A complete beginner’s guide to squatting.
When you are just starting out with fitness and beginning an exercise program, squat is one of the few exercises that you have to get familiar with.
For how effective this exercise really is, it is often referred to as the king of all exercises.
The squat move is functional and can help to improve your overall health when done properly.
You’ll build a stronger body and develop the strength in your core which translates to better overall performance.
It also makes your body less prone to back injuries, thanks to the improved strength.
This lower body centric move primarily works and strengthens the hips, glutes, hamstrings, quads and indirectly works the abs.
Your tendons, bones, and ligaments may also get stronger from squatting.
Though the involvement of your core may not be apparent, but it plays a vital role in squats.
From the bending squat position to straightening your legs to move the weight up, your core which includes the abs and lower back muscles isometrically stabilizes the torso.
In many ways, the squats work your entire core the same way plank does; it works isometrically.
Having strong core muscles offer numerous benefits including better functional performance in everyday life.
Your core stabilizes and helps power your daily activities and movements.
Whether it’s bending to pick up a laundry basket, hitting tennis balls with your friend or paddling a kayak, a strong and flexible core help you perform the movements more fluidly, efficiently, and robustly.
Let’s also not forget that strong, well-balanced core muscles also improve your posture and help prevent back injuries.
There is also a reason why squats are widely utilized in functional training and physical therapy sessions. It effectively works to improve your mobility in the hips, knees and ankles.
According to Stephanie Thielen, certified ACE Group Fitness Instructor, they are classified as one of the best functional exercises that mimic daily activities like moving from a seated position to a standing position.
Although despite all of the great health benefits of performing squats, when done incorrectly it can cause more harms than good.
This beginner guide to proper squat will help get acquainted with the exercise and help you perfect squat with perfect form in 4 steps: as a result, you’ll decrease your risk of hurting your back, knees and neck from while squatting.
How to Squat
Tips 1: Feet Positioning
According to Andrew Sakhani, CSCS strength coach, your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart. With this feet positioning, it involves the groin muscles, says Sakhrani.
A wider than shoulder width feet stance allows places pressure on the outside of your feet and enable activation of all the target muscles.
Tips 2: Hip Hinge
Next to feet stance, hip hinging is an important technique for proper squatting, says Marc Perry, CSCS certified personal trainer and founder of builtlean.com.
It’s also a technique many people get it wrong. Too often, squatters’ knees go over the toes, butt drop straight down, and heels come off the floor.
This happens because “proper squatting” requires balance, flexibility and mobility in the hips.
The proper way is to hinge the hips back first, so your butt moves backwards as you descended into squat position.
By doing so, your knees will no longer go over your toes (if you are tall, this may still happen, but make sure it does not put pressure on your knees).
At the bottom position of the squat, you should feel the pressure of the squat on your heels.
This hinging technique helps you get more depth in your squat. You can read his full article here..
The takeaway here is to push your hips back first and then bend at the knees.
Tips 3: Normal Lordotic Curve – Lumbar Spine
Erick Cressey, C.S.C.S strength coach stated it is important to maintain the spine naturally arched or lordotic curve as you squat in order to be effective in improving tolerance to compressive loads.
To avoid putting too much pressure on your low back, he warns it’s best not to hyperextend the spine.
Tips 4: Hip and Ankle Flexibility
Squatting is a closed chain exercise, and its mechanics of the hips will influence the entire kinetic chain, says Paul Chek, MS, HHP, NMT.
What that means is, the foot positioning will influence the mechanics of the knees, hips, pelvis and lower back.
Proper squats require flexion at the ankle and hips during the descent portion of the squat.
When this happen, forces will be distributed evenly throughout the kinetic chain. So proper flexibility at the hips and ankle is required for proper squatting says Joshua J Stone, NASM certified personal trainer.
Like with all exercises, you can’t reap the full benefits of squats unless you perform with good (correct) form.
Learning exercise techniques should always be the very first thing you do when you first begin working out.
Also, if you have been squatting but haven’t seen results, the chances are you are not squatting with proper form.
It’s time to get back to the basics and learn 3 squat techniques you need to implement to get the most out of your squatting exercise.
How to do squats properly without hurting your knees, back or neck in easy steps:
How to do a proper squat
1. Bodyweight Squats
- Start in a standing position in which your body is upright and your spine is neutral.
- Position your feet slightly wider than your shoulder-width, toes turning out, and keep your legs straight.
- Hold your chest up and raise your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing down.
- Breathe in and hinge your hips back by bending at your knees and hips, allowing your hips to ease backward.
- Keep your spine neutral and ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor ( or further if you have good hip mobility). Pause, then return to the starting position.
- Hold your torso upright throughout the exercise.
- Keep your head straight and gaze forward
- Hold your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor.
- Ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Hold your chest up
2. Dumbbells Squats
- Stand up straight and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging straight down on each side of your body.
- Position your legs using a shoulder stance with the toes slightly pointing out.
- Keep your chest up high and look straight ahead for the entire exercise.
- Sit your hips back as you flex your knees to squat down. Ensure that the bend in your knees follows the line of your feet.
- Continue to squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor ( or further if you have good hip mobility and flexibility). Pause, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions. Aim for 10-12 reps for 2-3 sets.
3. Sumo Squats / Plie Squats
Sumo squat also known as plie squat is a squat variation that works your inner thighs.
A primary difference with sumo squats and basic squats is your foot stance. With sumo squat, they are positioned wider with toes turned out at an angle.
The wider stance places more emphasis on the inner thigh muscles (adductors) in addition to glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and calves as you do in the regular squat exercise.
The weight is held with straight arms between the legs below the waist.
- Start by standing with your feet much wider than your shoulder-width apart and toes pointed outward. Lower yourself down by bending your hips and knees.
- Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, In one motion, push through the heels to straighten your knees and legs to come back up. As with all squat exercises, keep a neutral spine with a slight arch in the lower back.
- Keep your abs engaged and your head above your shoulders looking straight throughout the movement.
- For added resistance, hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of you so that it hangs just below your waist. Without the dumbbell hold your arms up to your chest level, with your palms facing down.
4. Barbell squats
The barbell squat primarily works the glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors , and hamstrings.
It also secondarily works the abs, lower back, and calves.
- To start, set up the barbell on the squat rack so that it is at the same height as your upper back.
- Take a firm grip on the bar in the rack, hands comfortably wider than your shoulders. Duck beneath it and stand up with your feet directly under the bar. The bar should rest high on the back and shoulders.
- Slowly straighten your legs to push upwards, lifting the barbell off the rack and take one step back.
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, and toes pointing outwards slightly. Hinge your hips back, bend at the knees with your spine in a neutral position.
- Keep your abs engaged as you lower your body down slowly until your thighs are parallel to the floor. At the bottom position, your body should be at a 45-degree angle. Make sure your toes are inline with your knees.
- Push up through the heels to straighten your legs, hips and knees until you are back at the standing position.
- Repeat to complete 8-10 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
5. Barbell Front Squat
The barbell front squat primarily targets the muscles of your quadriceps, gluteals, and hamstrings.
The secondary muscles: the abs, lower back and shoulders for supporting the upper-body.
Contrary to the barbell back squat, the front squat requires you to be able to keep your torso much upright than the back squats.
- Start by standing in front of the squat rack, and take a step forward to position yourself under the barbell.
- Grab the bar with your hands. Position your elbows high at or slightly higher than your chest level and your upper arms parallel to the floor.
- Step back about 2-3 feet from the squat rack. Stand upright with your feet wider than your shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned out.
- Make sure to maintain a neutral spine with a slight arch in the lower back and your elbows pointing forward throughout the movement.
- Looking straight ahead and keeping your chest high, brace your core and hinge your hips back.
- Bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your core engaged, push through the heels to straighten your legs and hips to return to the starting position.
Tips: Keep your elbows as high as possible during the exercise. This is extremely important in the front squats to avoid the bar pulling you forward.
There you have 5 squat variations with proper form. If you are new to exercising, start with the bodyweight squat. As you develop strength, give other variations a try!
What’s your favorite squat variation? Did we miss any important key points? Leave us a comment below to let us know.