What would happen if I did sets of bodyweight squats twice a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks straight?
My usual "strength training" consists of half-heartedly doing crunches after an easy run or hauling a dangerously full basket of groceries around the store because I refuse to push a cart. It's not that I'm lazy, I ran a marathon this fall, and I make a point to exercise regularly even when I'm not training for a race—it's just that I prefer changing scenery with my workout.
Only when winter descends do I hunker down for living room sessions with Jillian Michaels, whose bodyweight workouts are my preferred alternative to the gym.
When I recently came down with my first-ever case of runner's knee, though, I learned that muscle weaknesses in the hips and glutes could be partly to blame for the nagging pain. This forced running hiatus seemed like the perfect time to try another workday workout experiment.
What would happen if I did sets of bodyweight squats twice a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks straight? Would I botch my knee even more with improper form, or would I gradually remedy it? Would I eventually be able to "bounce a quarter off my butt," as Jillian always shouts at me from my TV screen?
So, amid the Great Peach Emoji Crisis of 2016, I set out to strengthen my derriere desk-side. (Thankfully, Apple has restored the peach emoji to its plump posterior glory, making it far easier to discuss my squat challenge with friends via text.) Here is the plan I devised:
Week 1: 20 squats, 2x a day
Week 2: 25 squats, 2x a day
Week 3: 30 squats, 2x a day
Week 4: 35 squats, 2x a day
Regular bodyweight squats and sumo squats I had down, but beyond that I felt pretty clueless, not to mention afraid of doing bodily damage. After one boring week of the same-old squats, I searched for fresh moves to round out my routine. I learned that single-leg (or pistol) squats are really difficult to bend deeply into, that rear foot elevated split squats with a rolling desk chair aren't wise, and that jump squats are super fun but a little awkward to do in an office when you're worried about coworkers peering in.
Sure, I expected my rear and maybe my quads to be sore, but I was surprised by other muscle groups the squats awakened. Sumo squats in particular pointed out how weak and inflexible my inner thighs and hip flexors are. My tight adductors made it challenging to lower into parallel with the floor from sumo, and I got used to a comfortable soreness in my hips throughout the course of this challenge. In contrast, regular squats felt considerably easier for me because my quads, calves, and glutes did the brunt of the work—and my running had already conditioned those muscles well.
Even more anxiety-inducing than the fear of being seen doing squats in my office was the fear of being seen taking pictures of myself doing squats in my office (with the help of a spare office chair, a shoe box, and my iPhone's camera timer, if you were wondering).
That said, I totally recommend photographing your squats sometime because it gives you a closer look at your form, and you can analyze it even better than when you're in motion in front of a mirror at the gym. My photos showed me that I needed to bend deeper into my squats, and as soon as I did, I reaped greater benefits from them.
Doing 20 squats per break of Week 1 didn't feel so repetitive, but doing 35 per break of Week 4 (70 a day!) sure did. To beat the boredom, I split those 35 into smaller sets of different variations—there are only so many single-leg squats I can do anyway, and that is to say, very few. I also counted aloud quietly, which not only kept my mind from wandering but reminded me that each squat was an accomplishment, like a checked box on a to-do list. And I really love to-do lists.
By the final week, I didn't worry so much about my form because I finally had the hang of things. I began toying with the idea of going to a gym and adding weights, something I'd never considered before because gyms make me extremely self-conscious. Although my runner's knee pain persists, it did lessen up a bit—possibly just from a few weeks of rest, but a part of me thinks the squats helped.
But I know what you're really dying to know is whether or not I can bounce a quarter off my butt yet. That's one experiment I likely won't try, but I will say that by the end of this self-imposed squat challenge, my backside did indeed feel noticeably stronger and firmer.