Takeaway: An improper squat form can put you on bed rest for a few days with a serious workout injury. Learn how to do a proper squat in a safe, simple, and effective manner. A proper squat form can reduce the chance of injury and help you reap all the benefits of squatting to work your glutes!
Benefits of a Proper Squat Form:
A proper squat form can strengthen your legs, glutes, and many other muscles. It can improve your lower body mobility, and keep your bones and joints in good health. Squatting is one of the most time-effective moves for shaping your entire lower body since it uses all major muscle groups in your lower body.
Building strength in your backside with squats will enable you to pick up heavy objects correctly by using your lower body instead of your back. People tend to shy away from doing squats when they have a history of knee problems, but studies have shown that doing a proper squat can actually improve knee stability and strengthen the connective tissues surrounding it.
Squats are also one of the best exercises out there for promoting mobility, flexibility, and balance with everyday benefits.
How to Squat: The Basics of a Proper Squat Form
The last time you did a proper squat was most likely when you were just a baby. As babies, we learn how to squat before we can learn how to stand or walk. However, as adults, we are so used to standing and walking that we must re-teach ourselves how to do a proper squat.
Proper Squat Form
- To start, pretend there is an imaginary chair behind you. Start with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and drive your hips back as if you are going to take a seat on the chair; all the while keeping your abs tightened (act as if someone is about to poke your stomach).
- With your thighs parallel to the floor, go back as deep as you can without losing your balance. If you have knee issues, it is recommended that you only aim for a 90-degree angle.
- Shift all of your weight to your heels, your toes and heels should remain glued to the floor.
- Keeping your back straight, thinking about pushing your heels into the ground as you use them to straighten your legs, push yourself back up, and to return to the starting position.
- Be sure to keep your knees in line with your toes whenever you bend down, don’t let them cave in.
- Your torso should tilt naturally as you squat, but there should be no rounding of the shoulders, chest or back.
Proper Squat Depth
Your hips should always go lower than your knees, but the depth of your squat depends on your flexibility and strength. It’s great if you can sit deeper into your squat and maintain proper form. If you’re not quite there yet, squat as low as you can while keeping proper form.
Keep in mind that you can always improve your squat form; the deeper you squat, the more you can optimize your form. But don’t compromise quality for the sake of quantity.
It is recommended that you squat about three to four times a week, doing about three sets of 20 every time. Over time, you’ll see improvement in your form and a more toned backside.
Common Squat Mistakes
1. Bending Your Knees First
People often bend the knees before reaching back. Bending the knees first makes for an ineffective squat form that places a ton of unnecessary stress on your knees. When you start to squat, think about sitting back and not about bending the knees. To properly shift your weight to your heels, move your butt as far back as you can.
2. “Caving In”
Letting your knees “cave in” is also a common mistake when it comes to proper squat form. Don’t let your knees cave in for the sake of going deeper into your squat position. This will put a strain on your knees and increase the chance of injury. Make sure to keep your knees aligned with your toes at all times. If your toes are pointed outward than your knees should be pointing outwards too!
3. Rounding Your Back
Rounding or hunching your back is another common mistake when it comes to squatting. Don’t forget about your posture even if you are doing a lower body exercise. A helpful tip is to look straight ahead and try to avoid looking down. You can also stretch your hands straight out in front of you as an indicator that you’re keeping your back straight. If your arms begin to bend towards your knees slightly, this means that your back is hunched, and you’ve compromised your form.
4. Lifting Your Heels
The last common mistake that should be avoided to ensure a proper squat form is to lift your heels off the ground. All the power that you need to stand from a squatting position should come from your heels. In other words, pressing your heels into the ground ensures the right muscle activation and balance for a proper squat.
How to Warm Up for Squats
It is recommended that we spend a total of 10 minutes stretching and warming up our muscles before we do any squats. Ten minutes might seem like a long time, but warming up helps to improve the depth of our squat and reduces the risk of injury during our workout. Complete the following warm-up circuit to get your muscles squat-ready:
- Foam Roll (four minutes): There are plenty of benefits to foam rolling before you start squatting. Foam rolling increasing blood flow in the body, improves the movement of lower body muscles, and give you a better range of motion.
- Squat Sit (one minute): Warms up your hips and glutes, and can also relieve any back pain or discomfort before you start your workout.
- Squat Sit to Reach (one minute): You either love them or you hate them, but they definitely work to improve mobility and warm up your leg muscles.
- Groiners (one minute): A dynamic exercise that strengthens the hips and core while increasing hip mobility and joint flexibility.
- Lateral Lunges (one minute): A great exercise to warm up and work the sides of the glutes, which are important stabilizer muscles for the hip joint, and are often neglected.
- Soleus Stretch (one minute): This stretch can help maintain or improve flexibility in your calf muscles and Achilles tendon. Stretching muscles can help ensure that your muscles and joints can move freely during a workout.
- Butterfly Stretch (one minute): the butterfly stretch helps to open up the hips and thighs and improves flexibility. This stretch targets the groin area, loosening and lengthening the inner thigh muscles.
Squat Stance Matters
The secret to a perfect squat is to widen your stance. Taking a wider stance than hip-width has been shown to provide the same level of quad activation as a traditional narrow position, but squatting wide also offers distinct advantages. A wider stance can promote gluteal and quadriceps activation, ankle mobility, and better power production.
A wider stance also recruits more muscles to do a squat properly and is a more encompassing movement compared to a narrow stance. The goal of any exercise should be to engage as many muscles as possible, and a wider stance is better suited to accomplish precisely that.
How to Do Squats With Weights
A basic squat is usually done without any additional weights. Once you’ve mastered the proper squat form, you can move on to doing squats with weights. Doing squats with weights adds additional resistance to your glutes, hamstrings, and thighs. Try some of these weighted-squat exercises to challenge yourself during your next leg day:
- Kettlebell Squat: Hold the kettlebell in front of you, keeping it close to your chest. Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Remember to keep your tummy tucked in to engage your ab muscles. With a tight grip on the kettlebell, start sitting back, lowering into a squat position. Place all your weight on your toes and heels, and use them to return to the starting position.
- Resting Dumbbells on Your Shoulders: Start with your feet shoulder width apart and place the dumbbells on your shoulders holding the weights in place with your hands. Keep the weights steady on your shoulders as you lower into a squat and return to starting position. Remember to keep your tummy tight as you move through the reps to engage your ab muscles.
- Holding Dumbbells by Your Sides: Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand, and let your arms hang freely on either side. Lower your weights down past your knees as you squat, and back up toward your hips as you return to starting position. Remember not to cave your knees in or round your back, as this can lead to injury. Start with a low dumbbell weight and work your way to heavier weights as you progress.
How to Use a Squat Rack
We usually avoid lifting heavy weights at the gym because we don’t have a spotter. This is where the squat rack comes into play! A squat rack will allow you to do any exercise without the risk of a serious injury and without the assistance of a spotter. Most gyms have a squat rack that lets you customize the amount of weight you want to squat with.
To properly do a squat on a squat rack machine, place the upper racking mechanisms approximately shoulder height on each side. This is where you will put the bar in between sets. Place the lower safety racks about an inch below the lowest absolute point that you wish to travel. Place the bar on the upper racking mechanisms and place the appropriate weight onto the bar. Use collars to secure the weight. When you’re ready, remove the bar from the rack and onto your back. Perform the exercise, with the proper squat form, not letting the added weight compromise your squats.
How to Spot a Squat
Spotting someone who is squatting can get a bit technical. Because the person squatting usually requests a spot, the spotter needs to know where to be and what to do.
Most people think that there is no need for assistance when it comes to unracking the weight, but this is actually where the aid is crucial. More accidents actually occur during the racking and unracking process than during the actual lifting and execution of the squat exercise.
The best position for the spotter is with your arms hooked under the lifter’s arms, and your forearms along their lats. As they lift off and get into position, you step back with them and stay in place. Remember that you don’t want to touch the lifter during the squat. As a spotter, your job is to ensure that the lifter doesn’t get injured if the lifter goes down.
