How to Squat

Why learn how to squat? Anyone can squat right?

Anyone can squat, but not everyone knows how to squat properly and safely. Learning how to properly perform a bodyweight squat is important, you should know how to squat properly before moving on to weight baring exercises like the Goblet Squat, Sumo Squat Dead Lift, Front Squat etc.

Original content can be found on my blog here http://www.tacofleur.com/blog/fitness/the-squat-done-right/

The squat is the most primal and basic exercise that everyone should be able to do properly. It’s a movement that everyone performs daily when they’re either sitting down into a chair, sitting on the toilet, bringing themselves down to the ground, or lowering themselves to safely pick something up from the ground. It’s an extremely functional exercise that no matter how basic, has some simple rules that should be followed, those rules are for a very important reason, not to make the coach look cool, but to protect your knees and lower back.
The things to keep in mind for a good squat are:

  • Feet just outside hip width
  • Feet pointing outwards in a comfortable position
  • Keep a neutral spine (see explanation below)
  • Push the chest out naturally
  • Pull the shoulders back and down
  • Push the heels, balls of your feet and toes into the ground
  • Engage the core muscles
  • Push the butt back
  • Pull the butt down towards the ground with your hamstrings
  • Push the knees outwards
  • Bring the arms upwards as much as flexibility allows
  • Knees remain inline with the hips and feet at all times
  • Keep the feet flat on the ground
  • Try to bring the butt below the knee line if flexibility and strength allows
  • Push back up through the heels
  • Squeeze the glutes (buttocks)
  • Push the hips all the way forward
  • Lock the knees fully out
  • Repeat

 

The squat is a primal exercise which I prefer to do bare feet, in fact, I prefer everything but high impact exercises bare feet. You’re more connected with the ground, better stability and your feet thank you for it.

 

Healthy Neutral Spine

Maintaining a neutral spine means to keep your spine as much as possible in the same position it was when you were standing and the spine was completely vertical with its natural curves. The spine also includes the cervical, so don’t forget to keep your head upright as well.

Breathing

Personally I will take a deep breath, slowly and controlled release part (quarter) of my air on the way down, but not all of it, I won’t relax and will keep protecting my spine by keeping my abs firm, on my way up I exhale. I’m sure there are a million and one ways to breathe, this is my preference.

Common Mistakes

First pushing the knees forward and/or pushing them too far forward over the toes, this happens when you don’t push your butt backwards first (breaking at the hips). Usually a sign of weak glutes (gluteus maximus) as well.

The knees going inwards towards each other. This is not a natural position for your knees to be in, the knees are made to bend like a hinge (flexion and extension) and not to twist or move sideways. When your knees are buckling in you’re at risk of damaging your knees. This risk is tenfold when you jump and land with the knees buckling in. Knees buckling in can also be a sign of weak abductor muscles. Common injury as a result of buckling knees is ACL tears. Fix it by pushing your knees outwards to keep them inline with the feet and hips, and/or strengthen your abductors.

Pushing back up through the balls of your feet, not a major mistake but different muscles are used, the muscles at the front of the leg are used rather than those at the back. Put the weight in your heels and push up through the heels to activate the right muscles.

Not squatting too or below the knee line is something you should strive for when performing squats, don’t worry if you’re not able to do so right away, the cause could be lacking strength, flexibility or both. Flexibility lacking, could be in the hips, hamstrings and even calfs plus ankles. Keep this in mind and do stretches to work on these areas.

Falling down in the squat rather than pulling yourself down in a controlled manner. Just falling down and relaxing all muscles puts a lot of stress on the knees and can cause serious damage to the knees when the muscles are not prepared to slow down the weight of the upper body so it comes down in a controlled manner and stops before the knee reaches maximum flexion.

Leaning forward with the upper-body when coming down or coming back up. This can be caused due to a lack of hip mobility or a weak core. Leaning forward puts unwanted pressure on your spine by making your lower-back doing all the work. Make sure to push the hips forward and push the chest out when coming back up. This becomes even more of a problem when you start to squat with weights and can cause serious lower-back injury. To assist with remaining as upright as possible, lift the arms up into the air as high as flexibility allows and look ahead, not down.

Not maintaing a neutral spine, a neutral spine is what your back looks like with a normal ‘S’ curve when you’re in a proper standing position with shoulders back. Losing the natural curve in your spine during the squat can be caused due to not having enough flexibility for the depth your squatting, in this case you should not squat as deep until your flexibility allows you to do so. It can also be caused by a weak core, your abdominal and/or lower-back muscles are weak and need to get stronger to maintain the neutral spine. This mistake becomes even more dangerous when you start to load your squads with weights and the structural foundation of your spine is not able to fully support the load.

What Are Core Muscles?

When you hear trainers say “activate your core muscles” you might be wondering “what are my core muscles?”. The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly and the mid and lower back, it’s the muscles that play a huge role in your posture, they protect your spine and other areas, they allow you to resist force and much more.

Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. Source: wikipedia

Locking the knees out or not?

First, lets define what the difference is between the two and what “locking out” actually means. When you do not lock the knees out you keep constant tension on your muscles, if you lock your knees out you come to full extension (ROM) and release the tension on the muscles.

When you’re locking out you should just stand like normal, don’t force anything and don’t jerk the knee into lockout. If you want to rest between sets, lock the knees out safely, if you want constant tension then don’t lock the knees out or perform the exercise slower to gain longer tension on the muscle. This applies to almost any joint and non-repetitive exercise you do.

Locking out a joint takes tension away from the muscles and places it on the joint/skeleton, if you’re double jointed and have a greater hyper extension than most people, you should probably avoid fully locking your knees out during exercise, especially with loaded exercises.

Should you still have questions or doubts, do what feels natural and safe to you and keep in mind not every human being is made the same, not everybody exercises with the same goals in mind, if you happen to do squats 200 times a day 7 days a week, and you feel you cannot control the lockout safely on each rep, then don’t lock out your knees! If you’re squatting with a huge amount of weight, and you feel you cannot control the lockout safely on each rep, then don’t lock out your knees. If you’re squatting an extreme amount of weight then you probably rather be safe than sorry.

If you still don’t see reason why to squat properly, lets name a few more benefits of squatting properly. Apart from the main reasons, to avoid injuries and make sure no muscles are neglected, without proper form and technique you will never be able to move on to more complex squats like; front-squats, goblet squats, back squats, pistol squats and so on.

 

IS THIS THE ONLY WAY YOU SHOULD SQUAT?

No, there is always an exception to the rule, this technique is for squatting when exercising, there are times when you need to squat differently and as long as you’re squatting safely there is no problem.
Am I demonstrating the most perfect squat known to mankind? Of course not, but it’s damn close. I’m sure someone will pick up on something, and as long as it’s constructive feedback I’m happy to hear about it.