- Here’s How to Do Squats Properly, Safely, and Effectively Every Time
- The Basics: Proper Squat Form
- The Details: How to Do a Squat Correctly Every Time, Step by Step
- How Many Squats Should You Do a Day?
- 5 Major Benefits of Squats
- How Many Calories Do Squats Burn?
- Squat Therapy Is a Genius Trick for Learning Proper Squat Form
- My Leg Strength When I Started
- How to Squat More
- What My Squat Workouts Looked Like
- Tracking My Squat Workouts
- Important: Build Volume Before Intensity
- My Diet
- Sleep Well and Reducing Stress
- Remember, Strategies Only Work When Executed
- Lessons Learned
- Squats: What Proper Squats Look Like & Which Muscles They Work
- The Squat
- 6 Mobility Exercises for an A$$-to-Grass Squat
- Common Squatting Errors
- Fix Those Hips
- 1. Foam Roll the Glutes and Piriformis
- 2. Hip Opener
- 3. Hip Flexor Stretch
- Loosen Your Stiff Ankles
- 4. Foam Roll Your Calves and Feet
- 5. Dorsiflexion Ankle Mobility
- The Importance of Motor Control
- 6. Bear Walks
- Here are four expert tips to proper squats:
- How to do a proper squat
- The Takeaway
- Blog Post
- 5 Beginner to Advanced Squat Variations
- Track your squats with Jefit
- How To Squat: Proper Techniques For A Perfect Squat
- How To Master The Barbell Back Squat
- How To Build Up To The Barbell Back Squat
- How To Do The Barbell Back Squat
- Back Squat Form Tips
- Back Squat Assistance Moves
- How To Achieve A New Back Squat PB
- Bodyweight Back Squat Challenge
- The Correct Squat Form (And the Best Squat Variations to Do)
- All the Benefits of Squats
- More Efficient Movement
- The Parties Involved
- Squats Burn Fat
- Correct Squat Form Check
- Watch and Learn
- Squats and Knees, Oh My!
- Squat Variations
- Working Your Way Up
- Do You Even Squat? Yes!
- What muscles do squats work?
- How to squat properly
- How to correct your squat form
- Can you squat without weights?
- Should you do squats everyday?
- Once you’ve mastered the squat, try these variations
- How to Do a Perfect Squat
- The Moves: Squat Progression
Here’s How to Do Squats Properly, Safely, and Effectively Every Time
As babies, we must learn how to squat before we learn to stand or walk—and as adults, we have to rediscover how to squat properly. While this primal movement pattern is a base for many activities—like taking a seat and lifting heavy objects—learning how to do a proper squat from a fitness perspective sometimes requires a little coaching, especially to make sure you’re doing them safely and effectively.
Knowing how to do squats using your legs and not your back will translate into better workout performance and real-life functionality. Also among the benefits of squats is that they’re one of the most time-effective moves for shaping and strengthening your entire lower body, especially your backside. Since it engages all the major muscle groups of the lower body at once, you can actually squat your way to being an improved runner, tennis player, or dancer (as well as being able to move furniture without pulling something!)
The Basics: Proper Squat Form
1. Stand with feet a little wider than hip width, toes facing front.
2. Drive your hips back—bending at the knees and ankles and pressing your knees slightly open—as you…
3. Sit into a squat position while still keeping your heels and toes on the ground, chest up and shoulders back.
4. Strive to eventually reach parallel, meaning knees are bent to a 90-degree angle.
5. Press into your heels and straighten legs to return to a standing upright position.
The Details: How to Do a Squat Correctly Every Time, Step by Step
Step 1: Stand straight with feet hip-width apart.
Stand with your feet apart, slightly wider than your hips, and place your hands on your hips.
Step 2: Tighten your stomach muscles.
Standing up tall, gently pull your shoulders back, subtly lift your chest. On an exhale, try to pull your navel into your back to engage your deep abdominal muscles, which keep the spine and pelvis stable.
Step 3: Lower down, as if sitting in an invisible chair.
Bend your knees while keeping your upper body as straight as possible, as if you were lowering yourself onto a seat behind you. It is OK to allow your torso to tilt naturally as you squat, just don’t collapse your chest or round your shoulders forward. If you’re too erect, your hips cannot release properly and you’ll put too much strain on your knees.
Lower yourself as far as you can without leaning your upper body more than a few inches forward. Go as deep as you can comfortably. If you have knee issues, don’t go deeper than a 90-degree angle, with your thighs parallel to the floor.
Tip: Don’t allow your knees to go too far forward. You don’t want them to stick out past your toes—instead, try to keep them in line with your toes. Also, don’t let your knees cave inward. Press them outward (almost as if you were pushing out an invisible resistance band) so they stay aligned with your feet as you squat down.
Step 4: Straighten your legs to lift back up.
Straighten your legs, being careful not to lock your knees when you reach a standing position.
Tip: Keep your heels “glued” to the floor as you squat, and then think about driving them into the ground as you rise up to return to the starting position. This will put even more emphasis on your glutes.
Step 5: Repeat the movement.
Repeat for three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Tip: Stretch your arms out in front of you for added balance during squats.
Photo: Henry Leutwyler, Illustration: Brownbird Design
How Many Squats Should You Do a Day?
While doing squats daily probably won’t hurt you (unless you’re doing millions of them and/or holding heavy weights while squatting), a better goal beyond how many squats a day would be to aim to do three sets of 10–20 repetitions at least three times per week. This will give your lower-body muscles a good workout, and time in between to recover.
RELATED: Simple Exercises to Help You Eliminate 6 Annoying Aches and Pains
5 Major Benefits of Squats
1. They’ll Prime You to Lift Heavy Things Safely
Squats will not only prepare you to leap tall buildings as the Wonder Woman that you are, but they’ll give you the strength to pick up heavy objects correctly by using your lower body—instead of your back.
2. They’re Totally Time Efficient
One of the prime benefits of squats is that they’ll tone your booty quicker than just about any other move on the planet. By recruiting pretty much all the muscles in your lower body (quadripceps, hamstrings, gluteals), when you learn how to do a proper squat you’ll find yourself toning up faster and more effectively.
3. They Can Prevent Injuries
Most athletic injuries involve weak stabilizer muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, which squats help strengthen. Many people shy away from doing squats if they have knee issues, but studies have shown that the muscles recruited and built when a person does a proper squat will actually improve knee stability and strengthen the connective tissues surrounding the knee.
RELATED: How to Start Working Out (If You Basically Haven’t Moved in Ages)
4. They Are Functional Fitness
Functional exercises are those that help your body to perform everyday activities more easily, as opposed to simply being able to operate pieces of gym equipment. Squats are one of the best functional exercises out there for promoting mobility, flexibility and balance with real-world benefits.
5. They Don’t Require Any Fancy Equipment
Yes, there are dozens of squat variations that can include different weights, resistance bands, exercise balls, and other equipment—but the good old-fashioned squat can be done pretty much anytime, anywhere. That means, if you’re not in the mood to walk 10 blocks to a workout class, or you’re staying at a hotel without a gym, you can still throw on a pair of sneakers and rock a few squat reps using only your body weight.
How Many Calories Do Squats Burn?
Quantifying caloric burn without every person reading this wearing a FitBit is impossible to calculate. This is because every body is different and factors like height, weight, fitness level, muscle/fat ratio, and so on all factor in to how many calories a person might burn doing any exercise.
This is really a case of quality over quantity being more effective. Because doing a proper squat simultaneously recruits so many muscles, it is a great bodyweight exercise for building muscle!
Instead of worrying about how many squats burn 100 calories, focus on how to do a proper squat and building more muscle, since for every pound of muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50-70 calories per day.
RELATED: How to Do a Proper Plank That Works All the Right Muscles
- By Kimberly Dawn Neumann
- By Maggie Seaver
Squat Therapy Is a Genius Trick for Learning Proper Squat Form
Photo: Drazen_ / Getty Images
In addition to a long-lasting peach pump, squatting-and squatting heavy-comes with all sorts of health perks. So anytime a woman gets down with a barbell, we’re (ahem) pumped. But with so many women interested in lifting heavy (like *really* heavy) we’ve got a friendly PSA: It’s more important to squat with proper form than it is to squat heavy. Full stop.
“The back squat requires and builds strength, flexibility, mobility, and coordination. But if you’re not squatting well, you’re only accessing a fraction of your athletic ability,” says Dave Lipson, C.S.C.S., a CrossFit Level 4 Trainer and founder of Thundr Bro, an educational fitness platform. (Related: How to Do a Proper Back Squat)
You might be wondering: How can I learn proper squat form? Two words: squat therapy. Below, everything you need to know.
Why Should You Be Squatting
First up: Before diving into squat therapy, let’s recognize how essential squatting is to everyday life. Alan Shaw, certified trainer, CrossFit Level 2 Coach, and owner of Rhapsody CrossFit in Charleston, SC, likes to say, “if you went to the bathroom this morning, you did a squat.”
Even if you’re never going to add weight to your squat-even if you don’t exercise at all-squatting correctly is fundamental to moving safely for life. (But you might want to load up the barbell after learning more on how lifting heavy can transform your body.) “Every person needs to be able to move through this range of motion,” says Shaw. That’s where squat therapy comes in.
What Is Squat Therapy?
Disclaimer: This has nothing to do with a psychologist or psychiatrist’s office. “Squat therapy is just a cute name for the practice of refining the positions of the squat so that it’s more mechanically advantageous,” says Lipson. “It’s something that helps point out the weaknesses in your squat and improve them.” (Yep, totally different from going to see a mental health professional. But there are a ton of benefits of going to therapy, so we’re all for that, too).
In fact, you don’t even need a rack or full gym setup to try squat therapy. You just need 1) something to sit down on, such as a chair, medicine ball, plyo box, bench, or stack of weight plates, 2) a wall, and 3) a mirror, a coach, or a phone so that you can videotape yourself.
Note: The height of the platform you’re squatting your butt onto will depend on your hip, ankle, and thoracic mobility and strength, but 18 to 24 inches tall is a good starting point.
“To start, I’ll grab a medicine ball and a few 10-pound plates that I can stack beneath the ball to make it higher if needed,” explains Shaw. “Then I have the athlete stand 12 to 24 inches away from the wall, but facing it. Then I’ll instruct them to squat to depth slowly.”
He suggests squatting down to the target on a three- to five-second count and quickly standing up on a count of 1. That’s because lowering slowly allows you to recruit and strengthen all the muscles involved in the full range of motion of a squat. “If you practice the movement slowly, you’re training your body to keep proper form once you speed up the squat, like in a real workout,” says Shaw. If you go too fast on the way down, you likely won’t activate all the muscles that should be at play during a squat, which defeats the purpose. (That’s the whole science behind this slow-motion strength-training workout.)
From here, Shaw says that he’ll instruct more advanced athletes to extend their arms above their head with palms facing the wall and thumbs touching, and perform a squat without letting their hands touch the wall.
Squatting in this position helps you maintain an upright torso (think proud chest) when you’re squatting. One caveat: Squatting with your arms overhead is an advanced position, and some people will find that their thoracic spine is actually too tight to do this. As with most things in fitness, if you’re in pain, stop.
Over time (meaning weeks or even months), you’ll develop more control in your squat. “You don’t ever graduate from squat therapy,” says Shaw. Instead, you can gradually shorten the target that you are squatting to, move closer to the wall, and narrow your stance. Even when you reach the pinnacle of squat therapy-lowering below parallel, in good form, standing up against the wall-squat therapy is a good warm-up, he says.
How to Do Squat Therapy
A. Either stack two 10-pound weight plates with a heavy medicine ball on top, or place a bench or box or chair (18 to 24 inches tall) about 2 to 3 feet from the wall.
B. Stand facing the wall, about two shoe-lengths away from the wall-so that if you were to squat, your butt would touch the ball or the edge of the box. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes turned 15 to 30 degrees out.
C. Keeping chest tall, take a deep breath in, engage core, and keep gaze straight ahead. (If advanced, here’s where you’d straighten your arms overhead.) Push hips back, bend at knees, and lower into a squat so that your knees track in line with your ankles and toes, but don’t go forward past your toes. Continue to descend slowly on a three- to five-second count into the squat until either your spine begins to round and chest begins to fall forward, or your booty grazes the ball-whichever comes first.
D. Keeping core tight, quickly return to standing by driving your hips forward and exhaling on the way up. (The upward portion of the squat should be about one count compared to the three- to five-count lower.)
E. Too easy? If so, make your target lower by removing one of the weight plates. Still too easy? Remove another. Once the medicine ball is too high, move closer to the wall.
Try doing squat therapy as a five-minute EMOM, meaning that every minute on the top of the minute you’ll do five to seven slow air squats, suggests Shaw. (Here’s more about EMOM workouts-and one that’s super hard.)
If You Don’t Have a Trainer or Coach
Ideally the first time you try squat therapy, you’ll have a professional coach or trainer available to provide feedback. If that’s not possible, you’ll want to do squat therapy so that you can see a side-profile of your body in the mirror as you squat, says Shaw. This will take a little self-policing, but it will also help you build awareness within the squat movement.
No mirror? Videotaping yourself from the side can serve a similar function, says Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, CrossFit Level 3 Trainer and author of Jumpstart to Health. (Psst: She also told us what she eats for breakfast before the CrossFit Games.)
Here’s what to look for: When you’re doing the squat, what is your spine doing? Does it stay neutral or begin to round under? If it rounds, adjust the platform you’re squatting to so it stops you right before you get there. Are your hips traveling back? Are knees in line with toes? Is your chest vertical?
No doubt, it can be tricky to tell if your form is correct without expert feedback. That’s why Leblanc-Bazinet suggests watching as many videos as possible of people squatting and then comparing your video to theirs.
There are a number of places to go on Instagram for solid squat content. But the official CrossFit Instagram, powerlifter and 20x all-time world record holder Stefi Cohen, and the #powerlifting hashtag are all good places to start.
How to Use Squat Therapy In Your Routine
You can’t *really* overdo squat therapy-and, in fact, it’s something that Leblanc-Bazinet says you should do every day. “It’s the equivalent of brushing your teeth. You do it every day. It will not hurt you if you do a lot of it.” That goes for barbell squats in the gym and getting up and down in your office chair.
Need proof? Leblanc-Bazinet has been doing it every day for 10 years and she won the CrossFit Games in 2014. Enough said.
- By By Gabrielle Kassel
I love squats — and you should too.
Squats have made me a better athlete. Squats have made me stronger, leaner, and more explosive. Squats have made me more mentally tough and more resistant to injury.
Given all of those benefits, you may be wondering, “How can I squat more?”
Well, I’m not the strongest guy in the gym by any stretch of the imagination — growing up, the widest part of my legs were my knees — but I have become much stronger with consistent training.
In fact, over a 4–month span I doubled my squat from a measly 175 pounds to over 350 pounds. If you want to know how to squat more, then I’m going to share all of the details about my progress in this article — including my workouts, my diet, and my training schedule.
Read on and lift heavy, my friend.
My Leg Strength When I Started
In the spring of 2010 I returned to the United States after living in Scotland for a few months. My travel schedule had been crazy: 12 countries in less than 14 weeks, which included a particularly insane span of 6 countries in 12 days.
It was an amazing time for my photography, but I wasn’t making it to the gym very often. Pushups and other bodyweight exercises were about the extent of it. I committed to getting back on a proper weightlifting routine once I returned home.
My first day back in Ohio, I called Mark Cannella, the head coach at Columbus Weightlifting. (Mark is a good friend now and was an Olympic Weightlifting coach at the 2012 Olympics in London.) We set up a time for me to come in the next day.
I walked in that first day, weighed in at 196 pounds, and squatted for 5 sets of 2 reps with 176 pounds (80 kg). Four months later, I did 2 reps with 353 pounds (160 kg).
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I could have done more on that first day — but not too much more. Those 5 sets of 2 were probably about 50 pounds below my true max. (I might have been able to grind out a true two rep max with 225 pounds.) I’ll talk more about why I started below my true max in a little bit, since I think it played an important role in my long–term growth.
Regardless of what my true max was on that first day, we can safely say that I increased my squat by at least 100 pounds in 16 weeks that followed. With the proper combination of training, diet, and recovery, I think you can achieve similar growth.
How to Squat More
First and foremost, I decided that squats were my number one goal. Everything else was secondary. This sounds simple, but how often do people actually structure their workouts around one goal?
When I went to the gym for those 16 weeks, I did squats every workout. (I was lifting 3 days per week.) Squats were also the first exercise that I during each workout. I wanted to make sure that I was working on my most important goal when my energy and concentration were at their best.
Compare this strategy to how most people lift: they do a wide range of exercises and rotate them frequently. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing on the whole — in many cases it makes a lot of sense — but it’s not conducive to achieving a specific goal. I did other exercises during that time (usually snatch, clean and jerk, and pullups), but squats were always number one.
And that’s the first lesson, have a clear target and know what is most important to you. If you want to squat more, then make it your number one goal. Go after it with focus and purpose rather than dividing your energy amongst a wide range of exercises.
In fact, I’d say that this same principle holds true for most things in life. If something is important to you, do it first. Put your best energy toward the things that matter most to you.
What My Squat Workouts Looked Like
My squat program was as simple as it gets.
I just did a basic progressive overload. In other words, I squatted based on how I felt that day and each week I tried to do a little more than I had the week before. No fancy periodization scheme, no crazy Bulgarian squat protocol, no 20–rep squat program.
I also rotated front squats and back squats each workout. Back squats on Monday, front squats on Wednesday, back squats on Friday, etc.
Example 1: About halfway through the program, I had a workout where I did 120 kg (264 lbs) for 4 sets of 2 reps. The next workout, I did 120 kg for 4 sets of 4 reps. And I just kept making small increases like that — based on how my body felt each week — for the next 16 weeks.
Example 2: If I started a workout and didn’t feel too hot, then I’d back it off a bit.
During one streak of three workouts I did the following…
- 4 sets of 5 reps with 110kg
- 4 sets of 3 reps with 120kg (this was tough, so I dropped it the next workout)
- 5 sets of 5 reps with 110kg
In the past, I used to be so focused on hitting my goals in a program. I was obsessed with following a detailed program or some complicated rep scheme that was never designed with my body in mind.
This time, I just told myself, “Do a little bit more today than you did last time.”
Here’s the deal: you’ll never get stronger if you don’t place a larger stimulus on your body (more reps or more sets or more weight), but it’s useless to pressure yourself to perform like that every workout. If you follow that basic principle alone, then you’ll make gains.
Tracking My Squat Workouts
Want more details? Of course you do.
Below, I graphed every squat workout from April 1st through July 14th.
I did this in a Google spreadsheet where I track all my workouts, including squats. You can see all my lift numbers and make a copy of it to your own Google drive to use yourself. If you want a copy,
This brings me to my next point: I track all of my workouts.
Because if you want to make progress in a particular area, then you should measure it. Again, this sounds simple, but how many things do you say are important to you without actually tracking them?
- People who “want to eat healthier,” but don’t track their meals or calories.
- People who “wish they had more time,” but don’t track where they spend it each day.
- People who “want more money,” but don’t track where they spend it.
Now, I’m not saying that you should track everything in your life, but if you’re serious about improving something, then you should be measuring it.
Plus, recording your workouts takes the emotion out of things. There are bound to be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When those days roll around, you can just open up your book or spreadsheet, look at your past workouts, prove to yourself that you’re still making progress, and get the little push you need to get under the bar.
For more on this, read this article on how to get motivated.
Important: Build Volume Before Intensity
As I mentioned previously, I made small, incremental increases throughout this program. Another way of thinking about my approach was that I put volume before intensity.
In my opinion, this is the biggest mistake that people make when it comes to weight training: they try to do too much, too fast. And trust me, I’ve been there. In the past, I would hear about the awesome progress a teammate was making or read an article about a super intense workout program and I’d immediately be inspired to do more. The next time I was in the gym, I would really push myself.
That strategy might last for a workout or two, but it’s not a good way to build growth over the long–term. (Truthfully, it’s not even that useful in the short–term. The push–yourself–to–the–extreme mentality is rarely feasible for more than a week or two.)
Your first workouts should be easy. When I started this squat program, I began by building volume. Remember that first workout I did? 5 sets of 2 reps with 176 pounds. That was probably 50 pounds below my true max at the time. That’s good. I think most people should start slow and easy. This approach allows you to handle the intensity later on.
Build the foundation first. It will get hard enough, fast enough. It always does.
To put it simply, I ate everything I could get my hands on.
Thankfully, I wasn’t a total garbage disposal for bad food. In general, I ate pretty healthy. Lots of chicken and lean meat each day. I love fruit, so apples, strawberries, and bananas were always a staple. I had a sweet potato pretty much every night at dinner and a tuna sandwich at almost every lunch. And 6 to 10 eggs for breakfast each morning (usually about 4 whole eggs and 4 egg whites).
Overall, my strategy was to eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible. That said, if I had to do it over again, I would add more vegetables to the mix.
Sleep Well and Reducing Stress
Squats will help you sleep like a baby. I was so wiped out by the time 10pm rolled around that I consistently got incredible sleep.
Furthermore, my schedule allowed me to sleep in until about 8am each morning. I would say that, on average, I got about 9 to 10 hours of sleep per day during those 16 weeks. This was critical because it allowed my body a lot of time to grow and recover. Recovery is an area that is often overlooked and I think it’s a huge opportunity for strength and muscle growth for many of us.
I also implemented a tiny bedtime habit to help me pack on muscle and grow. I had a cup of peanut butter, oats, and honey, and washed it down by drinking a protein shake. Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed. (Note: I have no scientific evidence that this bedtime snack helped me get bigger and stronger. I just know that it was one of the many little things that I did during this experiment — and that during these 16 weeks I packed on muscle like I never had before.)
Perhaps more importantly, I was living a low stress lifestyle. It was my last semester of graduate school, so my work load was low. I even took a vacation and spent my “off week” hiking in the Alps in Switzerland. That week was a good mental break, but it was also nice to have a few days to recover physically.
If you’re feeling overly stressed or taxed, then it’s going to be hard to make the gains you want. Find a way to deal with it — breathing exercises, meditation, walking. If you want to make gains in the gym, you have to reduce the tension you carry around with you all day long.
I’m not a big fan of supplements. Most of them are supported by a lot of marketing and very little science — not a good combination.
I’m even less of a fan today than I was when I did this experiment. If I had to do it all over again, my only supplements would be whey protein and fish oil.
