Squats are called by many “the king of exercises”. It is definitely one of the best exercises you can do, especially for your lower body. It works your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings and also strengthens the core. On top of that, it improves your balance and coordination. However, squats are also one of the most difficult exercises to learn. If you’re a beginner and don’t know how to do a proper squat, you risk injuring your knees or back. For a minimal chance of injury and best results, it’s important to learn the correct form. So, below we’ll look at the proper squat technique and the key benefits of including it into your workout program.
The Bodyweight Squat Technique
To set the foundation for future squats with weights, start by learning the bodyweight squat. This will help you to develop the proper form and since you’re using just the weight of your body, there’s minimal risk of injury if you make a mistake.
- Start by standing straight with your feet a bit wider than your hips. Point the toes slightly out at about 5-20 degree angle. Pull back your shoulders and raise your chest. Your head should be facing forward and you can pick a spot in front of you at which you’ll be looking throughout the movement. At no point during the squat should you be looking up or down.
- The arms you can extend in front of you to be parallel to the ground. This will help to keep the balance. Alternatively, you can pull your elbows close to the body and have the palms facing each other and the thumbs pointing up.
- Your spine should be in a neutral position throughout the movement. No rounding or excessive arching.
- Breath in, contract your abs, push your hips back and start bending the knees. It’s important to start with the hips and not the knees. It should feel like as if you were sitting back into a chair, not going straight down. As you descend and move your butt backward, you should feel the weight shifting to your heels. Also, watch your kneecaps. They should be in line with your feet and facing the same direction as your toes. Don’t let your knees collapse inward and don’t let them go out past the toes.
- Make sure that the chest and shoulders keep upright. Also, keep the body tight the entire time.
- Descend until your hip joints are lower than your knees. This will get your thighs parallel to the ground. You can also go deeper until your butt touches your ankles. It will give a greater range of motion but will also affect how heavy you can lift. On the other hand, doing only a partial squat, meaning doing a quarter or halfway down, will only work your quads. A partial squat will not strengthen your glutes and hamstrings. So it’s up to your physical ability and preference.
- Once you’ve reached the bottom position, it’s time to stand back up. Squeeze your glutes, push your hips forward and drive through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position. It’s important to push from your heels, which will help to keep the correct and activate the right muscles. As you return to the starting position, you can also breath out.
Keep in mind that even though there are basic guidelines for a correct squat form, it will also depend on your build and level of mobility. So your perfect squat might not be perfect for another person. You should find what works for your body.
Squats With Weights
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, you’re ready to add some weights to the exercise. There are a few variations that you can do. You can use a barbell and do a front, back or an overhead squat. You can also use dumbbells or kettlebell and do plenty of other variations. Depending on the variation you choose, you’ll be utilizing slightly different muscles. However, all the variations will have the same basic setup.
Beginners usually start with the back squat. It’s also commonly done by general lifters and powerlifters. This exercise works most of your body and is a great way to improve overall mobility.
How Low Should You Go?
When reading up on how low you should squat, you can find conflicting information. Some people insist on ass-to-grass squats others say that partial squats are better since they are safer for your knees.
The ass-to-grass squats mean going down until your butt touches your ankles. The movement requires a full range of motion and proper mobility throughout the spine.
However, due to strength or mobility issues, some people can find it challenging going that low. But with regular practice and keeping proper deep squat form, you can address those issues. You can also try adjusting your stance to find the most comfortable squatting position. The shoulder-width apart stance and the direction of the toes is just a general recommendation.
With all that said, weighted squats are a different story. By going really low with a heavy load can create a butt wink. The term describes the moment at the bottom of a squat when the back starts excessively flexing. Your pelvis rotates backward and slips under the body. This can be bad news for your lower back. It also decreases how heavy you can squat with.
The notion that squatting below parallel is bad for your knees is a myth. Squatting below parallel is actually a natural movement. Squats are only bad for your knees when you have bad form. For example, squatting with only bending your knees or letting the knees cave in too much are the things that can injure your knees joints.
