Squats are great to develop lower body strength and mass, but at the same time it is one of the most difficult exercises to perform with proper form. For that reason, it is important to practice a lot with little to no weight before you gradually add weight to your squats.
How will you achieve proper squat form?
- Chest and shoulder position: Keep your shoulders back and your chest out when you’re squatting to achieve a proper spine alignment.
- Head position: Keep your neck straight during the whole exercise. If you don’t, the spinal column will not be aligned and this will put you in risk of injuries, especially if you’re lifting heavy. For this reason, it’s hard to check your own form, so you should have a trainer or a training partner check your form.
- Lower back position: Keep your lower back (lumbar spine) flat once you’re starting the squat and maintain a neutral position as you squat. Hyperextending your lower back or rounding your back will put a lot of pressure on your intervertebral discs, and this can lead to hernias.
- Foot position: Your feet should be firmly planted on the ground with your toes pointed slightly outwards. This will help you stabilize the movement. The wider your feet are, the more work you will do with your glutes and hamstrings. A wider stance will also give you a greater stability. If you have your feet closer you will work more with your quadriceps but you should avoid this position if you’re lifting very heavy weights, to not risk injuries.
- Proper respiration: If you are squatting with weights, take a deep breath and hold it in your chest and abdomen (both your stomach and your chest should be going out as you inhale since you want to inhale with your diaphragm). Contract your abdominal muscles to create abdominal pressure that protects your spine before you lift off the bar. Keep the air and the abdominal pressure as you’re going down and then, when you’re pushing up slowly breathe out. Keep your abdominal contracted to maintain the pressure and protect your spine. Once you’re standing straight, you take a new breath and start over. Maintain this breathing pattern during the whole exercise.
- Hip movement/flexibility: Engage your hips so that your butt will move backward as you’re going down during the squat. This way you will not put too much pressure on your knees and avoid serious injuries. Never lift your heels from the floor.
- Squat depth: This part is deeply connected to your flexibility. You should aim to go as deep as possible but, at the same time, make sure you don’t have pain in your knees or lower back and keep the right form at all times. If you go deeper than your flexibility allows, you risk losing form and exposing yourself to injuries.
- Return to the initial position: Complete the squat by completely extending your hip while still contracting your glutes before starting the next repetition.
As you can tell, there are a lot of details to check to maintain good form. That’s why you should always have a trainer or a training partner to help you with this exercise, especially when you’re not so used to it. If you on occasion train without a trainer or partner, it can be helpful to film your lifts and review them right after.
Most common mistakes you can do during your squat:
- Insufficient warm up: As I stated before warming up is very important and even more so when you are doing a complex exercise like squats. Rowing, bodyweight squats and some stretching can be a good warm up.
- Your knees go inward: Your knees should be in line with your feet to avoid injuries and also be able to go deeper in your squat. To avoid this turn your toes out a little until your knees stay in correct position during the whole exercise. This problem can also occur if you’re unevenly trained in your muscles. In this case, it would mean that your gluteus maximus muscles are more trained than your vastus medialis, sartorius and gracilis muscles which are the ones working to keep your knees in the right position and “pulling out” the knees.
- You lean forward too much with your body: You should put much of your weight on your heels while lowering into a squat. This will help you to keep your torso relatively straight through the exercise. This can change a little based on which kind of bar position you’re using in your exercise. If you’re doing the “low-bar” version of the exercise, the correct form will be leaning forward a bit more than the “high-bar” version. The bar will stay balanced over the mid-foot in each case and this requires that the back to change a little based on that.
- You go down too quickly: If you go down too quickly during the exercise, you will be exposed to injuries since it’s easier to lose form that way.
- You are not squatting deep enough: Your squats are much less effective when you’re not going deep enough, so it’s better to have a lighter weight and maintain proper form and depth for this exercise. You can fix this by having a wider stance of your feet: this will allow you to stay in balance and go deeper at the same time.
- You’re squatting too deep in relation to your flexibility: This is also a problem because, if you squat too deep in relation to your hip flexibility, your will not be able to maintain a neutral position of your lower back, which will put you at risk of injuries.
Do you squat? Which part of the exercise is the most difficult for you? Leave your comment below!