That said, I want to be completely open and transparent about this whole experiment, so here’s a list of what I took during those 16 weeks: fish oil, whey protein, liver tablets (which are basically a tablet of protein), B–vitamin complex, and a multivitamin.
I typically took them in the following order…
- Breakfast — fish oil, liver tablet, multivitamin
- Lunch — fish oil, liver tablet, multivitamin, B–vitamin complex
- Post–workout — protein shake
- Dinner — fish oil, liver tablet, multivitamin
- Pre–bedtime — protein shake
While I think the supplements did help my progress, there were too many other factors going on for me to say for sure.
As I already mentioned, I was never missing workouts, I was getting great sleep, I was eating everything I could find, and I was living a low stress lifestyle. There were too many other great things going on at once for me to say whether or not the supplements made any difference.
Bottom line: if I were picking different areas to focus on (training, diet, recovery, supplements, etc.) supplements would be at the end of the line.
Remember, Strategies Only Work When Executed
When you squish 16 weeks into a single article, it’s easy to make my progress look like an overnight success. The truth is that it was more of a plodding and unsexy grind than anything else. I slowly and consistently implemented small changes that eventually resulted in big gains.
Most goals in life, squatting included, come down to execution.
There aren’t any “unique” or “secret” ideas in this article. What made the difference for me wasn’t finding a new training program or a complex squat system, it was simply executing on the ideas that I already knew worked.
Regardless of the goals that you are working towards, my bet is that you already know a few things you could do to become better. And yet, when things aren’t going the way we want, what do we do? We hop online and search for a “new” training program or we hunt for the latest supplement or we read another article from our favorite expert.
In my experience, your success usually hinges on your ability to consistently do the things you already know you should be doing.
That’s all I did when I blew my squat through the roof. I focused on actually implementing the solutions that I already knew worked. You don’t need a new system, a better idea, or a groundbreaking discovery. You just need to do the work.
If you want to learn how to squat more, then I think these lessons are key. I also believe that these can apply to many of other goals in life.
- Decide what your most important goal is and focus on that. Everything else is secondary.
- If something is important to you, measure it and track your progress.
- Build volume first so that you can handle the intensity later.
- Sleep well and find ways to reduce stress in your life.
- It’s better to use the ideas you have than to spend all of your time searching for better ideas.
Whatever your fitness goals are, I hope you found this to be a useful discussion about how to squat more.
And with that said, I’ll leave you with some simple advice for life: smile often, travel far, and squat heavy.
Squats: What Proper Squats Look Like & Which Muscles They Work
Learn more about the Squat exercise and how to Squat properly so you don’t miss out on key benefits of your workout program.
Most of us find it hard to do Squats without making at least one big mistake. This is mainly due to our sedentary lifestyle.
- Strengthen your legs, glutes, and many other muscles
- Improve your lower body mobility
- Keep your bones and joints healthy
- Don’t activate the right muscles at the proper intensity
- Put additional stress on ligaments and joints
- Increase risk of injury
Don’t worry, by the end of this article you’ll know exactly how to do a squat properly and you’ll never skip leg day again. You’ll also learn tips that will help you avoid squat mistakes and correct your squat form.
The Squat is a lower body exercise. You can do the bodyweight version, without added resistance (also called Bodyweight Squat or Air Squat), or with weights such as a barbell (Front Squat and Back Squat are variations of the Barbell Squat).
The Squat exercise mainly targets the thighs (quadriceps & hamstrings) and the glutes. However, core strength & stability, ankle mobility, back muscles, calves, and other factors play an important role when you are doing this exercise.
Set up before you squat:
- Find a foot stance that feels best for you. Pointing your toes slightly outwards helps some, but keeping them parallel is fine, too. If you’re not sure what’s best, start by putting your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed about 15 degrees outwards.
- Tense your abs like someone is about to punch you.
- Look straight ahead and stand tall!
Mistake #1 – Starting from the knees
Very often the first thing people do when they want to squat is bend the knees. Not only does that make a proper squat impossible, it also places a lot of unnecessary stress on the knees.
- When you start the squat, think “sit back” not “bend at the knees”
- Move your butt backwards as you descend and feel the weight shifting to your heels
“Sit back” – before you start to lower yourself, think “sit back”. You can practice this with a chair (without sitting on it). Make a very controlled descent and touch the seat of the chair before getting up. Once you master this, you can do bodyweight or weighted squats without a chair.
Mistake #2 – Letting your knees go inward
You might notice your knees “caving in” the deeper you squat. This might help you get lower, but it puts too much stress on your knees.
- As you descend, try to “push” your knees slightly outward
- Your knee caps should be facing the same direction as your toes. Make sure your knees are not bending in; they should be directly above your feet
Your knees are not caving in, but you want to activate your glutes more?
The “knees out” tip can also be useful if you are trying to activate your glutes more. Try using a band around your knees; it’s a great way to feel your glutes work harder in the squat.
However, if your knees trouble you even when you squat properly, check out this workout that is very easy on the knees.
Mistake #3 – Hunching your back
The more you focus on your lower body in squats, the greater the chance your form will suffer somewhere in the upper body. Many work environments cause tension in the upper back and shoulders. Becoming aware of your posture can help you change this.
- Look straight ahead, don’t look down
- Open your chest and relax your shoulders
- Put your hands straight out in front of you. If they fall toward your knees as you squat down, that means that your back is rounded
Holding a dumbbell or something similar against your chest might help. Try to squat keeping the object close to your chest. If you notice that the bottom of the dumbbell is moving away from your chest as you go down, you are probably leaning forward too much.
If none of the above helps, use assistance – hold onto a door frame and squat down while keeping your upper body as upright as it can be. Practice holding the correct position at various heights to get more stable and comfortable. Don’t give up – experiment and practice until you feel confident enough to try the same position without assistance.
Mistake #4 – Lifting your heels off the floor
Standing up from a squat should be “powered” by a heel drive. In other words, pressing your heels into the ground ensures the right muscle activation and balance for a proper squat.
- Keep your heels on the floor
- “Push” from your heels as you go up
- If you can’t do a squat without putting your weight on your toes, take the time to work on your mobility (especially in your ankles)
How deep should you squat?
Your hips should go lower than your knees, but a deep squat requires additional mobility. It’s great if you can do it with good form. If not, squat as low as you can while maintaining proper form. A good indicator is the arch of your lower back. If your lower back starts to arch excessively at a certain height, don’t go any lower.
Squats are the foundation of many workout programs. Hopefully you feel much more confident about doing them now.
Don’t forget to switch it up, try some squat variations as well.
Check your form:
- “Sit back” – make sure to move your butt backward, don’t just bend your knees
- Be careful to keep your knees in line with your toes, don’t let them cave in
- Don’t forget about your upper body – look straight ahead and don’t round your back
Most importantly – explore the movement…
- Try to notice what feels different when you change something like your foot stance or the position of your knees…
- Experiment with tips and don’t hesitate to use assistance (such as a door frame for upper body support) if you need it
- It takes a lot of practice to become more aware of how you move, but it’s worth it
If you experience difficulties performing a proper squat – take your time to work on mobility and practice, practice… it will pay off. It may seem boring to focus on your weakness, but remember – weakness is where your biggest potential lies!
6 Mobility Exercises for an A$$-to-Grass Squat
Can you squat to parallel? Or do you struggle with obtaining that range of motion? If you struggle, or even if you can get all the way down but feel stiff doing so, then read on. I’m going to share six exercises that will help you get your squat to below parallel.
Common Squatting Errors
The squat is a powerful exercise that should be included in most training programs. It is one of the three big lifts in powerlifting, and it is a fantastic exercise to target not only the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, but also your entire body.
In addition, the squat can tell us a lot about your mobility, stability, and motor control. In fact, I look at the overhead squat of every client who walks into my physical therapy clinic so I can assess those three qualities.
But what happens if you can’t squat properly? There are a few common errors I see when it comes to squatting:
- Inability to squat below parallel (without the heels coming off ground)
- Knees caving in
- Upper back collapsing
If any of these sound familiar to you, you should work with a professional who can determine your issue and help you correct it. It could be as simple as training a different version of the squat (perhaps a goblet versus a back squat), or you may have to hone your work in on some more specific areas.
“I have taken someone who couldn’t squat to parallel and in thirty seconds had him squatting to his heels.”
Today we are going to focus on the first problem in that list – squatting to parallel – and the exercises you can do to remedy the problem. If you can’t squat below parallel (in other words, if your lift wouldn’t pass in a powerlifting meet), there could be a few reasons. The most common reasons are poor hip mobility, ankle mobility, or motor control.
Fix Those Hips
Poor hip mobility is most often due to poor postures and movement over time that have led to muscle imbalances and poor end-rage movement in the hip joint. At the bottom of a squat, you need to have a substantial amount of hip flexion. If this range is limited, you may not be able to hit parallel.
1. Foam Roll the Glutes and Piriformis
Sit on foam roller and cross your right ankle on your left knee as shown in the picture. Lean slightly to your right and roll your entire glute area. Do the same for your left side.
2. Hip Opener
This is a favorite of mine to open up the hips and work the end ranges of hip flexion. Go into a deep lunge with your back leg extended and knee resting on the ground. Place your hand on the inside of your front leg, holding your foot down, and use your elbow to push your knee out. Then, lean your body toward your front knee, moving around to really work that end range. Do this for about a minute and repeat on the other side.
A progression of this exercise is to do the same in the pigeon stretch. Make sure that you aren’t simply holding the exercise, but instead moving and leaning your body both toward and away from your front leg to really work the end range of the hip flexion.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a favorite hip stretch of mine. All you need is a stick or a foam roller. Check out this video for instructions.
Loosen Your Stiff Ankles
In order to obtain full range of motion, you need enough dorsiflexion at the bottom of your squat so your heels do not come off the floor. Dorsiflexion restrictions can be very evident in squatting, and these restrictions can occur due to an injury (new or old), tight or overactive calves, or improper footwear (heels, orthotics) to name a few causes.
4. Foam Roll Your Calves and Feet
You can use a foam roller, though I prefer to use a lacrosse ball or barbell as they are a little denser and get in a bit better. Simply sit on the floor with the roller or ball under your calves. From this point, you can either hold yourself up with your arms and roll the length of the calf or you can find a sore spot and make circles with your ankles to really get in there.
5. Dorsiflexion Ankle Mobility
Your initial set up will be the same as the hip flexor stretch demonstrated above, except you want to make sure the dowel or stick is directly in front of your big toe and just a couple inches away. Then, without allowing your front heel to come off the ground, lean forward so your knee travels toward the stick. When you can no longer do this without your heel leaving the ground, move forward so your knee goes just outside of the stick, continuing to lean forward as far as you can without your heel coming up. Repeat this for about ten reps, and you may or may not have to do this on both sides.
The Importance of Motor Control
Did you watch that self-test I included above? The overhead squat? Believe it or not, I have taken someone who couldn’t squat to parallel and in thirty seconds had him squatting to his heels. How?
I got him to do a simple exercise that fired up his central nervous system and got his stabilizer muscles working properly. This meant other muscles and joints didn’t have to take over and compensate for his poor motor control. The result? The full movemet done without difficulty. And the exercise he did was…
6. Bear Walks
The bear walk is such an excellent exercise for motor control that we include in warm up for all our athletes.
There you have it. Six exercises you can do to improve your squat range by improving your mobility, stability, and motor control. Which one worked for you? Post your results to the comments below.
