building exercises around, but new research shows they can also improve your brain health

With good reason, squats are one of the fundamental strength-training lifts, comprising ‘The Big Three’ alongside the bench press and the deadlift.

If bigger quads are on your gym agenda, then you will go far to find a better exercise.

The squat also activates your abs and works the entire posterior chain – including the glutes, hamstrings and many smaller, stabilising muscles.

The benefits don’t end there, though. New research has shown that leg exercise can even boost your brain function.

The study in question discovered weight-bearing leg exercise sends neurological signals that are vital for producing new, healthy brain cells.

As a result, staying sedentary and skipping leg day makes it difficult for your body to produce new nerve cells.

Fresh nerve cells allow you to adapt to new stresses, both mental and physical. Not only will you be able to train harder and for longer, but your cognitive function and critical thinking will improve.

The study’s author, Dr. Raffaella Adami says:

“It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things.

“Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

Struggling with your squat? These four training tweaks can take your leg gains to the next level:

  • Box squats: these are sometimes viewed as a beginner’s lift, but that’s not true. If you hit a plateau, squatting to a box with a heavy weight can help you blast through a sticking point.
  • Glute work: sitting at a desk all day can switch the glute muscles off and put more pressure on hip flexors. Banded glute bridges activate these muscles to ensure they fire when you start squatting.
  • Increase the frequency: once per week isn’t enough. The more you perform a lift, the better you get at it. For example, following the Madcow 5×5 training programme will see you squat three times a week.
  • Stay grounded: squatting in running shoes or trainers with a raised sole is a bad idea – you need to be stable on the ground. A pair of Converse is a far better option.