How to Squat
Let’s start with squats are my all time FAVORITE exercise! =) Some people think squats are just an easy natural movement yet what if you’re new to exercise and actually don’t know where to begin. I find a lot of people when asked to just squat will stand with narrow feet and bend down trying to keep their body totally upright causing severe pressure on the knees and lower back as well as the dreaded knee-knock. I might add this isn’t just people new to exercise, I’ve even seen “regular gym goers” squat with terrible technique, but unless you’ve been taught properly how are you actually expected to know. If you are NEW to squats start with no weights and stand next to a bench or even a chair at home. Stand facing away from the bench fairly close with feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes can be slightly turned out. From here sit down to tap the bench leading with your backside then stand back up. Ok, that’s the first step, now next time do the same action again but think about pushing your knees out away from each other so your knees are over the same direction as your toes with weight further on your heals, toes relaxed. For the first few times you can even sit down on the bench then stand back up, this is a squat! When looking at a squat from the side your chest is held up proud with shoulders back yet you do come forward quite a lot. In a perfect squat the angle of your back and your shins will be exactly the same! Once you’ve got you body weight squat technique down pact then you can work on a slightly lower squat and start to add the weights!
Squat Form 101
Your build determines how proper squat form looks like for you. The wider your shoulders are, the wider your grip should be. If you have a short torso with long thighs, you’ll lean more forward than people with a long torso and short thighs. Don’t try to squat like someone else does unless you have the same build. Follow these general squat form guidelines instead and individualize them as you gain experience….
- Stance. Squat with your heels shoulder-width apart. Put your heels under your shoulders.
- Feet. Turn your feet out 30°. Keep your whole foot flat on the floor. Don’t raise your toes or heels.
- Knees. Push your knees to the side, in the direction of your feet. Lock your knees at the top of each rep.
- Hips. Bend your hips and knees at the same time. Move your hips back and down while pushing your knees out.
- Lower Back. Squat with a natural arch like when you stand. No rounding or excess arching. Keep your back neutral.
- Grip. Squeeze the bar hard. But don’t try to support heavy weight with your hands. Let your upper-back carry the bar.
- Grip Width. Use a medium grip, narrower than when you Bench Press. Your hands should be outside your shoulders.
- Bar Position. Put the bar between your traps and rear shoulders (low bar) or on your traps (high bar). Center the bar.
- Wrists. Your wrists will bend and hurt if you try to support the bar with your hands. Carry it with your upper-back.
- Elbows. Behind your torso at the top, not vertical or horizontal. Inline with your torso at the bottom of your Squat.
- Upper-back. Arch your upper-back to create support for the bar. Squeeze your shoulder-blades and raise your chest.
- Chest. Raise your chest before you un-rack the bar. Keep it up and tight by taking a big breath before you Squat down.
- Head. Keep your head inline with your torso. Don’t look at the ceiling or at your feet. Don’t turn your head sideways.
- Back Angle. Not vertical or horizontal but diagonal. The exact back angle depends on your build and bar position.
- Un-racking. Put the bar on your back and your feet under the bar. Un-rack it by straightening your legs. Walk back.
- Way Down. Bend your hips and knees at the same time. Hips back, knees out. Keep your lower back neutral.
- Depth. Squat down until your hips are lower than your knees. Thighs parallel isn’t enough. Break parallel.
- Way Up. Move you hips straight up. Keep your knees out, your chest up and your head neutral.
- Between Reps. Stand with your hips and knees locked. Breathe. Get tight for the next rep.
- Racking. Lock your hips and knees. Then step forward, hit the rack and bend your knees.
- Bar Path. Move the bar in a vertical line over your mid-foot. No horizontal movement.
- Breathing. Big breath at the top. Hold it at the bottom. Exhale at the top.
Proper Squat Depth
Squat down until your hips are below your knees. This moves your body through a full range of motion. It strengthens your leg muscles evenly. Thighs parallel to the floor isn’t low enough. You must break parallel so the top of your knees is higher than your hip crease. If you can’t Squat parallel, put your heels shoulder-width apart and toes 30° out. Now squat while push your knees to the sides. You’ll squat deeper.
Many people do partial squats. They only squat a quarter or half the way down. This makes the weight easier to squat because it moves over less distance. You can squat more weight. But partial squats only work your quadriceps. They don’t strengthen your hamstrings and glutes which are important for knee health. Many people think partial squats are safer. But they create muscle imbalances which often cause knee injuries.
Other people like to squat deep. “Ass-To-Grass” squats (ATG) involves squatting down until your butt touches your ankles. This works your muscles through a greater range of motion. But it also decreases how heavy you can squat since the bar moves further. Plus, most people lack the flexibility to squat deep without their back rounding. I recommend you break parallel then stop. No need to squat deeper to gain strength and muscle.
Squats are more than just a leg exercise. Your legs do most of the work to squat the weight. But your abs and lower back muscles must stabilize your torso while your upper-body balances the bars. Squats work your whole body from head to toe. This is why you can do squats heavier than other exercises, and why they’re more effective for gaining overall strength and muscle. Squats work the following muscles…
- Thighs. Your legs bend when you squat while your knees stay out. Everything straightens at the top. This works your knee and hip muscles: your quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors and glutes. The squat is the best exercise to build strong, muscular legs and a firm butt.
- Calves. Your shins are incline at the bottom of your squat. They end vertical at the top. This ankle movement works your main calf muscles: your gastrocnemius and soleus. But don’t expect miracles. Genetics play a large role when it comes to building bigger calves.
- Lower Back. Gravity pulls the bar down when you Ssquat. Your lower back must resist this downward force to keep your spine neutral and safe. This strengthens the muscles on the back of your spine which protects it against injury: your erector spinae.
- Abs. Your ab muscles help your lower back muscles to keep your spine neutral when you squat. This strengthens your six-pack muscles that lie on your belly: your rectus abdominis and your obliques on the side. Stronger abs are more muscular. Eat right and they’ll show.
- Arms. Your arms assist your upper-back muscles to balance the bar on your back. Your hands squeeze the bar which increases tension in your forearms and upper-arms. Squats don’t work you arms like Chin-ups because your arms don’t bend. But you get isometric arm work.
Squats also work the muscle that pumps blood to your legs: your heart. And it strengthens the muscle between your ears: your mind. Many people hate squats because they’re so hard. But that’s also why they’re so effective for gaining strength and muscle. People who have the courage to squat every week, build discipline that becomes useful in other parts of their lives (like sticking to healthy nutrition and sleeping habits).
If you only have time to do one exercise, then squat. Squats work more muscles, with more weight, over a greater range of motion, than any other exercise. The weight is heavier than on a leg curl or leg extension. You must balance the weight and yourself unlike on the leg press where you’re sitting on a machine. The bar moves twice the distance than on deadlifts. There’s no substitute for the squat.