The squat is popularly known as the ‘King of All Exercises’. If you could do only 1 exercise, the squat is probably the one that will give you the most bang for your buck. Why? Because when you learn how to squat properly, it uses nearly all the muscles in your body.

For this reason, the squat is the first exercise that comes to mind when talking about strength training. If you look at the cover of one of the best strength training books: Starting Strength, you see a picture of a back squat.

Nearly any athlete can become better at his/her sport with strength training. In recent years as sports have become more competitive, athletes are using strength training techniques that were only used by strength athletes.

Traditionally, Strength sports such as powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman used the squat to build strength. In the sport of powerlifting, the squat is 1 of the 3 lifts that are part of the competition. Other sports that require strength such as American football and wrestling also used strength training exercises such as the squats.

Squats have a direct carryover to these athletes. Whether they want to run faster, become more explosive, hit harder etc. Squats are also a way to improve body composition. If you gain muscle and lose fat, your body composition has improved. Today, you will find nearly all athletes squatting. Whether it’s for football, tennis, cricket, basketball or even baseball. The squat is one exercise you cannot miss out on.

In This Article, You Will Learn

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Benefits of Squats

Squat muscles

Natural Human Movement

The squat is a natural movement for the bod biomechanically. Unfortunately, as our societies get increasingly sedentary, we seem to have forgotten to squat. If you look at many developing countries, on the other hand, people still do a lot of manual labor and a full bodyweight squat is part of their daily activities.

The squat not only trains your muscles but it also trains a natural movement pattern. It is important to keep this movement pattern in our everyday lives to keep those muscles active.

Full Body Training

A full body training program is often recommended for most beginners. The squat is an integral part of any full-body training program because it works nearly all the muscles in the body.

Most people think of the squat as a leg movement but aa correct squat uses the quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings, hips, glutes, lower back, upper back and other smaller muscles to perform the movement.

Since the squat uses os many different muscles, it is a very efficient exercise. Instead of doing several isolation exercises to target each muscle group separately, you can perform 1 movement.

You can always perform isolation exercises in addition to the main compound exercises if necessary,

Lower Body Strength

Lower body strength is necessary for athletes and non-athletes. The squat increases lower body strength like no other exercise.

Muscle Builder

Muscle growth is known as Hypertrophy. When we put the body under stress, it adapts in preparation of the same stress in the future. When we lift weights, we put our bodies under stress and the body adapts by getting bigger and stronger.

There are 3 types of stress you can put on your body with weight training.

  1. Mechanical Tension
  2. Metabolic Stress
  3. Muscle Damage

The squat is one of the movements that can potentially use all 3 mechanisms of Hypertrophy to give you the best results possible. One of the leading researchers on the subject of hypertrophy is Dr. Brad Schoenfeld. I highly recommend you check out his book and article on this topic.

Progressive Overload

Progressive Overload Milo and the Calf Bull

In the long term, if you want to keep gaining muscle and strength, you need to add more weight to the bar or do more reps with it. The squat is one of the few movements that allows you to achieve progressive overload consistently.

With a lot of isolation movements, you will find it harder to keep getting stronger. With compound movements like the squat, which works multiple large muscles at the same time, you can get stronger faster.  Progressive overload is one of the reasons That why the squat is a great muscle builder for the lower body.

Lot of Squat Variations

There are so many different types of squats you can do to train your muscles. Squats can also be done almost anywhere with minimal equipment. Most types of squats are

Burns Calories

Compound exercises such as squats burn a lot of calories simply because they are so demanding in terms of muscles used and nervous system output. If you’re trying to lose weight, these exercises will help you burn a lot of calories. Another benefit of compound exercises is that your metabolic rate is elevated for several hours after you’re done training. This means that you will be burning more calories even when you sleep.

The Barbell Squat

Barbell Squats

The barbell is one of the most simple and versatile pieces of exercise equipment in the gym. You can train nearly any muscle group with a barbell. The barbell allows you to safely load heavy weights on to the bar and keep adding weight as you get stronger.

The barbell is also a standard piece of equipment that is universal to nearly any gym you go to. Machines, on the other hand, can differ greatly by make and model. If you train at different gyms, a standard Olympic barbell weights 20KG or 45 pounds.

This gives you the ability to standardize your training because most strength training programs are designed to make you stronger using a standard barbell.

Barbell movements are also standard. This means that you can learn the correct technique by watching others or by hiring a coach.

Squat Vs Other Lower Body Exercises

There are many great compound and isolation exercises you can do for your legs. Why is the squat considered as the king of all exercises? It’s because of the ability to load weight better than most exercises. This results in greater mechanical tension on the legs than most other exercises.

For example, the lunge is a great exercise but it is difficult to load it with heavy weights like squats.

Squats are also extremely versatile as there are so many variations depending on your goals and experience level. Squats can also be done virtually anywhere without the need for special equipment.

Primary Muscles Used in the Squat

The squat is commonly known as an exercise for training the quadriceps (thighs). Any style of squat will use the quads as the primary mover but that’s not all. Because squats are an isolation exercise, they also involve secondary muscles to move the weight and to maintain the correct positions needed to squat.

Different types of squats will prioritize which muscles get used more but all squat styles will be quad-dominant.

Primary Muscles used in Squats – Quadriceps (Thighs), Hamstrings and Glutes. These are the primary muscles at the knee and the hip joints.

Quadriceps/Quads

The quads are used throughout the entire movement as the primary mover. The main function of the quads is knee extension.

Glutes

The glutes have 2 main functions for the squat – Hip Extension and External Rotation.

Hip Extension: The glutes help bring the hip forward to finish the movement at the top. After you descend into the squat, the quads are maximally engaged at the bottom of the squat and the glutes help finish the movement at the top.

Hip external Rotation: The glutes are used to help keep your knees out and in line with your toes instead of collapsing in. This is very important if you want to avoid knee injuries.

Hamstrings

Most people don’t think of the hamstring’s involvement in the squat. The hamstrings play 2 roles in the squat:

  1. Stretch Reflex: This is the ‘bounce’ at the bottom of the squat, which allows you to generate some momentum out of the hole. The hamstrings are stretched/lengthened at the hip. While the hamstrings are not maximally stretched in a squat, when timed correctly, it is possible to use the stretch off of the hamstrings.
  2. Hip Extension: One of the primary functions of the hamstrings.is to bring your leg behind the body and bring the hips forward.

Secondary Muscles Used in Squats

Barbell Squat Muscles Used

Spinal Erectors

Even though the legs are moving the weight, the weight usually rests on the upper body for nearly all types of squats. The spinal erectors bear a lot of weight. Having strong spinal erectors is necessary to maintain the correct squat position.

Core Muscles

Most people think of the abs as the core but the core consists of several muscles around the trunk that help support your spine. The core muscles include the Rectus Abdominus (abs), External and Internal Obliques, Transverse Abdominus and others.

Upper Back Muscles

In order to maintain the correct squat position, the barbell has to rest on a stable shelf. This requires the activation of upper back muscles includings the traps, rear delts, lats and more.

Calves- The calf muscles including the soleus and gastrocnemius help maintain the correct foot position. Foot position is extremely important because ultimately all the weight including your body weight rests on your feet. The feet are the only point of contact between you and the ground.

Types of Squats

Any movement that involves hip flexion where the hips are lower than the knees can be considered as a squat. There are so many ways to achieve this. There are so many squat variations for nearly all experience levels.

That being said, this article will focus on the Barbell Squat and its variations. If you want to learn about other squat styles, I will be making more content around them.

Assisted Squats

Assisted TRX Squats

These are great for complete beginners, sedentary individuals, older people and people with injuries. Beginners typically lack the motor skills needed to achieve full depth while maintaining balance. Using an external object or a resistance band, they can learn the correct technique without worrying about balance.

Some people may not even have the lower body strength to perform a full squat. Using some upper body muscles, it can take the load off the lower body. When you can perform 12- 15 repetitions comfortably, it’s time to move on to the next variation –bodyweight squats.

Bodyweight Squats

Bodyweight Squats

After getting used to assisted squats, the next squat progression is bodyweight squats. The technique is similar to assisted squats but you will not be holding on to anything for balance or assistance. It’s a good idea to have someone spot you in case you lose balance.

Once you can perform 12-15 reps comfortably, you can move on to weighted squats.

Some advanced trainees can even perform bodyweight squats on a single leg (pistol squats).

Goblet Squats

Goblet Squats

This is the easiest way to add weight for beginners. You can use a dumbbell or a kettlebell and hold it up in front of you. A great benefit of goblet squats is that the weight acts as a counterbalance. Many beginners have trouble maintaining balance and have a fear of falling back.

Start by using a light dumbbell and progress as that weight starts feeling easy.

A limitation of goblet squats is that eventually, you cannot add more weight because your upper body strength will be the limiting factor, not your legs. Your legs will eventually be strong enough to lift the weight but your upper body muscles may not be able to hold on to heavyweights. Plus, most gyms don’t have heavy enough dumbbells or kettlebells to keep up with your strength.

Barbell squat variations

Front Squats

Front Squats

Usually, on Barbell Squats, the weight is on your back. With front squats, the weight rests on your front delts (shoulders). In some ways, this is similar to goblet squats but you can load a lot more weight.

Box Squats

This is one of the best ways of introducing the barbell squat to a new trainee. Unlike goblet squats, barbell squats don’t have a counter balance to prevent you from falling back. To counteract this, you have to lean forward on barbell squats to stay balanced. This also means that you have to ‘sit back’ with your hips.

The best way to learn this without the fear of falling is to do boxed squats. You can start with an empty barbell which typically weighs 45 pounds/20 kilos. If this is too heavy, you can use a lighter bar if available.

 

The box squat will also allow you to slowly improve your depth. If you start with a high bod, you can progressively get deeper over time.

 

High Bar Squats

High Bar Squat

On a high bar squat, you place the barbell on your traps. This is the more commonly used variation of the barbell squat. Some people also refer to these as Olympic squats.

Low Bar Squats

Low Bar Squats

On Low bar squats, the bar rests a bit lower on your rear delts. Most people can use more weight on low bar squats because of better leverage. These are also popularly known as Powerlifting squats because powerlifters want to squat the most weight possible. This requires the most efficient use of leverages.

High Bar vs Low Bar Squats

High Bar and Low Bar refer to the bar position on the back.

On a High Bar Squat, the bar rests on the top of the taps and below the neck. This is a stable shelf for the bar to rest.

On a Low-Bar Squat, the Bar rests a bit lower, on the rear delts.

Both types of squats have their benefits.

A High Bar Squat is how most people squat and is easier to learn for most people. A High Bar Squat focuses more quad-dominant.

A Low-Bar Squat allows you to use more weight because of more favorable leverages. For this reason, most powerlifters use the Low Bar Squat. The Low bar squat is slightly less quad dominant but uses more of your posterior chain, including the back, hips and hamstring.

High Bar vs Low Bar Squats: Which one is best for you?

Both are great variations of the barbell squat. You can definitely use both variations to get the best of both worlds.

If your goal is to lift the most weight possible, you may do better with a low bar squat.

If you’re training for general strength and fitness, a high bar squat may be easier to learn.

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Other Squat variations

  • Single Leg Squats /Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Zercher Squats
  • Belt Squats
  • Hack Squats
  • Machine Hack Squats
  • Safety Bar Squats

Proper Squat Technique

Performing a squat with proper form has 3 components

  1. Biomechanics
  2. Safety
  3. Squat Depth – Range of Motion

Squat Biomechanics

How to Squat Properly

Biomechanics simply refers to the ways our bodies are designed to move. This simply means that even though our individual leverages are slightly different, certain rules still apply.

Regardless of your body type and squat style, the 1 rule that applies to all squats is that the weight, in this case the barbell has to be balanced. This balance is both, left to right and front to back.

Most people understand the right to left balance. Basically, you should be applying force evenly with both feet. There will always be a slight imbalance for most people but as long as we can minimize it, it’s should be fine.

Where most beginners struggle is with front to back balance. It is important to keep the barbell balanced over the midfoot area, which is your center of balance. If the weight shifts too far forward or backward, you could lose your balance and fall. Even if you don’t fall, it will unnecessarily make the movement harder.

Squat Safety

Many beginners worry about the safety of performing the barbell squat. While everything has a risk to reward ratio, squats are generally safe if you perform them correctly.

There are many myths out there about squats being bad for the back or the knees. If you are healthy, this should only be an issue if you’re not squatting correctly A proper squat is not only safe but it can actually make your muscles and joints stronger and more resilient to injuries. To perform the squat safely, you should stay tight throughout the movement. This means that all the primary and secondary muscles have to work together at the same time.

Squat Depth

Squat Depth

For a squat to be considered as a Deep Squat, it usually means that you squat below parallel. Squatting below parallel simply refers to the angle of the femur (thigh) bone. When the femur is parallel to the floor the knees and the hips are at roughly the same height. In order to ‘break’ parallel, the hip joint has to be lower than the knee.

Squat depth is important because most beginners often struggle with hitting depth. As a result, if you go to most gyms, you will rarely see people squatting deep enough. You may have seen people lifting heavy weights while doing half or quarter reps. This is probably dangerous because it allows you to lift a lot more weight than you should and when you do half or quarter squats, you end up putting more stress on the knees.

On the other hand, performing deep squats distributes the load between your knees, hips and other smaller muscles. The increased range of motion is also more effective for building muscle and strength overall.

The squat, just like all major strength training exercises is a skill that is learned through repetition. A person’s ability to squat deep depends on their mobility, stability, balance and movement patterns.

If you take a sedentary person, they may not be able to squat deep because they usually lack the mobility required to squat deep and they may not be able to maintain their stability and balance in that range of motion. This is simply because their body is not used to those movement patterns.

On the other hand, if you take a physically active person, they may be able to learn squats relatively quickly.

If you’re having trouble with squatting deep, start with box squats. This will remove the fear of falling. Simply use a solid, stable box on which you can sit on. Start with a relatively high box and try to lower the height of the box over time until you can squat deep enough.

How To Squat Properly

Step 1: Use the Right Equipment


STRENGTH TRAINING Equipment

Most people don’t need any fancy equipment, however, if you want to perform the exercise safely, it is important that you use the right equipment.

Squat Rack or Power Cage

 

This is the most important piece of equipment you can use for squatting. This may seem common knowledge, but there are some very bad squat racks out there.

You need to use an adjustable squat rack in which you can set the correct rack height based on your height. Many commercial squat racks don’t have this feature.

The squat rack also needs safety bars in case you fail the lift. The safety bars need to be adjustable as well.  If the rack you’re using doesn’t have this, you may have to use spotters to help you while you squat.

If you want to purchase your own squat rack, there are many great options available online.

Good Barbell

The quality of the Barbell is one of the most underappreciated aspects of lifting. A standard Olympic barbell weighs 20 KG/45 Pounds. It’s important to have a high-quality barbell because you would be using it on almost all strength training exercises.

For squats, you should use a barbell with a center knurl on it. This will help you hold the bar securely while preventing it from slipping. The knurl will also help you find the center of the barbell, which will help you stay balanced.

Recommended Barbell for Squats –Texas Power Bar

Squat Shoes

Squat Shoes

Squat Shoes

Just as we use the correct footwear for the activity we’re performing, squats are no exception. We have special shoes for running, trekking, football, basketball, wrestling etc.

Many people make the mistake of squatting in running shoes, which are designed to absorb impact, not stay stable under load. For this reason, you should use a shoe that is solid and provides enough support to help you lift safely.

Most beginners like to start with a flat shoe such as the Converse Chuck Taylor. This is a great shoe for beginners because they are usually cheap and can be found anywhere. I started squatting in Chucks too. Any shoe that is flat and doesn’t compress will do.

Once you get a bit more used to squats, you can get yourself a pair of Olympic Lifting Shoes AKA Squat Shoes. I’ve owned several pairs myself and there are some great, affordable options out there.

In addition to being extremely solid, Olympic lifting shoes typically have an elevated heel. This makes it a bit easier to squat deeper, especially if you don’t have the ankle mobility to do so. If you have long femurs, you may also benefit from using squat shoes.

I have uses all of these shoes myself. They’re all great for the price.I currently use the Nike Romaleos 2 and have been for the last couple of years.

Adidas Powerlift 2

Nike Romaleos 2

Adidas Adipower

Pendaly Do-Win 

Step 2: Squat Setup

Rack Height

It’s important to use a squat rack with adjustable heights. The height should be at a height which is neither too high or too low.

Ideally, the bar height should be where it’s not so low that you have to squat too low it to unrack it, neither should it be so high that you have to raise your heels to reach the unrack height.

For this reason, you should always use an adjustable squat rack.

If you don’t have the correct height, it will make your squat unnecessarily harder than it should be. Not setting the correct height will also increase the chances of injury.

For most people, the correct height for low bar squats will be with the barbell at about chest level, similar to where you would touch the bar when bench pressing.