In all, when doing weighted squats, bringing your hips just below the knees is fine. If doing bodyweight squats, on the other hand, you can go deeper since it’s safer and will improve your mobility and your level of comfort in the squat.
Common Squat Mistakes
Knees Going Too Far Forward
To prevent knee pain and injury, keep them from moving past your toes. If they do, try to shift your weight to the heels and sit back more into the squat. Also, instead of the knees leading the squat, make sure to start with the hips, pushing them backward.
Knees Caving In
To keep the knees healthy, it’s also important not to bring them too far in or out. Moving the knees inwards is especially dangerous. It will put too much stress on your knees and can damage the ligaments. So make sure to keep the knees pointing in the same direction as the toes. You can also try to make your stance a bit wider or narrower, adjust it depending on your hip mobility and body type.
Not Going Low Enough
Depending on your goals, you can go lower. However, no matter what the goal is, you should at least do parallel or lower. Doing partial squats will leave glutes and hamstrings out of the exercise and will also put stress on your knees. Shallow squats also limit your range of motion and because of that, it won’t provide with maximal leg development.
Shifting the Weight Onto Your Toes
Squatting should be done by pushing through your heels. If you shift onto your toes, it makes your body lean forward, which you want to avoid. When you go forward, it puts all your body weight on your knees and deters from engaging the glutes. So sit back and press through your heels.
Also, make sure that the heels don’t come off the ground during the ascend. It leads to the same leaning forward problem.
Rounding the Lower Back
During the entire movement, maintain a flat and neutral spine. Rounding your back can be dangerous for your lumbar spine, especially under the weight of a heavily loaded bar.
You can stabilize your lumbar spine by engaging your intra-abdominal pressure. Making a deep breath into your stomach before you go down will support your back and provide stability for the movement.
Descending Too Quickly
Squatting too fast increases your chances of injury because it makes it more difficult to control the movement. You should explode with power when ascending, but going down keep it slow and focus on maintaining proper form.
Looking Upward or Down
During the squats, should be looking directly forward. You should not be looking up or down. Facing up curves your cervical spine and looking down rounds your back. Both of these you want to avoid. You can find a spot in front of you and keep looking at it the entire time you’re squatting.
Forgetting to Breathe
It’s important to maintain proper breathing as you squat. Breath into your belly as you descend, which will stabilize your core, and then slowly exhale as you rise up.
Common Squat Questions
How Many Squats Should I do?
There’s no magic number. It all depends on the results you want to achieve and your fitness level. If you want to build fuller glutes, you can start with 50 bodyweight squats a day. If you are a starting weighted squats, you can start with 3 sets of 12-15 reps, two or three times a week. And, if you want to gain more lower body power, add weights and try 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps.
How Much Weight Should I Squat?
There are many different factors that can determine the answer. It depends on your fitness level, gender, age, body weight and other factors. So appropriate squat weight will vary from one individual to another. However, if you’re squatting for the first time, start with using just your body weight. Once you’ve developed strength and proper form, start to gradually increase the weight. For example, you can start by adding 5-10% of your body weight. Then, as you continue building strength, add more weight.
Are Squats Bad For Your Knees?
The idea that squats are bad for your knees came from a study done by Dr. Karl Klein around 1960. However, since then it has been proven wrong by multiple studies. But that doesn’t mean that squats can’t be dangerous for your knees. Potential knee injuries can come from poor form.
Do Squats Help You Lose Weight?
Squats will not only shape your butt but will also help you to burn the most calories for the time spent training. You can also add weight to increase the workout intensity, which will also help you build muscle mass and will accelerate your metabolism and weight loss.
How Many Calories Do Squats Burn?
To figure how many calories your squats are burning, you need to take into consideration a few factors. You can use the following formula to get an estimate:
Calories burned = your body weight (add weights if you’re using them) x number of squats x .096