Check out these related articles:
- Squat Therapy – 4 Drills for a Better Squat
- 7 Articles to Help You Achieve the Perfect Squat
- Reset Your Mobility With These 3 Essential Movement Patterns
- What’s New On Breaking Muscle Today
A complete beginner’s guide to squatting.
When you are just starting out with fitness and beginning an exercise program, squat is one of the few exercises that you have to get familiar with.
For how effective this exercise really is, it is often referred to as the king of all exercises.
The squat move is functional and can help to improve your overall health when done properly.
You’ll build a stronger body and develop the strength in your core which translates to better overall performance.
It also makes your body less prone to back injuries, thanks to the improved strength.
This lower body centric move primarily works and strengthens the hips, glutes, hamstrings, quads and indirectly works the abs.
Your tendons, bones, and ligaments may also get stronger from squatting.
Though the involvement of your core may not be apparent, but it plays a vital role in squats.
From the bending squat position to straightening your legs to move the weight up, your core which includes the abs and lower back muscles isometrically stabilizes the torso.
In many ways, the squats work your entire core the same way plank does; it works isometrically.
Having strong core muscles offer numerous benefits including better functional performance in everyday life.
Your core stabilizes and helps power your daily activities and movements.
Whether it’s bending to pick up a laundry basket, hitting tennis balls with your friend or paddling a kayak, a strong and flexible core help you perform the movements more fluidly, efficiently, and robustly.
Let’s also not forget that strong, well-balanced core muscles also improve your posture and help prevent back injuries.
There is also a reason why squats are widely utilized in functional training and physical therapy sessions. It effectively works to improve your mobility in the hips, knees and ankles.
According to Stephanie Thielen, certified ACE Group Fitness Instructor, they are classified as one of the best functional exercises that mimic daily activities like moving from a seated position to a standing position.
Although despite all of the great health benefits of performing squats, when done incorrectly it can cause more harms than good.
This beginner guide to proper squat will help get acquainted with the exercise and help you perfect squat with perfect form in 4 steps: as a result, you’ll decrease your risk of hurting your back, knees and neck from while squatting.
Here are four expert tips to proper squats:
Tips 1: Feet Positioning
According to Andrew Sakhani, CSCS strength coach, your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart. With this feet positioning, it involves the groin muscles, says Sakhrani.
A wider than shoulder width feet stance allows places pressure on the outside of your feet and enable activation of all the target muscles.
Tips 2: Hip Hinge
Next to feet stance, hip hinging is an important technique for proper squatting, says Marc Perry, CSCS certified personal trainer and founder of builtlean.com.
It’s also a technique many people get it wrong. Too often, squatters’ knees go over the toes, butt drop straight down, and heels come off the floor.
This happens because “proper squatting” requires balance, flexibility and mobility in the hips.
The proper way is to hinge the hips back first, so your butt moves backwards as you descended into squat position.
By doing so, your knees will no longer go over your toes (if you are tall, this may still happen, but make sure it does not put pressure on your knees).
At the bottom position of the squat, you should feel the pressure of the squat on your heels.
This hinging technique helps you get more depth in your squat. You can read his full article here..
The takeaway here is to push your hips back first and then bend at the knees.
Tips 3: Normal Lordotic Curve – Lumbar Spine
Erick Cressey, C.S.C.S strength coach stated it is important to maintain the spine naturally arched or lordotic curve as you squat in order to be effective in improving tolerance to compressive loads.
To avoid putting too much pressure on your low back, he warns it’s best not to hyperextend the spine.
Tips 4: Hip and Ankle Flexibility
Squatting is a closed chain exercise, and its mechanics of the hips will influence the entire kinetic chain, says Paul Chek, MS, HHP, NMT.
What that means is, the foot positioning will influence the mechanics of the knees, hips, pelvis and lower back.
Proper squats require flexion at the ankle and hips during the descent portion of the squat.
When this happen, forces will be distributed evenly throughout the kinetic chain. So proper flexibility at the hips and ankle is required for proper squatting says Joshua J Stone, NASM certified personal trainer.
Like with all exercises, you can’t reap the full benefits of squats unless you perform with good (correct) form.
Learning exercise techniques should always be the very first thing you do when you first begin working out.
Also, if you have been squatting but haven’t seen results, the chances are you are not squatting with proper form.
It’s time to get back to the basics and learn 3 squat techniques you need to implement to get the most out of your squatting exercise.
How to do squats properly without hurting your knees, back or neck in easy steps:
How to do a proper squat
1. Bodyweight Squats
- Start in a standing position in which your body is upright and your spine is neutral.
- Position your feet slightly wider than your shoulder-width, toes turning out and keep your legs straight.
- Hold your chest up and raise your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing down.
- Breath in and hinge your hips back by bending at your knees and hips, allowing your hips to ease backwards.
- Keep your spine neutral and ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor ( or further if you have good hip mobility). Pause, then return to the starting position.
- Hold your torso upright throughout the exercise.
- Keep your head straight and gaze forward
- Hold your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- Ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Hold your chest up
2. Dumbbells Squats
- Stand up straight and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging straight down on each side of your body.
- Position your legs using a shoulder stance with the toes slightly pointing out.
- Keep your chest up high and look straight ahead for the entire exercise.
- Sit your hips back as you flex your knees to squat down. Ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Continue to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor ( or further if you have good hip mobility and flexibility). Pause, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions. Aim for 10-12 reps for 2-3 sets.
3. Sumo Squats / Plie Squats
Sumo squat also known as plie squat is a squat variation that works your inner thighs.
A primary difference with sumo squats and basic squats is your foot stance. With sumo squat, they are positioned wider with toes turned out at an angle.
The wider stance places more emphasis on the inner thigh muscles (adductors) in addition to glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves as you do in the regular squat exercise.
The weight is held with straight arms between the legs below the waist.
- Start by standing with your feet much wider than your shoulder-width apart and toes pointed outward. Lower yourself down by bending your hips and knees.
- Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, In one motion, push through the heels to straighten your knees and legs to come back up. As with all squat exercises, keep a neutral spine with a slight arch in the lower back.
- Keep your abs engaged and your head above your shoulders looking straight throughout the movement.
- For added resistance, hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of you so that it hangs just below your waist. Without the dumbbell hold your arms up to your chest level, with your palms facing down.
4. Barbell squats
The barbell squat primarily works the glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors , and hamstrings.
It also secondarily works the abs, lower back, and calves.
- To start, set up the barbell on the squat rack so that it is at the same height as your upper back.
- Take a firm grip on the bar in the rack, hands comfortably wider than your shoulders. Duck beneath it and stand up with your feet directly under the bar. The bar should rest high on the back and shoulders.
- Slowly straighten your legs to push upwards, lifting the barbell off the rack and take one step back.
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing outwards slightly. Hinge your hips back, bend at the knees with your spine in a neutral position.
- Keep your abs engaged as you lower your body down slowly until your thighs are parallel to the floor. At the bottom position, your body should be at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your toes are inline with your knees.
- Push up through the heels to straighten your legs, hips and knees until you are back at the standing position.
- Repeat to complete 8-10 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
5. Barbell Front Squat
The barbell front squat primarily targets the muscles of your quadriceps, gluteals, and hamstrings.
The secondary muscles: the abs, lower back and shoulders for supporting the upper-body.
Contrary to the barbell back squat, the front squat requires you to be able to keep your torso much upright than the back squats.
- Start by standing in front of the squat rack, and take a step forward to position yourself under the barbell.
- Grab the bar with your hands. Position your elbows high at or slightly higher than your chest level and your upper arms parallel to the floor.
- Step back about 2-3 feet from the squat rack. Stand upright with your feet a wider than your shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned-out.
- Make sure to maintain a neutral spine with a slight arch in the lower back and your elbows pointing forward throughout the movement.
- Looking straight ahead and keeping your chest high, brace your core and hinge your hips back.
- Bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your core engaged, push through the heels to straighten your legs and hips to return to the starting position.
Tips: Keep your elbows as high as possible during the exercise. This is extremely important in the front squats to avoid the bar pulling you forward.
There you have 5 squat variations with proper form. If you are new to exercising, start with the bodyweight squat. As you develop strength, give other variations a try!
What’s your favorite squat variation? Did we miss any important keypoints? Leave us a comment below to let us know.
“Squat Form, Benefits, Muscles Worked – Full Exercise Guide.” STRONGLIFTS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2015.
Thielen, Stephanie. “5 Ways to Supercharge the Squat.” ACE Fit. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2015.
Perry, Marc. “How to Squat: Proper Form & Technique To Squat Perfectly – BuiltLean.” BuiltLean. N.p., 20 July 2010. Web. 23 Aug. 2015.
J Stone, Joshua. “The Geek Squat – NASM Blog.” NASM Blog. N.p., 24 May 2012. Web. 23 Aug. 2015.
Squats should be a staple in every gym goer’s training plan. They are a great lower body exercise that can also work your core and other parts of your body if performed correctly. There are many squat variations that you can try, that each has their own benefits. Whether you are a beginner squatter or seasoned veteran, here are some of the squat variations to add to your routine.
5 Beginner to Advanced Squat Variations
1. Prisoner Squat
The prisoner squat is one of the simplest squat variations because it just uses your bodyweight. It is a great staple exercise for anyone to add to their regime, especially for beginners starting out. It is a lower body workout that not only strengthens your legs and glutes but can also work your core and shoulders.
Prisoner squats can also be done anywhere as you are only using your bodyweight! So you can fit them in during an ad break, or even at work.
To prisoner squat, make sure that your feet are planted firmly on the ground, hip-width apart. Your weight should be distributed evenly between them. Engage your core as you pull your shoulder blades slightly together.
Bend at the knees and lower yourself to the ground as if you are sitting on a chair. Remember to keep your torso upright. Keep lowering yourself until you are parallel to the ground, and if you can, go beyond that parallel line. Make sure that your knees do not drop inward as you do so; keep your knees rotated out.
Stand up again by straightening your legs. And repeat.
To make the standard prisoner squat more challenging, try holding the lower squat position and pulsing. Now you can really feel that burn!
2. Goblet Squat
Another great squat variation is the goblet squat. This is similar to the prisoner squat but with added weight. You can use a dumbbell or kettlebell.
Hold the dumbbell or kettlebell up close to your chest as you squat. If you are starting out, start with a lighter weight, just to get used to the movement. Then keep increasing your weight as you progress.
This squat will not only work that lower body but it can really work that core strength. It can also help prepare you for the front squat, which we will talk about soon!
3. High Bar Back Squat
This is the classic squat that people tend to gravitate towards. It is a comfortable place for people to hold the bar.This squat variation uses a barbell that is placed across your back on the trapezius muscles on top of the shoulders.
During the high bar back squat, make sure that the bar remains aligned with your midfoot. Your torso needs to remain as upright as possible to keep the weight from shifting forward.
The high bar back squat is a squat variation that places emphasis on the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and glutes. There is less reliance on the hamstrings. However, compared to other squat variations, such as the low bar squat, you won’t be able to squat as heavy.
If you want to make it harder, then try pausing for a couple of seconds at the bottom of the squat before coming up. The high bar squat is also great to help those who do weightlifting (the snatch and clean & jerk).
4. Low Bar Back Squat
Another squat variation is the low bar back squat. This squat places the barbell on lower on the upper back than the high bar back squat position—on the posterior deltoid. It is only a slight shift in position of the bar but it does result in different body parts being used in the movement.
In this position, your torso should lean forward even more. This offloads some of the weight on your back and to help keep you balanced. It also means that you will be able to squat heavier than the high bar squat. You have less range of motion because your torso will be more horizontal.
Your feet should be wider than that of a high bar squat, as well as your hands. To help lean your chest forward, your hips will also be pushed back.
This version of the squat works the hamstrings and glutes. It also places more emphasis on the posterior chain. If you have knee problems, then the low bar is a good option as there is less stress on the knees.
5. Front Squat
The front squat works the front of your body, emphasising the quads and core. It uses the barbell but instead of placing it on your back, it is placed in front of you, resting on your front deltoids and collarbone. Your arms can be in two different positions:
Classic Grip: Place your right-hand fingertips under the bar on your right side, and do the same for the left. The number of fingertips you use to hold the bar depends on your preference. Keep your elbows up so your upper arms are parallel to the ground. This position can be difficult for those with limited wrist mobility.
Cross Grip: Your right hand can hold the bar on your left shoulder and vice versa. Your arms will be in a cross position, touching opposite hands to shoulders. If you have limited wrist mobility, you may prefer this grip.
As you squat, try to keep your elbows in and up and your knees out.
The squat is a really great move to include in your training. With these squat variations ranging from beginner to advanced, you can pick and choose which ones suit your fitness goal and level so you are not missing out on these great benefits.
Track your squats with Jefit
Jefit is a workout log app that has an extensive library. With the ability to mix and match your training, including different kinds of squats, you can really maximize your gym workouts and make the most of them. These are just 5 of the many kinds of squats you can do—check out Jefit’s squat library here to find more!
Have you tried any of these different kinds of squats? Which ones do you like? Let us know in the comments, we would love to know!
How To Squat: Proper Techniques For A Perfect Squat
Squatting is one of the most productive if not the best exercises out there (it’s called the King of Exercises by many). It is one of the most difficult to learn as well. If you are new to this exercise, please take several training sessions practicing with an empty bar or broomstick (you can do some additional work on the leg press if needed). It’s very important to get your technique down cold while the weights are still light. Your small errors with small weights will turn into BIG errors with big weights. Much of the bad press the squat has received in the media is a result of improper technique and not the exercise itself. Red flags you may encounter will be pointed out and hopefully how to avoid them.
First Things First
The first thing to discuss is not foot position or width of stance, but proper trunk position. Pretend you are a soldier and the meanest, ugliest sergeant ever just told you “TEN-HUT!” You would automatically straighten up and pull your head and shoulders back. This is the proper position of the spine for the squat. IOW, your head is pulled back; your chest is raised; and you have a slight arch in your lower back. At no time during the squat should you bend over at the low back or look down. Of course you have to bend over at the hip (more on that later). You should not look up either. OK, so you got that down?
Now, the best way to do squats is in a power rack or cage (a large rectangular rack with cross-drilled holes) so you can adjust the pins where if you have to bale, you can set the bar down without any harm. Set the pins to just below the depth you are going. They also serve as a visual cue for depth and if you go down/up crooked. Place the J hooks or posts that hold the bar for you to get under at the level of your nipple or so. Try to unrack it once to see if it’s at the right height. The bar should have a knurled area in the middle (if it doesn’t, find another bar or another gym) so it will not slide down your back.
Many people use towels or padding under the bar. Others (including me) feel this leads to some instability because the weight is “teeter tottering” on a small area on your back. If the bar is hurting you either need to add some trapezius mass, place the bar a little further down your back (it should be just above or below the sharp ridge on your scapula (shoulder blade), buy a Manta Ray, or tolerate it because it’s part of the game. The Ray helps to spread the load across the shoulder, but it doesn’t fit everyone well.
Now step up to the bar. Place your hands about the same width as a bench press (unless you are doing the shoulder breaker wide-grip variety) and make sure you are even on the bar before unracking. Take a deep breath, step under the bar and unrack it. Most squat injuries (according to Fred Hatfield) occur during the back up. Only take enough steps that you can clear the j-hooks or posts on the descent. Remember the “soldier position” even in the unracking and back up. Place your feet shoulder width or slightly farther apart. Think if you suspended a line from the ceiling it would brush against your medial delt and hit you in the ankle.
Use the “practice” sessions to get a width that fits you. You might say many powerlifters squat with a wide-stance and they are pretty strong as a group. I’ll agree wholeheartedly, but I’ll also point out that the conventional squat is probably more productive because you are working through a larger ROM. Learn this way and then learn the variations if you like. After you have the width right, turn your feet out at roughly a 45 degree angle. Adjust the width if need be. Now you are ready to squat.
Take a deep breath, contract your abs and descend. It should feel like you are sitting back on a chair behind you; not going straight down. Keep your knees in line with your feet. DO NOT LET YOUR KNEES BOW IN anytime during the lift! I have a Grade 1 knee sprain (MCL) from doing just this. Keep the load light enough so you won’t do this and gradually build up. Many people say to try to keep your shin at a 90 degree angle to the ground. This is impossible with the regular stance squat and is only possible by a few using the wide-stance variety. Try to keep your knees from going out past your toes. Alter the width if need be. Most people can and should descend till their thighs are parallel to the ground. This is actually pretty low. A very small majority of people can’t and may be better stopping just above parallel.
Don’t give up on reaching parallel too quick. Also, to go even close to parallel, you have to bend over at the hip (not the spine, of course). However, you should always be more upright than bent over. Two methods of determining your shin/back position and depth is to either have an attentive and adept person monitor you from the side and/or use a video camera placed to the side and close enough to determine all angles. After you have descended to the bottom position, reverse your direction immediately (don’t bounce at the bottom) and drive upwards. Try and pull your back up (hip extension) as hard as possible during the ascent.
Brooks Kubik describes this “as if a giant gorilla had a hold of your ass and your shoulder and was trying to straighten you out.” Come back to a standing position, take a breath or two (or many 8^) and descend again. Remember the soldier position between reps as well. Make each rep it’s own little lift. IOW, make each one count even on your warm-ups. If you maintain good form in your warm-ups, you’ll likely retain it for the work sets.
Belts Or Knee Wraps
Should you wear a belt or knee wraps? The former helps to stabilize the spine by increasing intra-abdominal pressure and the latter is just a way of elevating more weight. Especially if you are getting started with the squat, go without either. Use your abdomen as the brace instead of outside help. The knee wraps serve no use except to the powerlifter who wants a bigger max. They may impede the growth of structures around the knee or even cause some harm if used chronically.
The main reason the power rack gathers dust while there is a line for the angled leg press is because squats HURT! It doesn’t matter whether it’s the skinny beginner using the “big wheels” on each side for the first time or the bonafide 600+ squatter stepping under an already bending bar. They both feel some pain when doing this exercise. Learn to live with it!
The most productive exercises are the most painful. It’s a fact of life. If you squat with proper technique and heavy (for you) poundage, you might grunt, scream, cry, hurl and/or pass out, but you probably won’t be injured and you’ll make terrific headway towards your goals. Learn to be aggressive and focus your complete attention on the task at hand. Good luck and happy training!
How To Master The Barbell Back Squat
The squat is sometimes known as “the king of legs moves” and, unlike most real-life kings, it truly earned that regal title. It works every major muscle in your lower body and, when you start to put a decent amount of weight on the bar, it even becomes a full-body move because you have to brace your core and contract your back muscles to keep your torso in the optimal position. In fact, it’s essential to create whole-body tension to make sure that you complete the move with good form.
The barbell back squat takes centre stage in the training plans of pro bodybuilders, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, footballers and rugby players. There’s really no reason not to include it in your programme – and no reason you shouldn’t reap the same rewards.
The benefits are virtually endless. The squat is one of the primary compound exercises, meaning that you use more than one joint to perform the exercise. It places significant strain on the quads, hamstrings and glutes, making it one of the greatest “bang for your buck” exercises known to man. It also strengthens the joints, ligaments and tendons around the knee and hips.
While it’s a great leg builder, the squat can also boost your performance in other ways. Aside from the target muscle groups, the back squat also requires sufficient ankle stability in order to drive through the heels, core stability to maintain the weight you lift, and also impressive shoulder mobility and trap activation to keep the barbell under control.
Since the move works so much of the body, performing it burns a heck of a lot of calories, aiding your weight loss pursuits. It also boosts your natural production of testosterone and growth hormones.
If you’re a beginner, ensure you’ve got the movement pattern and range of motion nailed by first incorporating unweighted squats into your workouts. Then and only then should you progress to weighted variations.
How To Build Up To The Barbell Back Squat
Practise by performing the bodyweight squat. Keep your core tight and place your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing outward slightly. Slowly lower your body until your quads are parallel to the floor (or even a little lower), keeping your chest up and back straight. To get enough practise, try our 30-day squat challenge.
When you can comfortably perform multiple sets of 15-20 reps you can progress to goblet squats, where you hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest as you perform the move. This adds further resistance and helps you keep your back straight. When you’re happy with your performance here, progress to adding a barbell.
How To Do The Barbell Back Squat
Take the bar out of the rack with it resting on your rear shoulder muscles. Take two big steps back and stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly out. Keep your spine in alignment by looking at a spot on the floor about two metres in front of you, then “sit” back and down as if you’re aiming for a chair. Descend until your hip crease is below your knee. Keep your weight on your heels as you drive back up.
Back Squat Form Tips
1. Don’t drop your chin
Before you lower into the squat, pick a point on the wall in front of you and focus on it. Keep looking at that point as you lower and then drive back up. This will help you avoid dropping your chin towards your chest, which encourages unhelpful movement in your upper spine that will cause you to hunch forwards and make it more difficult to complete the lift once you fatigue towards the end of the set. You might also want to avoid staring yourself out in the mirror because that can be distracting.
2. Get your chest up
If you want to lift as much weight as possible and reduce your risk of injury, keep your chest up throughout the move. If you drop your chest, your spine will flex (bend forwards) and that’s not a great thing when you have a heavy load on your back. One thing that will help you keep your chest in the right place is taking a deep breath before you lift and holding the air in your lungs as you lower. Once you begin to rise from the bottom position and are in control of the lift, you can exhale as you return to the start position.
3. Push elbows forwards
Try to push your elbows forwards before you start the lift. This may feel slightly uncomfortable but it will help you maintain a strong position when you move the weight. The reason it helps is because when your elbows point backwards (as opposed to downwards), this encourages your shoulders to internally rotate and makes it harder to keep an upright neutral spine. Pushing your elbows forwards will also help you to engage your lats – your big back muscles – which will further stabilise your upper body.
4. Keep knees in line with toes
Plant your feet roughly shoulder-width apart with your toes turned out slightly at a “ten to two” position. Bend at the knees and hips simultaneously to lower your backside towards the ground and as you lower, keep your knees in line with your toes. It doesn’t matter if your knees go over your toes but you do want to avoid letting them turn inwards. You can spread your knees slightly at the base of the lift to open your hips and sit lower, then squeeze them back in to initiate the upwards movement.
5. Heels flat on the floor
Your weight should be on your heels and mid-foot throughout the lift. If you go onto the balls of your feet you’re in a weaker position that puts extra pressure on your knees. One reason people struggle to keep their heels down is because they have tight hamstrings, so stretch these muscles by squatting down with your back against a wall and hugging your knees to your chest. It doesn’t matter if your spine curves because, in this instance, you’re not carrying external load. The aim here is getting depth.
Back Squat Assistance Moves
Add these exercises to your workouts to target the key muscles involved in a squat so you can lift more weight.
How Take the bar out of the rack with your hands crossed over your chest, supporting it across the front of your shoulders. Squat down, keeping your chest up, then drive up through your heels to stand.
Why The front squat focuses the effort on your quads (front thighs) and because the weight is in front of you it encourages you to keep your chest upright.
How Hold a kettlebell in both hands and squat down with your back straight and chest up. Descend until your elbows touch the insides of your knees, then put your weight on your heels as you stand back up.
Why This is ideal for beginners because it’s a relatively easy way of working on your depth. If you use a light weight you don’t have to worry too much about spine position and you can focus on getting as low as possible.
How Start in a split stance, with one foot in front of the other, holding a bar across the back of your shoulders. Bend both legs until your trailing knee touches the floor. Straighten both legs to return to the start, then go straight into the next rep.
Why Doing this move will ensure that you develop leg strength evenly because you work one side at a time.
Bulgarian split squat
How Start with your back foot on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend at the knee to lower towards the floor, keeping your torso upright, then press back up to the start. Do the same number of reps with each leg.
Why This variation of the squat will target your quads – a key muscle group involved in heavy squats. It also works your legs independently so that you become equally strong and stable on both sides.
How To Achieve A New Back Squat PB
Whatever your current lifting level, expert Tom Wright has advice that will push you on to a new PB. Just find the bodyweight multiple you’re aiming for and use his gym wisdom to help you hit it
1 x Bodyweight
“As the first big benchmark in squatting, you want to get up to this as quickly as possible,” says Wright. “Adding a small amount of weight each week will help you to progress. When you hit a plateau, leave your ego in your locker for just one session and simply drop the weight by 10% for that week. This small de-load will allow you to recover, adapt and push past your sticking point, enabling you to hit that bodyweight target.”
1.5 x Bodyweight
“As you approach this target, new factors come into play such as having a strong core,” says Wright. “Most people can piggyback one person but as soon as you throw another on they crumple from the middle. The strength you need comes from the abs and lower back, so make sure you train them. Pause squats will also help because static holds work the core hard to stabilise the body.”
2 x Bodyweight
“This really is the big time, and to play with the big boys and girls you need to think and train like them,” says Wright. “A structured training plan with calculated cycles is required because you’re working with marginal gains. Tried and tested programmes such as strength coach Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 (jimwendler.com) help to build max strength because you train at levels that allow you to overload the muscle but recover sufficiently.”
Bodyweight Back Squat Challenge
If you’re in need of a squat-based test of mettle, may we suggest the bodyweight squat challenge? The rules are simple:
- Weigh yourself in kilograms. That number is the weight you want to be lifting. Load your bodyweight onto the barbell, preferably with it already in a squat rack at shoulder height and with the safety pins in to catch the bar if you fail at the bottom of the lift.
- Unrack the bar, taking the weight on your shoulders and stepping back from the rack so you’re in the top position of the squat.
- Do as many full rep squats as possible, “resting” in the top position of the squat if as and when you need but without re-racking the bar at any point.
- Once you’ve hit your limit and you can’t manage any more reps, set the bar down or re-rack it.
Standing with the bar on your back while you recover between reps isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged. Pace yourself between reps – a good rule of thumb is to take one deep breath between reps for the first ten or so, then more breaths as necessary as the reps pile up. If you’re strong, you could end up spending five minutes with the bar unracked. A respectable total? 20 reps. A phenomenal total? 50.
If you’re going to take a serious run at the magic 50, you need to get used to high-rep squats. In week one, do one 20-rep set. In week two, do two. In week three, do three. In week four: go for it.
The Correct Squat Form (And the Best Squat Variations to Do)
by: Yuri Elkaim
If you’ve been reading my articles or following my training, you know that I put a lot of emphasis on “functional exercises” – movements that have a direct connection to your daily life.
Because these exercise are, without a doubt, the most useful way to spend your time in the gym.
Not only do functional exercises give you all the standard bgenefits of physical activity, but they also increase your overall mobility, making it easier for you to keep up with the demands of life.
What good is an exercise if you never do anything even remotely similar to it in the real world?
When it comes to basic, functional movements, the squat is king.
Regardless of your goals – whether you’re trying to lose weight, build muscle or just feel better – squats should be the foundation of your entire routine.
Okay, I’m getting a little excited. Let’s look into some of the hard science at work here so you can see why squats are so important.
Of course, we’ll also talk about how squats should be done and some alternative exercises, as well.
All the Benefits of Squats
Occasionally, you’ll hear experts on the subject refer to squats (and similar movements like deadlifts) by the intriguing term, “primal movements.”
By this, they mean that the squat is built into the way that our body is built to move; It’s something humans have been doing for a very, very long time.
And, when you observe people, this isn’t really all that surprising. Even babies routinely squat (with flawless form) when they’re just going about their day, being babies.
In fact, cultures around the world squat regularly, instead of sitting or even standing for extended periods.
Why does that matter? Because it illustrates just how powerful the connection is between the human frame and the posture in question is.
But, why does our body want to squat? And, more to the point, what are the benefits of doing squats – which, in my mind, are like the ultimate functional training exercise.
More Efficient Movement
The first benefit of squats, which we’ve already briefly alluded to, is that it improves our ability to move. As a compound exercise, squats involve several joints, requiring various parts of your body to work together as a single unit.
Your ankles, knees, hips and spine all have to coordinate their efforts to drop you down and (safely) pick you back up again.
Squats as an exercise, then, improve the mobility of these joints – helping to reduce any of the standard aches and pains associated with life. That may seem like a pretty bold claim but, when you consider the way that the joints interact with your body as a whole, it make sense.
In sports medicine, kinesiology, and other related fields, you sometimes encounter the concept of the kinetic chain (1). Originally based on principles used in mechanical engineering, the kinetic chain refers to the idea that all connected, consecutive joints should be viewed as one, big unit.
What, exactly, does that mean?
Think about what happens when you squat: Your ankles bend, then your knees flex, at the same time your hips need to drop, all the while your back and abs need to work together to keep you upright and balanced. No one joint is operating alone.
And what happens if one of those joints doesn’t do its job? The whole movement is thrown off.
This same principle can be translated to just about everything you do. If your hips are tight, for example, they’re going to pull on your lower back and create pain that could even radiate up to your neck and shoulders.
Squats help to develop and condition this entire kinetic chain so that, when they’re done properly, your body is better trained to work more efficiently as a complete unit.
The Parties Involved
Along with working all those joints, squats challenge a number of different muscles groups.
As we’ll see shortly, exactly which muscles get worked depends largely on which squat variation that you’re working with – since you can easily shift where the brunt of the resistance is being placed.
For now, let’s focus our attention on the basic, yet effective, bodyweight squat.
The target muscles – or the muscles doing most of the work during the bodyweight squat – are your quadriceps and your gluteus maximus.
Illustration of the muscles worked in the Squat exercise.
However, the muscles in your calves and butt both function as synergists – meaning that they assist the quads in performing the movement. At the same time, your hamstrings and core all contract to provide stabilization, which is how squats also work the abs.
Squats Burn Fat
Typically, people think about squats and other similar exercises as strictly tools for bulking, but tend to avoid them when it’s time to slim down.
In reality, the squat is – or could be – a powerful weapon when it comes to weight loss. That’s because the number of calories burned during any given exercise is directly related to the number of muscle fibers activated by that particular movement.
This makes sense if you think about it in terms of engine size and fuel economy; the bigger the engine, the more fuel it’s going to need. Your legs have among the biggest muscles in your body. We saw earlier, though, that they aren’t the only muscles at work during squats, however.
So, in one movement, squats involve lots of muscles that will burn calories for fuel.
Heavy lifting also comes with another interesting weight-loss-related benefit: Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC (2).
When you exercise, regardless of the form it takes, your body requires oxygen. That’s why you automatically start breathing faster.
This need for more oxygen increases when you work more muscle fibers since that oxygen is vital for proper recovery.
The interesting thing, however, is that each liter of oxygen you take in requires you to burn about five calories in order to use it.
As a result, any activity that increases your need for oxygen also increases the amount of calories you burn. And the metabolic boost from EPOC can last an impressively long time after your workout ends – up to 48 hours.
But that’s only touching on the short-term calorie torching effects of squats.
In general, even when you’re relatively inactive, your metabolism will be faster if you have more muscle mass. By spending time developing the muscle groups that are naturally large and hard-working, you set yourself up to burn more calories even when you aren’t moving around.
Correct Squat Form Check
I hope I’ve made it clear just how useful the squat can be. But, like any other activity, squats need to be done with proper form to be sure that you’re getting the most out of your investment.
To help set the foundation for what’s to come, let’s deal with the bodyweight squat for now. Like many other bodyweight exercises, this variation on the squat is an ideal way to help you develop proper form with a minimal amount of risk if you make a mistake.
As an added benefit, the transition from bodyweight squats to weighted back squats is a very easy one to make since form for the two movements is almost identical.
How to do it:
- Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you for balance.
How to do it:
- Keeping your core tight and your back straight, drop your hips back toward the ground.
- At the same time, allow your knees to bend forward. Throughout the movement, keep your knees pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Descend, as if sitting back into a chair, until your thighs are at least parallel with the ground. If you can go deeper without rounding your back, go for it.
- Press into your heels and slowly straighten your legs to return to standing. Do not allow your heels to come up off the ground.
This is the basic squat form, which will hold true for just about any other version of the squat you may ever want to tackle.
It is possible, though, that the bodyweight squat is a bit of a challenge for you – generally due to a lack of flexibility. So, how do you work your way up to a perfect bodyweight squat?
Watch and Learn
For some really clearly demonstrated and practical tips, check out the video “Are You Squat Flexible?” by my buddy Eric Wong. Here are just a few of the highlights:
How to do it:
- Hold on to a post, pole or piece of furniture for support.
- Lower yourself as low as you can possibly go while keeping your back straight.
- In the bottom position, rock back and force in all directions to loosen your joints.
- Still using the pole for support, perform reps of the squats.
Now, you may have noticed the encouragement to go as deep as you can. There’s a strong possibility that this raised some concerns for you when it comes to protecting your knees.
Are squats bad for the knees, as you may have heard? Taking that even further, aren’t deep squats terrible for your joints?
The answer, to both questions, is a resounding “No.”
At least, not if your form is good. And that is precisely why it’s so important to master the bodyweight squat before piling on the weights.
Squats and Knees, Oh My!
In fact, by strengthening the quadriceps and other muscles that wrap around your knees, you are building their support system and giving them more thorough protection than they would otherwise have. But, what about depth? Doesn’t going too far past parallel put more stress on your knees?
To answer this question, in 2013 researchers reviewed the results of over 164 articles that all looked into the forces active on the knees during a squat (3). What the team found was surprising: While the stress on the knee gradually increases as the angle gets closer to 90 degrees, it only decreases from that point on.
At the end, the researchers made this comment:
“… deep squat presents an effective training exercise for protection against injuries and strengthening of the lower extremity.”
Another common safety tip you may hear when it comes to squats is that you should never let your knees go beyond your toes. This is actually a kind of tricky one to untangle.