Safety Height

Just like rack height, the safety height is also very important and should be adjustable. The reason why we have safeties is in case we fail. The safeties should be set low enough to allow you to hit full depth at the same time, they shouldn’t be too low either. If you were to fail the lift, you should be able to safely lay it on the safeties.

Squat Grip

Even though the squat is a lower body exercise, your grip is very important, especially if you’re squatting Low-Bar. Having the correct grip will help you stay tight.

As a general rule, try to grip the barbell as close as you can without pain or discomfort. On the Low-Bar Squat, most people can start with the same grip width as their bench press. From there, you can adjust to see which one allows you to keep your upper back tight without pain and discomfort.

Grip Styles:

There are 2 common ways to grip the bar

  1. Thumbs over the bar (open grip)
  2. Thumbs around that bar

Squat Grip Thumbless

With the thumbs over the bar grip, you’re not really gripping the bar. Your hands are simply there to keep the weight balanced on your upper back. The major benefit of using this grip, especially for beginners is that it will teach you how to effectively create a shelf across your upper back and rear delts to rest the barbell on.

Since you’re not gripping the bar, you will have to learn to stay tight with your upper back muscles in order to keep the bar in place. Thumbs over the bar grip will also allow you externally rotate your shoulders, which will help you create a better shelf.

With the thumbs around the bar, it’s similar to how you would grip the barbell while bench pressing. If you decide to use this grip, make sure to use a pair of High-Quality Wrist Wraps otherwise it will most likely hurt your wrists. One of the benefits of using this grip is that it allows you to keep your elbows down and tucked next to your body and this might help you keep your back tighter.

Both work great. For a complete novice lifter who doesn’t know how to create a shelf on their back, they will most likely find it easier to do so with a thumbless grip. Over time, as you get more advanced, you can try different styles to see which on you like better.

I’ve used both in the past but currently I use the thumbs wrapped around grip because I prefer gripping the bar. At the end of the day, you should use the grip that is most effective and comfortable for you.

Setup and Bar Position

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Now that we know how to grip the bar, make sure to take an even grip on the bar. You can use the rings on the barbell to make sure it’s even.

The bar height should be set up at about chest level. Bring your chest to the bar and pull your shoulder blades back. Think of it almost as if you’re rowing yourself to the bar. In this position, Your feet will be under the bar.

While maintaining this position and keeping your shoulders retracted, step under the bar. Keep your grip where you had it initially. Slide into position where the bar is resting across your rear delts (shoulders). You should be able to feel a secure shelf where the bar will rest. Use the center knurling to find the center position across your back.

Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Start with an empty bar to avoid any unnecessary discomfort or injuries. You can film yourself from the back or ask a coach/friend to make sure you’re getting into the correct position.

The reason why this is so crucial is that a strong setup will result in a strong squat. Once you find this position where the barbell is secure and will not move, we’re ready for the unracking and walkout process.

Unrack & Walkout

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Most beginners don’t pay attention to this but this is crucial. It is also important to learn the correct walkout and unracking process AND it is also important to repeat the same process every time.

After you set up using the steps above, use the following steps to unrack

-Keep both feet under the bar. DO NOT use a lunge position to unrack the bar. This can be very risky, especially as the weights get heavy.

-Take a deep breath into your belly.

-Push the air down and out.

-Simultaneously pull your abs in. This will create intra-abdominal pressure, which will help you stabilize your spine and your entire body. This is known as the ‘Valsalva Maneuver’, which is a technique used by all types of athletes.

-While keeping pressure in your belly, unrack the bar from the rack by pushing through your feet. You should use both, you legs and your hips to do this.

Squat Walkout

As a coach, I recommend a 3-step walkout for most people. After unracking, you basically take 3 steps in total before squatting. The walkout should always be stepping backward.

  1. Take one step back with either foot (your preference).
  2. Bring the other foot in line with the foot you took the first step with.
  3. Move one foot out to the correct stance width.

It’s okay to take additional steps if required. In fact, you may need to take extra tips in the beginning. Once you find your ideal stance width and position, you will beable to find your groove.

Step 3: Squat

  1. Breathing and Bracing for Squats

 

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One of the most important strength training techniques is to breathe and brace correctly. You should take a deep breath and hold it in your belly while you perform the movement. You can exhale after each rep is complete. This is known as the ‘Valsalva Maneuver’ and will allow you to brace your core muscles while creating intra-abdominal pressure.

If you’re using a weightlifting belt, you can push out against the belt after you breathe in.

If you don’t use a belt you can pull your abs in after breathing to create the pressure.

  1. Initiate the Descent

After you take a deep breath and brace your core, you’re ready to descend.

Start by unlocking your knees and hips simultaneously. While holding your breath and remaining tight, start by unlocking at the hips and the knees at the same time.

  1. Maintain back tightness
    Lower yourself while maintaining full body tightness, especially the back. It’s okay to have a forward lean but your spine should remain neutral.
  2. Hit Depth

Squat down as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. If you cannot maintain a neutral spine, it’s probably too deep for you.

  1. The Stretch Reflex: At the bottom of the squat you will feel a ‘bounce’, which is known as the stretch reflex. When your muscles stretch under load, they store energy which can help propel your squat on the way up.
    1. Squat Back Up
    2. Repeat

     

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Squat stance width.

Stance width is highly individual. There are some great squatters who squat narrow and wide.

Squat Speed: As a general rule of thumb, your squats should be as fast as you feel comfortable and safe with. There is no need to squat excessively slow (tempo squats) but at the same time, you shouldn’t squat so fast that you end up losing tightness, losing balance or getting injured. Do what feels natural.

Generally speaking, if you’re taller and in particular, if you have long legs/Femur Bones, you will have to squat a bit wider to allow yourself enough space to squat deep. That being said, a wider stance also requires a bit more hip mobility.

A stance width where your heels are about shoulder width apart is a good starting point. You can adjust from there based on how the technique feels. You should use a stance in which you feel your strongest.

Don’t try to get it perfect right away. This is always a work in progress and will change as you get stronger.

Squat Warmup

Warming up before any intense exercise is a must if you want to avoid injuries. When it comes to lifting weights, warming up also helps you dial in your technique.

A warmup depends on factors such as age, level of fitness, lifestyle, room temperature, training intensity etc. Ideally, a warmup should be the movement itself. If you’re going to squat with weights, you can start warming up with bands or using bodyweight squats. You can then start with an empty barbell and slowly add weight until you reach your main working set.

For example, If I want to squat 315 pounds for my top set, here’s what my warmup looks like:

Bodyweight Squats x10

Empty Bar (20Kg/45 lbs) x10

135 lbsx5

185×3

225×2

255×1

285×1

315×5 (Working Set)

This is just an example. Some people may require more warmup sets than others.

Additional Warmup Exercises

Some people may require a general warmup before they start squatting. This is usually used to raise body temperature, increase the range of motion and activate certain muscles.

Sample General Warmup

Walking or Stationary Bike

Dynamic Stretching

Banded walks

Kettlebell Swings

Leg Swings

Barbell Complexes

Squat Mobility

When it comes to Strength Training, Mobility generally refers to your body’s ability to go through the required range of motion to perform the movement. When it comes to squatting, we need mobility to squat deep enough. As long as we can comfortably squat below parallel, we don’t really need additional mobility.

Beginners often have trouble squatting simply because they are not used to being in a deep squat position. The best way to improve squat mobility is to simply squat more often. This is one of the reasons why most beginner training programs include squatting at least 2-3 times per week. Practicing the movement regularly build the motor patterns that will help you get used to squatting deep.

Stretching

If a person has been extremely sedentary, he/she may require special mobility exercises. Typically, if a person works a desk job and has very little physical activity, he/she will have tight hips, hamstrings, ankles, and shoulders. This may prevent them from squatting deep. Performing some basic stretches regularly can help with this.

Stability

In my experience as a coach, many people lack stability and NOT mobility. A squat requires balance and many trainees have not developed this. As a result, they may not be hitting depth because they lack stability. There is also fear of losing balance and falling.

One of the simplest ways of solving this is to use a Box Squat. When you have a box you can sit on, it eliminates the fear of falling and it helps you gauge your depth. Beginners can start with a high box and reduce the height of the box over time until they’re comfortable squatting below parallel.

As you get more comfortable with your technique, you will find it easier to hit depth.

Beginner Squat Mistakes

Lifting too much weight

Beginners often look at others who are stronger and try to lift the same weight. When you lift more than you should, your technique will not be good and your chances of getting injured go up significantly. The key to long-term progress is consistency.

