How To: Do A Squat
Squatting is considered one of the most primitive functional movements of the human body. It’s basically what human beings have to do in order to live life every day. We all have to sit down and stand back up. We’re designed to squat!
When it comes to exercising, squats are an excellent choice since they can be done anywhere, anytime, and a good understanding of how to do squats can help make the tasks of every day easier, such as bending and lifting without incurring any injuries. As far as fitness enthusiasts and athletes alike are concerned, the
squat is arguably the most popular exercise available and there is a good reason why.
Benefits of doing a squat correctly
There is plenty of evidence demonstrating that squats are an effective body resistance compound exercise that works almost all of your lower body muscles. It can be used to increase the strength, size, and power of the muscles in the legs, lower back and core. It is relatively easy for most people to perform because it does not require any equipment.
When performed in combination with weights or using different variations, it can also help to place more of an emphasis on specific muscles and support overall lower body mobility and functionality and help improve aerobic fitness.
Furthermore, jump squats, for example, can improve your aerobic fitness and overall stamina, while also working your back muscles. When using a barbell for your squats, it help to increase upper body and core strength promoting the development of a better posture.
Muscles involved on the performance of a standard squat:
When using weights and variations, you will be able to utilize other muscles such as the lower and upper back. Indirectly, areas such as the forearms, shoulders, triceps, biceps may get involved when using weights.
Muscles are not the only ones that benefit from squats. In addition, they improve the health of your joints and bones. The squat movement strengthens your knees, ankles, and hips since it engages each joint simultaneously. The strain placed on these joints also strengthens their bones, tendons, and ligaments. Bone density can be increased by resistance training, which makes it a great tool for preventing osteoporosis in later life.
On the other hand, when squats are not properly performed, people may experience knee or lower back pain as well as it may increase the risk of injuries. Make sure you build a foundation of strength first by working on a proper exercise execution with a logical progression from light to heavy weights and allowing enough rest in-between training sessions. Only do what your body allows you to do. Listen to your body!
Proper squat technique and common mistakes
So, lets get talking about the proper way to perform a squat. By ensuring you use the right form will help you maximize your efforts and prevent unpleasant injuries or muscle aches on the next day.
According to the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), the steps below should be followed to perform a basic squat:
- Stand upright with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with toes pointing straight ahead, and knees aligned over second and third toes. Alternatively, allow as much as 5-8° (toes slightly pointing out) of external foot rotation in the starting position as some consider this normal anatomical position.
- Tighten up your core to stabilize yourself, start to shift your weight back into your heels. Inhale and bend your knees while pushing your hips backward and pushing your chest forward keeping your torso upright and neck in neutral position as you squat down. It should feel like you’re going to sit back down in a chair.
- Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are almost 90 degrees to the floor. Your feet should remain flat on the ground allowing the arch of your foot to remain, and your knees should align towards your second toe.
- Keep your chest lifted and don’t allow the heels to lift from the floor. As you exhale, push yourself back up to standing by extending your legs and pushing through your whole foot. Fully contract your gluteus in the standing position to maximise muscle recruitment. To ensure efficiency, you want the weight of the body evenly distributed between the center of the heel, the base of the first toe, and the base of the fifth toe.
The difficulty of the exercise will also depend on your training goals. For example, if you wish to strengthen your gluteus and hamstrings, your shins will be more vertical, and your knees will not go over the toes as the hips push backward. If quadriceps muscle is what you want to emphasise, your shins will angle forward taking your knees over your toes as you lower your hips below 90 degrees.
As you progress toward getting a deeper squat, your knees will push forward over your toes. It will all depend on the mobility of your hips, knees, and ankles, and if you show any signs of pain. Symptoms of pain may mean that you are performing the exercise incorrectly, which is causing pain, so it is better to return to the initial form, review the technique, and try again when you feel stronger and more confident with the form.
There are some common mistakes made when doing squats which are very important to per attention to and to avoid at all costs and reduce the risks of muscular imbalance. Such as:
- Starting from your knees other than sitting back first
- Knees drifting inward as you squat
- Knees going over your toes when sitting back in squat
- Moving through the movement too quickly causing impact to the form
- Raising the heels off the floor
- Not squatting deep enough
- Bending or creasing your back
- Bending your neck up or down other than a neutral spine and neck
- Not switching on your abdominal muscles
What are the different types of squats?