For most people, this is an easy tip to remember and apply. And for many, it’s true. But many individualized and largely genetic factors can influence where the knee ends up even during an otherwise flawless squat (4).
For example, the length of the bones involved or the mobility of the ankle and hip can all control where the knee is supposed to be in relation to the toes. A person with long bones in their shins or thighs, for example may not be able to keep their knees back without sacrificing form in another way.
Even more important, though, there is no evidence to suggest that allowing the knees to go past the toes is always going to cause problems. If your knees naturally extend out that far, however, trying to change that could put excess stress on the joint.
Rather than trying to apply a rigid rule to everyone, a much better approach would be to listen to your body. When you perform a bodyweight squat, do your knees pass your toes without pain? Then let them be. Just make sure you’re doing your best to sit back on your heels as if you were sitting down into a chair.
There are numerous squat variations to choose from. Exactly how you use each of these exercises will largely depend on your goals, since they each emphasize different parts of the larger movement.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common squat variations, including what they’re good for and how to do them safely.
The most common and straightforward of the squats, this exercise effectively works most of your body. It is also an excellent way to improve overall mobility.
It does have some downsides, though; You’ll need a squat rack, a barbell, and some weight plates. Carrying the loaded bar on your back can also create compressive forces on the spine that people dealing with injuries may need to avoid.
How to do it:
- Stand in the rack, with a loaded bar resting across the back of your shoulders, at the base of your neck. Grip the bar with your palms facing outward.
- Straighten up so that that bar is solely on you and no longer supported by the rack. Step away from the rack to free up your full range of motion.
- Keeping your core tight, your back straight and your eyes forward, drop your hips back and down toward the ground.
- At the same time, allow your knees to bend forward, keeping them pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Lower yourself until your thighs are past parallel with the ground, but go deeper if you can.
- Pause for a moment before pressing on your heels and straightening your legs to return to standing.
This is particularly useful and interesting variation simply because of the huge difference a small adjustment makes.
Instead of resting the bar across the back of your shoulders, this exercise requires you to hold it in front of you, on the front of your shoulders.
What are the benefits of front squats over back squats? Shifting the weight forward places a much greater strain on your core, requiring it to work much harder to keep you upright and balanced.
This change also requires your knees to flex more, allowing you to go deeper and placing a greater emphasis on your quads.
By taking the bar off your back, fronts squats greatly reduce the compressive forces on your spine.
How to do it:
- Begin with the bar racked at chest height. Rest the bar against the front of your shoulders and cross your arms. Your arms should remain parallel to the ground while your hands rest on top of the bar.
How to do it:
- Keeping your core tight, your back straight and your eyes forward, drop your hips back and down toward the ground.
- At the same time, allow your knees to bend forward, keeping them pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Lower yourself until your thighs are past parallel with the ground, but go deeper if you can.
- Pause for a moment before pressing on your heels and straightening your legs to return to standing.
This variation both requires and develops mobility in your back, shoulders and hips.
It can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, or even just a weight plate.
Because of the strong reliance on flexibility, do not expect to be able to lift as much with the overhead squat as you can with other variations. In fact, you could start out just using a broomstick.
Image courtesy Bodybuilding.com
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed outward. Hold the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
- Snatch the bar (or other form of resistance) over your head and keep your arms extended.
- Keeping your core tight, descend until your knees and hips are fully extended.
- Straighten your legs to return to the starting position.
Note: Do not attempt this squat unless you are very well trained and have excellent shoulder/upper back mobility.
Typically done with a dumbbell or kettlebell, this exercise can also be performed with a simple weight plate if that’s what you have. Based on the same concept as the front squat, this variation moves the weight to your front, putting more emphasis on your back and core.
A key difference between goblet squats and front squats, though, is that the goblet squat allows for a much greater involvement of your lats and arms.
How to do it:
- Grip one weight with both hands and hold it close to your chest with bent arms, like you’re holding a giant cup (hence the “goblet). Do not allow the weight to rest against you.
How to do it:
- Keeping your core tight, descend until your knees and hips are fully extended.
- Straighten your legs to return to the starting position.
This squat variation also has several variations of its own, depending on the type of equipment you have at your disposal. The constant, however, is the wide stance, reminiscent of a Sumo wrestler.
This wider stance places a greater challenge on your glutes and inner thighs to lift your body upright again. Your core will also have to work hard to keep you balanced.
It should also be noted that the Sumo squat is performed by the lifting the weight – which can be a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell or plate – off the floor. This is a useful variation if you have limited equipment.
How to do it:
- Place your feet in a very wide stance, much wider than shoulder-width, and grip the weight with both hands.
- Keeping your back straight and your core tight, press your heels into the ground to stand up straight. You may find that your range of motion is limited by the stance.
How to do it:
- Drop your hips down and back, allowing your knees to follow, until the weight is back on the ground.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Although it has a very different look than most squat variations, the Bulgarian split squat has several powerful advantages. For one, your upper body is essentially taken out of the equation – so that your movement is no longer limited by the strength of your core and upper back.
Of course, this could be a downside if you want to work those muscles. If you’re just looking to isolate the legs, however, the Bulgarian split squat is ideal.
This variation is also useful because of it’s adaptability. It can easily be performed with any form of resistance, or none at all. To get you started, I’ll describe the form using just your bodyweight.
How to do it:
- Stand with your back to a bench and bend your left knee to rest the top of your left foot on the bench.
How to do it:
- Keeping your back straight, bend your right knee to lower yourself toward the ground. Stop when your knee is just past parallel to the ground. Do not allow your left knee to touch the ground.
- Straighten your right leg to return to the starting position.
As a bit of a side-note, bodyweight squats, back squats and Bulgarian split squats can all be given a different spin by adding a jump at the top. This requires you to move through the exercise quickly and dynamically, making it a perfect tool for athletes looking to build power and improve their jump.
Image courtesy BasketballHQ.com
Because of the high-impact nature of this approach, though, it’s not recommended for people with knee injuries. Even for the otherwise healthy individuals out there, caution is needed when jumping around while holding weight.
Working Your Way Up
With all of that knowledge how can you string it together and progress toward a powerful, effective squat? Here’s a progression, using a few of the variations discussed above, to will help you build both the strength and mobility needed to safely pull off a weighted back squat.
For each exercise, work until you can perform 3 sets of 12 reps with perfect form, going as deep as you can. While working on the bodyweight squat especially, your goal should be to lower your butt as close to the ground as possible.
It may take several weeks for you to master each movement before you can comfortably move on to the next. That’s fine. The goal is to have a strong foundation before you end up at the back squat and each step in this progression will develop a different skill that you’ll need later on.
The weights recommended for the loaded exercises are intended to get you up to working with a standard Olympic bar, which weighs 45 pounds unloaded.
- Bodyweight squat
- Goblet squat (Progress when you can perform 3×12 with 20 pounds)
- Front squat (Progress when you can perform 3×12 with 45 pounds)
- Back squats (Start with 45 pounds)
Do You Even Squat? Yes!
As we’ve seen, the squat is a hugely important exercise. Not only is it a basic human movement that will help to increase your flexibility, mobility and strength but it can also burn through tons of fat all at once.
The key is to start slow, generally with bodyweight squats, and be sure that your form is perfect. From there you can gradually progress to some of the more challenging variations. Along the way, you can also use different squat exercises to tailor the workout to your specific needs, limitations and circumstances.
Move Your Muscles, Blast Fat
Nothing blasts fat like a resistance training circuit – and nothing’s quite more convenient than a bodyweight circuit. Put the two together and you have a winning combo workout you can do anywhere!
Download my 6-exercise bodyweight circuit workout to burn more fat and get stronger. It includes an instructional video, workout tracker, and follow-along audio. The Bodyweight Circuit Workout is a $29 value – yours FREE by clicking the banner below.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.
Learning how to squat properly is up there with learning how to shake hands or brush your teeth in the correct way – by which we mean, it’s as fundamental to your fitness health as a firm grip and minty mouth are to your personal life.
Loose metaphors aside, the perfect squat is a functional exercise that engages multiple muscles chains in one move. Basically, it’s your full-body bread and butter.
Unlike other foundational exercises (think plank, press-up or sit-up), the squat involves multiple muscle groups and joints working in various planes of motion. More specifically, your hips hinge back, your torso moves down and your knees shift forward and to the sides, so it’s quite the multitasker.
However, the move will never look exactly the same on everyone, as Sarah Lindsay, founder of London gym Roar Fitness explains:
‘Most PTs are taught a generic definition for a proper squat, which they pass on to clients. But as you train more people, you realise that it’s unrealistic – actually, impossible – for everyone’s squat to be and look the same.
When an exercise calls for such a variety of movements, lots of factors – from your anatomy to your mobility – can affect the way your body squats properly,’ she says.
Of course, there are textbook rules for a reason – to maximise the effectiveness of the move while keeping you safe from injury – and, for the most part, they’ll serve you well.
But if you’re squatting heavy weights at a squat rack or performing the move at speed, it’s crucial you nail correct technique first.
What muscles do squats work?
Squats are a functional compound move, meaning they use two or more joints to engage different muscle groups at the same time. But which muscle groups do they work and where exactly should you be feeling the sweet burn?
- Gluteus maximum – medius and minimus act as stabilising muscles
- Hamstrings (movement stabilisers)
Core (stabilising muscles):
- Erector spinae – controls rotation of the back
- Rectus abdominis – the ‘six-pack’ muscles
- Internal and external obliques
How to squat properly
You were dropping squats way before Kayla Itsines ever persuaded you it was the secret to calorie burn – before you could walk, in fact. Pros often point to infants as model performers of the move. A natural progression that occurs between learning to sit up and being able to stand, the squat has five form ideals, so take note:
- Torso is upright
- Back is straight
- Knees track over (not past) the toes
- Hips dip below knee height
- Weight is in the heels
How to correct your squat form
Problem: Your knees collapse in
Once you’ve lowered into position, your knees cave in so they align closer to your big toes than the middle of your feet. It’s a condition called valgus and can be both the cause and an effect of knee pain – it’s sometimes linked to ligament sprains or tears.
The Cause: Some experts blame tight hips – from too much sitting, running without stretching or both. But recent research suggests that stiff ankles may also be responsible. Limited ankle dorsiflexion (a fancy term for how well you can point your foot up) causes your feet to turn in as you squat, which rotates your legs, knees included, inward.
The Fix: Reduce sitting hours and spend three minutes stretching your hips with lunges when you wake up, after a workout and before bed. Strengthening hamstrings and glutes will also help lessen stress on your hips – try three sets of 20 glute bridges four days a week. To improve ankle mobility, trace lower-case Ts for a minute daily.
Problem: Your lower back arches
As you deepen into your squat, your spine looks more like half of a U than an I – well beyond a natural curve in your back. The stress on your spine in this position (especially if you add weight) may increase your risk of disc injuries.
The Cause: Ugh, tight hips strike again. But this time it’s combined with tense lats – the muscles around the sides of your back. The two issues combined produce anterior pelvic tilt, in which your hips rotate forward, jutting out your belly and curving your spine.
The Fix: At least twice a week, strengthen your core with planks and make time to foam-roll your lats. Lying on your side with a roller under your armpit, roll your body up and down. Yes, it will hurt, but in a good way.