If you’re a beginner, you can actually make progress very rapidly. Try to stay a little patient in the beginning by learning the correct technique. You will most likely have to start very light and it may feel really easy. This is a great time to practice the movement.

If you think you’re lifting heavier than you should, reduce the weights and rebuild from there. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take 2 steps forward.

Not Squatting Deep

This is a mistake made by most people at some point. For me personally, when the weight gets too heavy, I tend to squat a little high. If you’re not comfortable squatting to depth, take your time and don’t add weight until you can.

You may have to take a step back but deep squats are not only more effective but also safer.

Wearing the Wrong Squat Shoes

Almost any sport you can think of has a special type of shoe. After all, you wouldn’t be effective if you wore Basketball shoes for playing Football right?

Your lifting shoes are crucial because your feet are the only point of contact between your body and the floor. Your body weight+any additional weight is ultimately on your feet. Using running shoes for squats is not the best option because they are designed to compress and absorb impact. This is the opposite of what is ideal for lifting.

When it comes to Squat Shoes, you don’t really need anything fancy for squatting but having a good pair of squat shoes or Olympic lifting shoes can help.

Many beginners start by using a flat shoe such as the Converse Chuck Taylors. These are great because they are not expensive and are available almost anywhere. Eventually, most people upgrade to a shoe designed for lifting. These shoes have a solid heel that does not compress under load.

Another benefit of using lifting shoes is having an elevated heel. This will allow most people to squat deeper because it is less demanding on ankle mobility.

Squatting in front of a mirror

SQUATS Mirror

If you look at most commercial gyms, they have Squat racks facing mirrors. Mirrors are useful sometimes but now when it comes to squatting. The reason for this is that you want to actually feel the movement using your proprioception and not rely on your eyes. Plus, when you squat facing a mirror, your eyesight is not fixed on a single point, which can make it difficult to balance.

If your squat rack has the ability to squat facing away from the mirror, it would be a good option. I’ve also seen people covering up the mirror with a piece of paper to blick their reflection.

If you don’t have any of these options, you can still squat in front of a mirror but try to keep your eyesight fixed on a single point.

Knees Caving In – Valgus Knee Position

Valgus Knee Squats caving in Knees out

One of the most common squat mistakes is when the knees cave in. You may have heard the cue ‘Knees Out’ when coaching the squat.
When we squat, the knees should always be in line with the toes. When the knees cave in, this is known as a Valgus position, which can cause knee pain and injuries.

How to Fix Knees Caving In During Squats

Strengthen your glutes and hips. The knee angle is ultimately controlled by your hips and Glute muscles. You can strengthen your hip abductors and external rotator muscles using different exercises. Refer to my older posts for Glute workouts.
Try banded squats. Simply wrapping a light resistance band or a hip circle around your knees while squatting will cue you to push out against the band.
Try single leg exercises such as lunges, split squats, single leg deadlifts etc. Not only will they help you strengthen the required muscles but they will also point out any imbalances.

Try these 3 things out if your knees. cave in. You could even do these exercises as part of your warmup.

Falling Forward in the Squat

Falling Forward Squat

One of the reasons why we need to learn how to squat properly is because it takes a good amount of balance to do it right. The correct squat technique will teach to stay balanced. Using incorrect squat shoes can also cause issues with balance because the weight moves around. If you’re using proper squat shoes, one of the easiest ways to fix this is to focus on keeping the weight balanced on the middle of the foot.

BALANCED SQUATS Bar Path

Squat Tip: Record your Lifts

Filming your lifts is not just for sharing on Instagram!

Recording your lifts is one of the best ways of coaching yourself. You can see whether you’re squatting deep enough or not and also where your technique breaks down. For squats, you should try to film yourself directly from the side. this is a good angle to see your depth and bar path.

As a coach, I receive several videos for a form check. If you’d like feedback on your technique, email me your videos  at anand@underdogstrength.com

How To Squat Properly: Individual Differences

2 people can have proper squat technique but their squats may quite different. For example, a person with shorter legs will squat differently than a person with longer legs. I wrote a detailed article (with video) on this topic.

Check out the complete article: How To Squat Deeper with Long Femurs 

Short vs Long Femurs Squat

Check out the interactive model at www.athleticdesign.se

Want more tips to learn you how to squat properly? Check out How to Squat: Top 5 Tips for Proper Squat Form