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The Best Exercise for Health: the Squat

There’s an exercise that’s utterly neglected by everyone, yet it’s one that’s so fundamental and so critical that ignoring it can lead to unwanted health consequences in the future, such as: poor posture, weak body, and low levels of important hormones such as testosterone.

Women ignore it because they’ve been conditioned by urban legends that as soon as they do any form of weight training (weight lifting), they’ll end up looking like this:

Yet, there’s no risk for any of my female readers to start looking like a monstrosity, bulging with unnecessary muscles. Women just don’t produce the sorts of growth hormones necessary to pack this kind of unnatural muscle.

Instead, weight training, more than any other activity, will lead you to the kind of body most women would like to have: firm legs, low body fat, and good muscle tone. More like this:

Women typically focus on what we commonly call “cardio” (running, swimming, biking, etc.), and yoga. While these two exercises are good, they will fail to maintain your muscle mass as you age. And this can lead to some of the worst consequences as you age.

If You Don’t Maintain Muscle, You’ll Get Fat

Maintaining muscle mass as we age is so important for one important, oft forgotten reason: metabolism.

If you don’t build and maintain a good amount of muscle mass, you’ll inevitably gain body fat as you age because your base metabolism has been lowered.

Let me explain. Your body needs calories to function. In fact, at rest, your body needs a certain amount of calories, even if all you do is stay in bed and watch TV. This is called base metabolic rate.

If your base metabolic rate is 1500 calories a day, that means that you need at least this many calories to maintain your weight. On top of that, you would add any calories needed for your daily activities. So if you don’t stay in bed and watch TV all day, and walk around instead like a normal person, and maybe do some exercise, you will add let’s say 500 to 800 calories a day to your needs.

So in this case, your total caloric needs will be 2000 to 2300 calories a day.

Any calorie beyond this will inevitably be stored as body fat!

Now, most people try to fight this caloric deficit by eating less, or by exercising more. Generally, they fail. Why? Because they haven’t done anything about their base metabolic rate, which keeps on declining as we age.

We all know that the brain uses calories, but a big chunk of our caloric needs are diverted to maintaining muscle mass. Each pound of muscle burns a certain number of calories at rest. Some estimate it at 25 or even 50 calories per pound of muscle.

That means that a person with 10 pounds more muscle on their frame will burn 250 to 500 more calories per day, doing nothing.

It also means that as we lose muscle mass as we age, which is inevitable if we don’t weight train, we also lower our base metabolic rate, and it becomes harder and harder to lose weight.

Some researchers have doubted the calorie-burning ability of muscle at rest.

But keeping muscle mass has its advantages. First, it improves insulin sensitivity, making it much less likely that you’ll develop any problems related to blood sugar.

Muscle also helps you keep proper posture, and helps you reduce the risk of injury as we age.

And I do think that muscle at rest DOES burn more calories. Since I’ve added over 10-15 pounds of muscle to my frame, I’ve noticed that I can eat much more food than before without gaining weight. The same can happen to you, if you just add some weight training to your weekly routine.

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Which leads me to…

The Most Important Exercise for Health

While there’s not ONE exercise that will do everything, there’s certainly one that you can prioritize above all others.

It’s commonly called the squat.

And it’s the most fundamental exercise you need to do.


1) The squat trains more muscle groups than any other single exercise.

2) Because legs are the most powerful muscles on the human body, the squat is the most powerful anabolic exercise you can do. Because you can lift more weight with the squat than with any other exercise, doing regular squats (with weights) will trigger the release of testosterone and human growth hormone, which will help you grow muscle in the rest of your body. And don’t worry ladies, the amounts released are just right for your gender. There’s no reason you’ll start looking like she-hulk!

3) Squats burn fat like crazy. While squats with weights will be powerful exercise that will help you build muscle throughout your body, simple squats without weights will help you burn body fat, because they are so intensive and will raise your metabolism, helping you burn fat throughout the day.

4) Squats help strengthen all sorts of ligaments, stabilizer muscles and connective tissues, helping your balance and coordination and your posture. This will in turn greatly lower your risk of injury, increasing your life expectancy and lowering your risk of dangerous accidents as you age.

Finally… squats will greatly help your appearance! Think of tight butt and abs 🙂

Squats are also easy to do. There are basically two types of squats you can do:

1) Squats without weight
2) Squats with weight

Although squats without weight are great to get started, they won’t lead you to all of the benefits above (unless you can’t do more than 12-20 squats without weight).

Squats with weight can be performed with dumbbell or a barbell, the former being the ultimate goal.

Start by doing squats using only your own body weight. Once you’re able to perform 25-50 squats at a time, and 100 squats a day (in several sets), then you’re ready to add weights to your squats.

Although, even when you practice squats with weight, you can also throw in some squats without weight as part of the mix.

How to Perform a Squat

1) Make sure your body is warmed up

2) Stand feet shoulder width apart, or in a slightly larger stance.

3) Bend down to a 90 degree angle or deeper. One of the best ways to learn how to squat is to keep a chair behind you. Your goal is to go down to the level of the chair

4) Raise your body. Keep your back straight.

Remember to breathe as you lower, and breathe out as your raise your body back up.

You can find all sorts of videos on YouTube on how to perform squats, but to do a squats with a barbell, you should ask the help of a fitness trainer to show you the proper movement.

Practice squats at least once a week, but ideally twice, and you’ll transform your body! If you go to the gym and you don’t have much time, at least do squats. It’s the most fundamental exercise you can do, and one you can’t afford to ignore!

In my next article, I’ll talk about the second most important article for health.

Can’t wait to get started? Check out Roger Haeske’s Lightning Speed Fitness for a complete fitness program you can do at home, without any equipment! 

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.