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Problem: Your knees track past your toes
At the bottom of your squat, your knees are extending past your toes, so your body leans forward. Your heels are lifting off the floor, shifting your centre of gravity forward. Not only are you missing the full bum-toning benefits, but there’s a chance of face-planting.
The Cause: The issue usually traces back to poor glute activation. In other words, your quads initiate the sit-back movement instead of your glutes and hamstrings. You might also have tight calves and ankles – perhaps from daily jogs or that stiletto habit you just can’t kick – which prevents you from grounding your heels.
The Fix: Train your glutes to switch on during exercise by incorporating deadlifts and donkey kicks into your regular training. Also stretch your lower legs by bending alternate knees in a downward dog position as part of your warm-ups and cool-downs.
Problem: Your body shifts to one side
You put more weight on one side as you settle into your squat, so your body looks a bit off-balance. Use a mirror or video yourself doing the move to gauge any off-side leaning.
The cause: You’ve probably suffered an injury on the side you lean away from. If it’s recent, you’ll feel some discomfort, but if it was in the past, you’ve likely developed a muscular imbalance. If you don’t fix it, your better side will just keep getting stronger until it can no longer overcompensate, which could result in further injury.
The Fix: See a physiotherapist to figure out what’s causing you to favour one side. When you have your diagnosis, your physio can recommend moves to remedy it.
Can you squat without weights?
Yes! Squats using only your bodyweight, also known as ‘bodyweight squats’ are a great way to build strength and nail form before progressing onto weighted variations.
Gunnar Peterson, celebrity trainer known to whip the Kardashian’s into shape when needed, demonstrates the perfect bodyweight squat:
a) Stand with your feet at shoulder width, chest proud and your core switched on.
b) With your weight in your heels, sit back and down into a squat aiming to get your quads parallel to the ground. Push back up to the start and repeat.
Should you do squats everyday?
As with everything, variety is the spice of life! Don’t get so fixated on squats you forget about the HIIT class you love or Saturday swim sesh that keeps you sane after a long week.
That being said, smashing out a perfect squat every time will have knock-on effects in all areas of your fitness regime, including building the lower body and core strength necessary t0 correctly execute other functional movements, such as lunges, deadlifts and split squats.
Once you’ve mastered the squat, try these variations
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Marissa Gainsburg Marissa Gainsburg is the Features Director at Women’s Health, where she oversees the magazine’s news-meets-trends Warm Up section and Love & Life section. Victoria Joy Deputy Editor (Print) Victoria oversees the print editorial content of Women’s Health magazine including the travel section, and was a freelance health and wellness editor for six years prior to joining the team in April 2017 – she writes travel and health trend content for the WH website.
Squats might seem simple, but they’re actually incredibly technical—and easy to mess up. Carolyn Parker, a Gym Jones instructor and the founder of the Ripple Effect Athlete Training Center in Carbondale, Colorado, estimates that 90 percent of the people who walk into her gym, including both recreational athletes and professionals, could use some serious help with their squats.
“Outdoor athletes typically don’t have a gym base and have never been taught how to squat properly,” she says. “They just move their bodies in the mountains in the way that feels easiest.” When we prefer to play outside instead of hit the gym, we typically overdo it and neglect strength, stretching, and mobility work. “That’s where we start to see poor form and injury,” Parker says.
When done correctly, the squat is the ultimate exercise to build strength, power, and mobility in the legs. Across all squat variations, the primary muscles involved are the quadriceps, glutei maximi, and the large hip adductors on the inner thigh. While these are the main movers, other muscle groups engage to act as stabilizers, such as the calves, hamstrings, erector spinae (back), core, and obliques, depending on the type of squat and how you’re carrying the weight.
Bret Contreras, a coach, author of The Glute Lab, and a leading expert on glute training, has conducted many experiments to measure muscle activity during exercises and found that all types of squats essentially do the same thing. “Most squat and single-leg variations elicit similar levels of muscle activation, even if they feel different,” he says. The findings reinforce the point that there’s no need to get fancy with complicated squat variations—they only offer subtle differences in the balance of muscle activation. But there is something to be said for starting with the easiest version of a basic squat and gradually ramping up the difficulty. If you’re new to squatting, or working with limited mobility, starting slow will keep you injury-free.
Below, Parker and Contreras walk through the basics of proper squat form through a progression of exercises.
How to Do a Perfect Squat
Stand tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and your toes facing forward or slightly angled out. A wider stance with angled feet might work better if you lack ankle mobility. The important thing here is to feel stable and comfortable. Stand with your toes on a line to ensure one foot is not in front of the other. Keep your hips level and square.
Hold your chest and head high. Look directly forward, not up or down, to keep your neck in a neutral position. Pull your shoulders back and down, and engage your core muscles. Keep your spine stacked in a neutral position throughout the movement, without leaning forward or rounding your back (although it’s OK to maintain the natural curve in your lower back).
Shift your weight to over your heels. (You should be able to wiggle your toes.) Bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips at the same rate to lower into the squat. Keep your hips square, your torso upright, and your spine neutral throughout the movement. Engage your glutes, and push through your heels to stand up.
When you lower into a squat, your knees should track over your toes but not beyond, and they should not collapse inward at any time, since this motion is associated with knee pain. If you cannot maintain adequate knee control, strengthen your glutei medii (hip abductors) first. Keep your nose, knees, and toes vertically aligned, like there’s an invisible wall in front of you.
Squat depth is achieved through hip flexion and ankle dorsiflexion, Contreras says, not the rounding of the spine. You’ll only be able to go as far as your mobility allows with good form. While some people can drop their butts to their heels in a full squat, that range of motion isn’t usually necessary in outdoor sports. “For mountain athletes, the sweet spot for depth is an inch below having your quads parallel to the floor,” says Parker.
If you attempt to go too low for your mobility, you will likely compensate by rounding your back and compromising lumbar stability. Deep squats, even with excellent form, can also stress the hip joints and lead to hip pain. “There’s no need to risk injury to the knees and other joints,” Parker adds.
Focus on one aspect at a time, to shore up your weakness, and if you have any doubts, work with a coach or a trainer. As you practice, you’ll gradually improve your form, awareness, and range of motion and will ultimately increase your athletic potential. “It’s a lot to focus on at once, and mastery can take a while,” Parker says. “But if you take the time to truly learn the movement, in three to six months you’ll be a different athlete.” The progression below will help you get there.
The Moves: Squat Progression
Master the first three moves in the order listed before adding weight. Then progress to high reps—around 15—and low weight (you should still have a few reps in the gas tank when you’re done). As your form improves and you get stronger, gradually increase the amount of weight and the number of sets, and lower the number of reps per set. Start with the first three exercises, and only move to the final three once you’ve perfected the easier variations.
Previous (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter)
Sit to Stand (Box Squat)
What it does: Trains proper stance, spinal stability, and glute activation. Mountain athletes tend to be quad dominant and underutilize their glutes to come up out of a squat, says Parker, so you must learn to engage the glutes to make sure they share the workload.
How to do it: Sit on the edge of a box or a bench (ideally one that comes to just below your knees in height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor when you sit). Place your hands on your hips, square your feet in front of you, and engage your glute muscles—as in, actively squeeze your butt—then stand until your knees are fully extended. Reverse the movement to sit again, and repeat. Focus on proper squat form and glute activation.
If you’re struggling to maintain good form, try a variation: start standing, squat to sit on the box, then stand up again. While it’s often used as a teaching tool, powerlifters will occasionally bring back the box for loaded squats to improve performance. Keep the box in mind as you progress.
Volume: Two to three sets of 10 to 15 reps
(Photo: Hayden Carpenter)
What it does: Trains a correct nose-knees-toes alignment, using the wall as a barrier to enforce upright form, and improves hip and ankle mobility.
How to do it: Stand facing a wall, with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider and your toes a few inches away. Hold your chest and head high, pull your shoulders back and down, and keep your spine in a neutral position. Shift your weight to your heels, place your hands on your hips, then gently guide them backward as you bend your knees to lower into a squat. Focus on working the hips backward while maintaining a neutral spine. Lower until your thighs are an inch or two below parallel to the floor, or as far as your mobility will allow without breaking form, then press through the heels to stand up. Move slowly and in control. For this exercise, depth is less important than form.
Volume: Three sets of ten reps
Previous (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter)
Squat to Box
What it does: Strengthens the squatting muscles while practicing proper form. “The box ensures you’re going to the same depth every rep, instead of progressively skimping on range of motion as you fatigue,” says Contreras.
How to do it: Perform this exercise as you would for box squats, but instead of sitting on the box every repetition, squat until you lightly tap the box with your butt, without fully sitting down, then stand up again, and repeat.
Like with the box squat, start with a taller box if you lack the ankle and hip mobility. As your mobility and strength improve, gradually decrease the box height until you can perform the exercise with good form on a box that’s just below knee level in height.
Volume: Three sets of ten reps
Previous (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter)
What it does: Strengthens the main squatting muscles—the quads, glutes, and adductors—and also activates the back and core muscles as stabilizers. The kettlebell acts as a counterweight, which can help you stay upright and achieve greater depth with good form.
How to do it: Perform squats as described above while holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell with both hands at chest level. Remember to keep your feet and hips square, your spine neutral, and your knees tracking over your second toes—but not beyond. Keep your weight over your heels, and lower only as far as you can with good form, then push through the heels to stand up.
Volume: Three to four sets of eight to ten reps
Previous (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter)
What it does: Strengthens the main squatting muscles. These place more load on the anterior chain (front of the body) and put more emphasis on the quads as opposed to the glutes. The bar allows you to increase the load of the goblet squat, which is limited to the weights of kettlebells. As with the goblet squat, holding the load in front of your body can help with muscle activation and to stay upright, so most people find it easier than a back squat.
How to do it: With an overhand grip, grab a barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, then clean it (lift the bar into a rack position), so it rests on the front of your shoulders with your elbows parallel and high. Perform squats as described above.
Volume: Three to four sets of eight to ten reps
Previous (Hayden Carpenter) (Hayden Carpenter)
What it does: Strengthens the main squatting muscles. These place more load on the posterior chain (back of the body) and put more emphasis on the glutes as opposed to the quads.
How to do it: Stand beneath the barbell in a rack, position it on the back of your shoulders, and grasp the handle with a wide, comfortable grip. Keep your elbows back and your shoulder blades engaged. Stand up to remove the barbell from the rack, and perform squats as described above.
Volume: Three to four sets of eight to ten reps
(Photo: Hayden Carpenter)
What it does: Works the typical squat muscles, with the addition of the deltoids (shoulders) and trapezii (upper-back muscles) to lift and stabilize the barbell overhead.
How to do it: No matter how good you think you are at front and back squats, the overhead squat is a different game. “I have very few of my athletes do these,” says Parker. “It’s a complex movement, and most people do not have the combined hip and shoulder mobility to do it safely.” Try these only once you have mastered squat technique and have adequate hip and shoulder mobility.
Start with a piece of PVC pipe to focus on technique before adding weight, and return to the wall. Hold the pipe with a wide overhand grip, then snatch it overhead. Keep your elbows fully extended with the bar in the air, slightly behind your head. Step up to face the wall, a few inches away, and perform squats as described above.
Once you have the overhead wall squat nailed, move away from the wall and practice it with a barbell only, then gradually add weight.
Volume: Three to four sets of six to eight reps
Filed To: ExercisesAthletesInjury PreventionLegsCoreSports Lead Photo: Drazen_/Getty