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How to Do the Perfect Squat
They’re sometimes referred to as the king of all exercises, and with good reason. Squats are a full body fitness staple that work the hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and sneakily strengthen the core. Squats can help improve balance and coordination, as well as bone density, too . Plus, they’re totally functional. Time to banish those sloppy squats and help perfect the go-to move.
The Bodyweight Basics
- Place feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, hips stacked over knees, knees over ankles.
- Roll the shoulders back and down away from the ears. Note: Allowing the back to round (like a turtle’s shell) will cause unnecessary stress on the lower back.
- Extend the arms out straight so they are parallel with the ground, palms facing down (like your hands are on someone’s shoulders at a 7th grade dance). Or, if it’s more comfortable, pull the elbows close to the body, palms facing each other and thumbs pointing up.
- Initiate movement by inhaling into the belly, and unlocking the hips, slightly bringing them back. Keep sending hips backward as the knees begin to bend.
- While the butt starts to stick out, make sure the chest and shoulders stay upright, and the back stays straight. Keep the head facing forward with eyes straight ahead for a neutral spine.
- Let the hip joint squat lower to the ground than the knees, if comfortable. Pro tip: Try squatting onto a box. Gentle tapping it with the butt will be a reminder to squat low.
- Engage the core, and exhale while driving through the heels to return to standing. Imagine the feet are spreading the floor (the left foot to the left, right foot to the right) without actually moving the feet.
For beginners, try squats with no weight and up the lbs once proper form is nailed down. (We don’t all have to be like this guy.) When using more weight, it’s more difficult to squat deeper. But deep squats with less weight trump shallow ones with heavy weight when it comes to making us stronger . While there are many ways to squat, we dove into three of the most common weighted squats: Goblet, back, and front squats.
These squats do not in fact include a goblet full of wine (though we’ve found no studies disproving their effectiveness). Instead, hold a kettlebell, dumbbell, or medicine ball at the sternum (the center of the chest) while performing the squat detailed above. When performing a Goblet, drop the elbows in between the legs inside the knees, for a full range of motion. Goblet squats are great for beginners (and also experienced lifters) since they keep us from leaning forward (holding weight in front of the chest is very s stable compared to other placements).
Squats can be much more difficult with a barbell, so if it’s your first time, it’s best to ask for a trainer’s guidance. For back squats, the weight rests on the back (in two positions: low or high) where it’s generally easier to squat a heavier load. The hands should be facing forward, along the same plane as the shoulders, with elbows pointing down to the ground (the arms will form a W along the bar). Make sure to keep the barbell over the center of the feet to keep the hips going back, and follow the same form for a bodyweight squat (ya know, minus holding your arms out of course!).
This squat is a much more advanced movement and requires placing a barbell across the collar bones (resting on the deltoid muscles). It also requires more flexibility than other versions, so it's often best to master the bodyweight and back squats first. The elbows should point straight out (the upper half of the arm parallel with the floor) while the fingertips reach back to grip under the bar, outside of the shoulders. While it may seem unstable to hold the bar with just the fingertips, the arm positioning forms a solid shelf, so the hands mostly prevent the bar from rolling. As long as the elbows stay up, extending straight out from the shoulders, the bar will be secure. Follow the bodyweight squat instructions for the rest of the move.
The Most Common Squat Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
The Mistake: Not dropping down low enough. The Fix: Take a slightly wider stance, which allows the body to stay steady while it squats deeper, and engages more muscle groups. It’s easy to want to squat just low enough so the thighs are parallel with the ground, but squats can be much more effective when we drop as low as possible (the hip joint lower than the knee joint) while still maintaining good form, Greatist Expert and trainer Dan Trink says.
The Mistake: The knees drift inward. The Fix: Turn the toes out (between 5 and 20 degrees, to get technical) to keep knees from caving inward. Knees should track in line with both the ankles and the hips, to help avoid injury and get deep in the squat. Glute bridges and lying clams will help knees from caving, says Greatist Expert Jordan Syatt.
The Mistake: The body leans too far forward. The Fix: Put most of your weight in the heels when lowering into a squat. The weight distribution will help keep the torso upright through the squat rather than teetering forward, and help keep the hips back and down, outside of the heels. Try to spread the floor apart by driving outwards through the back/outer portion of the heel.
