In this article we will examine how to do squats correctly. It is important to execute proper squat form in order to obtain the benefits of squats and of course, to ensure the risk of injury is as low as possible.
Squats are considered to be the ‘king’ of all exercises because it works such a large number of muscles including the largest muscle groups of the body (hips and thighs). Deadlifts probably come a close second.
There are so many benefits of squats not only for the muscles being exercised directly but also for the rest of the body as well making it an essential exercise to include in any workout program.
How to do Squats Using Perfect Form
In covering the correct squat technique, we will start with the correct position for specific body parts at the beginning of the movement. Then we will examine proper squat form during the movement followed by how to include the squat exercise in your workouts in order to obtain the benefits of squats.
When looking at how to do squats correctly, let’s start by examining body positioning at the start of the movement. We’ll look at foot positioning first and work our way up the body.
Foot Spacing and Positioning
The feet should be spaced about 1.5 times shoulder width apart with toes turned out slightly. The angle of the feet should be the same as your natural walking gait.
Some people like to have a small block or weight plates under their feet when learning how to do squats correctly in order to assist them with the movement but I don’t recommend this. It tilts the body forward slightly and may place additional stress on your lower back, which is exactly where you don’t want it.
When learning how to do squats correctly it is important to keep an arch in your lower back at all times throughout the movement. This will ensure your erector spinae (lower back) muscles stay contracted and help support your lumbar vertebrae.
It is not necessary to wear a weight belt when performing squats except during extremely heavy, low-rep lifts. Wearing a weight belt makes it easier to increase intra-abdominal pressure and this helps support the lumbar vertebrae.
The benefits of a medium size 4 inch leather weight lifting belt for men and women with a 1 single 2 prong buckle latch clip back support during crossfit powerlifting weightlifting fitness gym workout training squats” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>weight belt mainly come from the belt putting pressure on the front of the abdominal wall, which contributes to intra-abdominal pressure, more so than the belt putting pressure on the lower back directly.
Furthermore, as mentioned previously, it is only necessary to use a belt during extremely heavy lifting otherwise it takes away from the body being able to generate its own intra-abdominal pressure by strengthening the transversus abdominis, which is the inner-most layer of the abdominal wall.
During the squat technique your scapula should also stay retracted (pulled together) and your chest should be pushed forward slightly. This will help to keep your upper back stable throughout the movement. This is also very important when learning how to do squats.
The bar should be positioned on your upper back (rather than your neck) to reduce the risk of injury and to make the movement more comfortable. It is best to have a pad or towel wrapped around the bar in order to prevent it from putting extra stress on the vertebrae.
Your head should always remain upright (don’t look at the floor) and during the movement it is best to keep your eyes on a spot in front you, i.e. on the wall or mirror, and stay focused on that spot when you are performing proper squat form.
When learning how to do squats it is important that when you initiate movement, the first thing you want to do is push your butt backwards. Many people make the mistake of bending their knees first and this puts your body in an unfavorable position and may place extra stress on your knees. Therefore, your butt must go back first.
As you push your butt backwards your knees will automatically start to bend naturally. This is the downward phase of proper squat form.
In order to determine the bottom position of the squat technique, perform proper squat form without any weights first. Stand side on to a mirror and then perform the movement. The bottom position should be when you notice your hips starting to perform a ‘posterior pelvic tilt’. This means your butt is starting to ‘curl under’ your body. This is absolutely imperative when learning how to do squats.
This means that your erector spinae muscles are starting to lengthen or ‘relax’ and this may reduce the amount of support these muscles provide to the spine (lumbar vertebrae) during the movement. Knowing how to determine this position is important when learning how to do squats.
Some people suggest that the bottom position is when the thighs are parallel to the floor but this is incorrect. Depending on a person’s limb lengths and degree of flexibility, their hips may perform the posterior pelvic tilt either before or after their thighs become parallel to the floor.
The bottom position is considered to be the hardest position during the squat technique. It is also called the ‘sticking point’ of an exercise. Therefore, it is okay to hold your breath for a moment at this position. This is called the ‘Valsalva manoeuvre’.
The benefit of performing the Valsalva manoeuvre at the bottom position is that it increases ‘intra-thoracic pressure’, which is the pressure inside the thoracic cavity. Doing this helps to keep the upper body stable during the performance of the squat technique.
Once you commence the lifting (or upward) phase of the movement it is important to breathe out slowly. This gives you a clear indication of the correct breathing technique when learning how to do squats correctly; breathe in on the way down and out on the way up.
Of course, this is the breathing technique suggested for all exercises. However, there some exceptions to this rule and we will cover them in another article.
As you perform the upward movement, in order to maintain proper squat form, you must ensure that you keep your ankles, knees and hips all in alignment. This means that you don’t allow your knees to tracks inwards as you lift the weight; there should be a relatively straight line between the 3 joints.
As you reach the top position, ensure that you don’t ‘lock out’ (fully straighten) your knees. This will ensure that you keep the stress on the muscles (where you want it) and off the joints as much as possible.
After reaching the top position, immediately begin the downward phase again. Complete as many reps as possible.
When performing any resistance training exercise it is generally recommended to work to a point of momentary muscular failure (MMF). This means you perform as many repetitions as possible until you can’t perform any more. This ensures that the intensity of effort is very high and that you obtain the maximum benefits of squats.
However, when performing proper squat form it is important not to work to a point of momentary muscular failure because the risk of injury will increase substantially. Therefore, work as hard as possible and stop the exercise just before reaching MMF.
Ideally, perform around 15-25 repetitions for squats. However, you may want to vary the rep range from time to time. This standard rep range for squats (15-25) is generally higher than the standard rep range for most exercises, which tends to be 8-12.
The reason for this is that legs tend to respond better to high reps. It is not clear why this is the case but it may have something to do with the innervation of (nerves going into) the muscles.
It is best to perform squats at the start of your workout when you are fresh. This is important simply because more stabilisation of the entire body is required when performing the squat movement.
If you are fatigued when performing the squat technique there is an increased risk of injury.
Overall, it is important to know how to do squats correctly so you can incorporate the exercise into your workouts and therefore obtain all the benefits this fantastic exercise offers.
Here’s a video demonstrating proper squat form: