The squats exercise is pretty much the coolest of the leg exercises that if done properly will show amazing results.
Many triathletes actually have their best triathlon bike results when they incorporate this exercise into their program.
Personally, I would have to say that of all the time I spent weight-training over my Ironman triathlon career that the squats exercise was the one I enjoyed the most and was also often the most challenging.
That being said, it was the squats that I seemed to gain the most benefit from once I left the weight room.
In many cases, people who do squats will be dealing with very heavy weights. Sometimes weights that can be dangerous if proper technique and safety precautions are not a high enough priority.
First of all, I am certainly in favor of using a professionally built squat machine as opposed to the homemade variety.
When you go to a fitness center look for a squat rack that has the sliding weight bar.
Exercise purists will say that the best squat is the one you do with free weights and not in the confines of a squat machine.
In a sense they are correct as using a free weight for squats really develops your balance and forces you to use proper technique.
However, I strongly recommend using a squat rack where the slide system is used for the squats exercise. These racks also have safety stops that you can set at various heights.
I found them perfect as you did not require a spotter and because I could lift my absolute maximum weight and know that if I reached failure, the safety features in place(the metal stops)would catch the weight for me.
START WITH MANAGEABLE WEIGHT
As you first start out on your squat exercise program, be sure to use a weight that can be handled with ease.
By doing this you can work on your form before going to a heavier weight. One of the key things to remember is to keep your back straight as possible.
If you do not access to a squat exercise station that has safety features should you be lifting along, be sure to have someone experienced spot you. At the same time they can help you with proper technique.
Many people will use weight belts for this purpose. If you are lifting too much weight, the natural tendency is to lean forward.
You can do a lot of damage to your back this way. The belt can help you maintain better body positioning.
Keep your legs about shoulder-width apart with your toes point slightly to the sides and not straight ahead. This will give you a bit more control.
Three or four sets of 6-8 repetitions would be a good starting point for your leg strength squat program.
If you are doing squats to build bigger leg muscles, then doing fewer reps with more weight and lifting to failure on the final set will most likely get you there.
However most triathletes will not want to build “bigger” leg muscles.
There goal should be to gain a combination of strength, speed, and endurance and at the same time have a full body work-out that the squat can provide if done properly.
In this case, more reps with lighter weight would be the best way to go. In the prime of my triathlon career I was doing up to 3 sets of 25 repetitions with about 200 pounds.
If I was just doing a few squats my maximum was about 380-400 pounds. So as you can seem about 50% of your maximum would be about right for this type of workout.
Check out proper squat technique article.