How to Squat on a Smith Machine
To squat on a Smith machine, position the bar just below shoulder level and adjust the safety stops right above knee height. Place your pinkies on the smooth ring of the barbell. Get under the bar and position at the base of your traps looking straight ahead.
Unrack the bar by rotating your wrists to remove the safety hooks. Inhale and keep your elbows in line with your torso. Simultaneously pushing the hips back and bending the knees. Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, return to the starting position by driving your heels into the floor and using your quads to come back up. Exhale on your way up as you extend your hips and knees into the starting position.
How to Do a Wide Stance Barbell Squat
To do a Wide Stance Barbell Squat, stand in a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance with toes pointed outward. Rest the bar firmly on the back of your shoulders, keep your grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your core tight and chin parallel to the floor.
Slowly sit back, lowering your hips towards the ground until thighs become parallel to the floor, performing a deep squat. Pause at your lowest point, and use your heels to push yourself back up to the starting position.
How to Do Front Squats
To do a front squat on the Smith machine, position the bar just underneath shoulder height. Hold your arms straight out, step underneath the bar, and allow it to sit on top of your shoulders, against your neck.
Once the bar is in position, place one hand overtop each shoulder to stabilize the bar. Take a breath and unrack the bar by rotating your wrists back to move the safeties. Sit directly between your legs, simultaneously bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Push up by driving your heels into the ground, and come back to the original position.
How to Do a Low Bar Squat
Athletes competing in the sport of powerlifting often use the low bar squat technique as it allows them to lift more weight. It is often a better and preferred movement for anyone who struggles to keep their chest up and weight in heels during a high bar back squat. Men’s Health has a great and in-depth video on how to properly do a low bar squat.
How to Do a Pistol Squat
The Pistol Squat is a low squat on one leg where your hamstring rests on your calf, and your other leg is straight out in front of you. It is an advanced exercise and requires a serious game plan to avoid overloading the knee.
Stand with your feet apart, raising one foot slightly off the ground while you balance on the other. Hold your arms straight out in front of you parallel to the floor, palms facing downward, keeping your core tight. Hinge at the hips to begin lowering your body toward the ground. Ensure that the heel of your balanced foot never leaves the ground.
Your other leg should be extending straight out in front of you parallel to the floor while you start descending downward. At the bottom of the movement, your glute should be resting on your calf (on the balance foot side).
Once you reach the bottom, pause and then begin moving back up into a standing position. Don’t allow your raised foot to touch the floor before starting the next repetition. Do as many reps as you can. This is an advanced movement and does not require high reps. Think quality over quantity with this one.
How to Do an Asian Squat
The Asian Squat, (or the Slav Squat) as explained by Soulscape, is a human evolutionary pose many claimed to be unique to Asians. It involves planting both feet firmly on the ground and squatting all the way down with your legs turned out, leaving your bum inches away from the floor.
To do an Asian squat, start by standing upright with your feet shoulder width apart and feet planted firmly into the ground. Next, squat down without lifting your heels off the ground. For beginners, you can begin by placing a folded towel at the back of your heel to give a slightly elevated edge.
Slowly, turn your thighs outwards such that it is slightly wider than shoulder width. As you exhale, lean forward so that your upper body fits in between your thighs. Place your palms together and widen your inner thighs by pushing your elbows against them from the inside out. Hold this pose for a few deep breaths.
How to Do a Run Stance Squat
A Run Stance Squat is great for activation of the glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and an excellent cardio exercise as well. This is a little different than your basic squat; you’re going to get down in a squat except you’re going to act like you’re getting ready to run.
You’re going to get down as though you’re squatting, but you’re in a diagonal. You will hold the squat position for the entirety of the workout, but you will alternate from side to side. Use your arms as a driving force to switch from side to side. Focus on keeping your core tight, pushing off your heels, keeping your chest up, and landing softly as you alternate sides.