Along with crawling, walking and running, the squat is one of the most natural movements that humans can do, yet I see far too many people executing it incorrectly, even under the watchful eye of a trainer?!! As kids we begin squatting very early into our development, almost as if the motion is hardwired into our brain that the best way to reach that toy is to squat down with great form and grasp it! This natural lowering technique continues into our older years, yet somewhere along the way the majority of modern society loses the ability to perform a squat with good form. We’ve become strapped to a chair, inactive, and the structures that were meant to move us, mainly our ankles and hips, become tight and restricted, limiting our mobility. Not good if you’re someone that wants to continue moving naturally well into old age! I’m a big believer that everyone should be squatting, but doing it with awful form will lead to muscle imbalances and injury! Follow some of these tips and with a little repetition you’ll start to gain back the child-like fluidity that still resides in you!
1.) Stance- Stand tall and strong! Meaning head straight, shoulders back, glutes slightly flexed, core braced, body activated! If someone were to come give you a nudge you wouldn’t fall over. As for your feet, about shoulder width apart is the norm. They should be pointing fairly straight ahead at this width. This is your go-to powerful, athletic stance from which squatting and many other movement should begin!
2.) Back it up- Your first movement should be to push your glutes back slightly. I was guilty of simply dropping into a squat, which isn’t the end of the world, but doing so may put more pressure on your knees, a common complaint when squatting. In pushing your glutes back first you’ll activate them and take pressure off your knees at the same time. Note: Do not overextend your lumbar spine at this point. Your low back should keep its natural arch, nothing more!
3.) Pull yourself down-This may sound difficult but if you’re successful in turning on your glutes, then your hamstrings will likely follow suit. Actively pulling yourself into the movement keeps these two big muscle groups firing, which is important since they’re meant to carry the majority of the workload.
4.) Knees tracking- As you continue to descend, take a quick look to make sure your knees are in line with your ankles. Do not let them cave in! If they do, consciously push your knees outward while maintaining a strong evenly planted foot. Twisting your foot clockwise down into the ground, without actually moving it, is a great cue to help with tracking issues.
5.) Drive out of the bottom- When you reach a comfortable depth, which will vary from person to person, drive up evenly through your feet, hips, hamstrings, and quads. If you’re worried about your knees, push a little more through your heels.
6.) Watchful eye- Have someone who knows what’s up watch you squat. Tell them to take note of the position of your head, shoulders, knees, low back, pelvis etc. A keen eye will be able to tell you if one shoulder flexes forward, one glute pushes back further than the other, if one knee caves in slightly, or if you have a pelvic shift in the lowering phase. The squat is one of the best ways to identify issues with mobility and loading mechanics. Having someone who knows what to look for will help with this, and help you master the squat.
7.) Bodyweight- If you’re not comfortable squatting, if you have tissue restrictions, issues with loading mechanics, or if you’re new to strength and movement based training then be smart and start with bodyweight squats. Work at it daily, progress slowly with your depth and don’t add weight or resistance until you’ve mastered the movement.
8.) Go Barefoot- Once you make the switch to doing your workouts barefoot or in a minimal shoe you’ll never go back. This is especially helpful when squatting since generating force through the floor on the upward motion is imperative. This is best accomplished when there is nothing between your foot and the ground.
9.) Grab a pole- I do this on every training day after my dynamic warm-up. Find a sturdy post or beam and interlace both hands around it for an assisted squat. Go through repetitions as you normally would. I’ll also hold the bottom position and take some time to open up my hips. This is a great tool for people struggling to stay upright or if you’re looking to work on your depth. It helps your body become aware of the balance, posture and strength needed to perform an unassisted squat correctly.
10.) Foam roll/massage/bodywork-If you work a desk job, sit for long periods of time, or are an athlete who strength trains on a daily basis you likely have restrictions and tights muscles. This will make it difficult to squat through a full range of motion with good form. Two of my best friends are my triggerpoint foam roller and lacrosse ball. I also see a massage therapist once every other week. Bodywork of some kind goes a long way in helping to free up your muscles and fascia so you can move how you were meant to!
**Photo Credit: Travis Isaacs