The Mistake: Descending too quickly. The Fix: When weight is added, moving too quickly could increase chances of injury. It’s OK to explode with power when returning to standing (so long as the body remains controlled), but sitting into the squat should be a little slower to maintain proper form.
The Mistake: Not warming up. The Fix: Before squatting up a storm, try glute bridges to open up hips (which will allow the body to get lower in a squat). Warming up is important before taking on such a complex move. It’ll help prepare the body’s joints and muscles for movement, and might even help prevent injury once heavy lifting get underway.
What’s your favorite way to squat? Any tips we missed? Let us know in the comment section below, or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.
- Weight lifted in strength training predicts bone change in postmenopausal women. Cussler, E.C., Lohman, T.G., Going, S.B., et al. Department of Physiology, Faculty of Human Movement, Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise, 2003 Jan;35(1):10-7.⤴
- Knee Joint Kinetics in Relation to Commonly Prescribed Squat Loads and Depths. Cotter, J.A., Chaudhari, A.M., Jamison, S.T., et al. Department of Orthopaedics, University of California. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012 Oct 18.⤴
Comments Leave a comment
I am a huge fan of the front squat for several reasons. I am a big advocate of taking the bar from the ground. In essence one is developing their clean at the same time as the front squat. The largest negative is that a novice will not have the technical expertise and may not have access to someone who can teach them proper form on the clean.
Appreciate the effort greatist.com is doing to introduce the squat to people, but my advice to everyone would be to use this article just as a starting point. There are a number of recommendations on here that I would disagree with.
For instance, I wouldn't really advise people to use the same form as the bodyweight squat for the back, front or even goblet squat. If, as stated in the article, you try to keep your back straight and push your butt out at the same time, you would just be bending too far forward and make it impossible to hold on to the weight and do the exercise.
There are any number of articles available on how to do the squat properly. Three in particular that I keep on referring to are
You can also go to http://www.stumptuous.com/learning-the-squat-1-debunking-the-myths for a more female-centric point of view on the squat (There isn't one really, the form's the same for men and women, but I guess some might find reading stumptuous.com a little less intimidating and off-putting than the other suggestions above)
@ultimateposeur While each version of the squat has its own idiosyncrasies, many basic cues remain the same. Developing solid form on the bodyweight squat is a great progression to achieve good form on the more advanced, weighted version. Human physiology dictates every person's motion patterns will be slightly different for these movements. Other great cues that can be applied across forms — again, as cues, not necessarily universal truths but rather things to keep in mind while performing the movement that can help correct form issues — include chest up, knees out, etc. Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Great to have insight from as many people as possible as not the same cues work for everyone!
@nicole1 Just noticed that my comment has been deleted, didn't really think it was confrontational in tone at all, in fact I would say it was mostly even-handed in how it responded to the squat article.
So just to reiterate what I wrote in my deleted comment, I would urge people to use the article above as only the starting point in their research because I find some of the recommendations a little problematic.
Alternative articles to look at would be
For a more reader-friendly version (but not as detailed as the two above) look here: http://www.stumptuous.com/learning-the-squat-1-debunking-the-myths
@ultimateposeur Hi there! So sorry for the comment being deleted (it wasn't purposefully removed on our end). We're checking into our commenting system to see if we can retrieve it. Thanks for checking in!
@nicole1 The original comment's back, thanks for looking into it. (Chances are I might have deleted it by mistake earlier, am not that familiar with Livefyre compared to Disqus.)
Just wanted to say that I hope my comment doesn't put you off writing articles on exercise technique. God knows we don't have enough people looking to introduce these movements to the general population.
I realize that there is only so much ground you can cover in an article and it would be impossible to get everything a 100% right. If anything, my comments were only aimed at making the article better.
Appreciate that you haven't been offended by my comments and have taken them in the right spirit. As a writer myself, I know it's a useful trait to have and hope you continue in your career to be accepting of and open to constructive criticism from others.
@ultimateposeur Thank you for the kind words! No offense taken, and we really do appreciate feedback. The aim was certainly to introduce these movements to beginners (mostly), and serve as a starting point for the bodyweight squat and its weighted variations.
Very good illustrated article about the various different squats. Even covered the common mistake of dropping deep enough and how to fix it.
The other mistake is concern about the knee position. Often quoted as the knees should not go over the line of the toes. It should really read the knees should not go significantly over the toes. A good wide stance tends to put you in the correct position. Just like a toddler squats.
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