There are many variations of squats that can be incorporated into your fitness routine, each of which offers different benefits. The most basic squat only requires your own body weight and, if you are looking for more challenging forms, you can then vary the position of your feet, add equipments such as dumbells, barbell or resistance bands, as well as balance boards and even a chair or a bench.
Squat variations can be classified in four categories with some examples:
- Bodyweight or Air Squats – wall squats, pistol squat
- Plyometric Squats – squat jumps, plyobox jump squats
- Weighted Squats – goblet squats, dumbbell squats
- Equipment Squats – smith-machine squat, bosu ball squats
The use of weights is highly recommended if you wish to challenge your body to the next level, however, it is important that your form is correct first. Perfecting a simple bodyweight squat will make it much easier to progress into more challenging variations of squats later on.
What squats work well for beginners/intermediates?
When come to squatting, it is very important to understand what your body is capable to do, your training goals and what is necessary to help your body improve to the next level.
If you have just started your fitness journey, it is better to avoid complex movement patterns or heavy loads and instead focus on the improvement of your breathing, mobility, technique and demand for multiple sets and reps. If you move on too soon, you may increase the risk of injury and develop “bad habits” that may be harder to fix later on.
For example, bodyweight box or chair squats allow the new lifter to practice the squat form while giving them a target depth to allow for additional support and to provide feedback for how low to squat. Once it is mastered, you would then be looking at moving away from the box and complete a free squat with confidence before starting to add extra weight or variations.
If you have now mastered the basics of a squat, you may be ready for a challenge. Why not try some of the variations below:
Pistol squats is one of the most complex squat variations available and is considered an advanced exercise but even beginners can do it with the assistance of a bench or chair making it accessible and giving the sense of what is required for an ideal pistol squat. It can also be performed using your own body weight or using dumbells, barbell, TRX or Smith Machine.
How to perform:
- To begin stand holding your arms at shoulder level and straight out in front of your body, parallel to the floor, then raise your right leg off the floor straight in front and hold it still.
- To initiate the movement, inhale and slowly descend your body by projecting your hips backward, bend your knee and lower your body as far as you can. Aim to maintain good posture and pushing your chest upwards. Continue to descend until your glutes are just off the floor or are very close to your standing heel.
- After a brief pause, exhale and press through your quads to return your body back along the same path into its starting position.
Repeat for the recommended number of repetitions and swap sides.
The anterior chain (quadriceps) is better activated during Goblet squats variation, although you’ll also activate some posterior chain muscles. If you have limited shoulder, wrist, or ankle mobility, you’ll find this to be an ideal alternative to back or front barbell squats. To achieve a deeper squat, place two small weight plates under your heels.
How to perform:
- Take hold of a kettlebell by its handle in both hands against your chest and stand up straight. Maintain the spine in neutral position and keep your shoulder blades back and down throughout the movement.
- Position your feet at a wide stance with your toes slightly facing outwards, this will be your starting position.
- Inhale as you descend by sitting back through your hips while maintaining a tall spine and bending at your knees. Remember to keep your knees behind your toes and put most of your weight through your heels. Continue in this descent below enough until your hip is below the knees. Avoid a depth that may cause your body forward or fall into a spinal flexion.
- After a brief pause, exhale and push through your heels, thighs and hips to bring your torso back along the same path into the starting position.
Caution: Injuries may occur if you don’t maintain the correct posture.
Squat jumps is a plyometric exercise which requires that you make as many movements as possible in the shortest possible time. It can increase your cardiovascular fitness and strengthen your glutes and thighs.
How to perform:
- Adopt a standing, shoulder width stance with your toes pointing slightly outward. Allow your arms to hang comfortably by your sides at this point. Throughout the movement you should keep your head up and maintain a straight back. This will be your starting position.
- Inhale and descend slowly by bending your knees until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep a straight back so that your posture is not compromised. Bring your arms out in front of you so that they are also parallel to the floor at this point and, at the bottom of the movement, your knees should be behind your toes.
- Once you have hit the bottom of the movement, exhale and push hard through your heels to drive your hips forward. As you extend at your knee and ankle joints in order to jump as high as you can, pull your arms down towards the sides of your torso at the top of the jump (this will help to generate more height), before landing into your next rep.
Caution: Injuries may occur if you don’t maintain the correct posture.
Written By Aline: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal