Squatting is a huge part of training for big muscles and big strength increases. A lot of people don’t know how to perform a good squat, and they also don’t know how to make the most of their squatting. When they squat, they can’t go deep enough, they struggle to stay upright, they’re not using their legs enough or they don’t have a good enough range of motion.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to do a squat lately, and I wanted to clear up some of that confusion. As someone who works out a lot, I’ve definitely had my share of experiences trying to figure out how to do a squat, and I’ve been itching to share my knowledge with you.

If you are a recreational gym goer, then you will be familiar with the squat exercise. However, you may not have a clue about the benefits of doing squats, especially if you do them incorrectly. The squat is one of the most beneficial exercises that you can do to improve your health and fitness levels. It can develop strength in the quadriceps, calf muscles, hip muscles, and hamstrings.

Squatting is a basic human movement pattern that engages almost all of the body’s muscles. Squatting helps with fitness, performance, and mobility in everyday activities.

Squatting is a basic human movement pattern that engages almost all of the body’s muscles.

It’s useful for picking things up off the floor, going to the bathroom, and simply sitting on a traffic cone.

Squats, according to exercise science, are excellent for increasing strength, power, and mobility. Full squats may assist with a variety of chronic musculoskeletal issues, such as weak glutes, a hunched back, a weak torso, and so on.

If a person can squat to their maximum depth with their own bodyweight, they’re generally in decent shape.

How to do a good squat

1. Stability, movement, and balance

The muscles surrounding the hips and knees are the primary movers in the squat, although all joints below the belly button (hip, knee, ankle, foot) and the majority of the spine need both stability and mobility to squat correctly.

Squat difficulties may occur if any of these regions are unstable or immovable. For each body component involved, the table below illustrates both optimum and incorrect patterns.

All-About-The-Squat

The bodyweight squat: A movement screen for the squat pattern, by Kritz M, Cronin J, and Hume P. Strength Cond J, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 76-85, 2009.

2. Maintain hip mobility

During squats, the muscles surrounding the hips assist to support the pelvis and knees.

When squatting, someone with limited hip mobility may often lean forward too much (stressing the spine). Alternatively, they may begin the squat by “popping the butt” up too fast.

3. Knees should be in step with toes.

Keep your knees steady and in line with your hips and feet while squatting.

Tendons and ligaments become susceptible and work extra hard to withstand abnormal pressures when the knees flare out or collapse in (more than a few degrees). This is most likely why young athletes can get away with doing unattractive squats (but this catches up with them as they age).

1626006875_634_All-About-The-Squat

During a squat, these are the things your knees should NOT be doing. M. Kritz, J. Cronin, and P. Hume. The bodyweight squat is a squat pattern movement screen. Strength Cond J, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 76-85, 2009.

Make sure your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes. Your knees should point out if your toes point out when squatting (this is a common variant, particularly for women with larger pelvises).

Don’t worry if your knees go slightly past your toes; this may assist your lower back move more easily. What matters most is that your hips are positioned below your heels.

The misconception that squats are bad for your knees

Many trainers used to advise against full-depth squats, saying that they were dangerous to the knees. During a squat, the stresses on the knee’s connective tissues rise, although this does not result in damage.

Squatting to full depth — where the hamstrings touch or just above the calves — does not loosen the knees or tear ligaments. In fact, full-depth squatting is thought to improve ligament stability in the knee joint.

Competitive weightlifters, who do countless repetitions of deep squats each week, have a low incidence of knee injury.

Compressive vs. shear forces (or, why leg extensions aren’t a suitable squatting replacement)

The contrast between compressive and shear pressures is one of the main reasons why complete squats don’t damage knees.

  • Sideways force is referred to as shear force. Loads that go transverse to the shinbone, such as leg extensions (in which the machine’s pad rests on the shins and pushes perpendicular to them), are examples of shear stress in the knee.
  • The downward force is known as compressive force. Compressive force would be loaded along the length of the bone in the instance of the knee, as in a squat.

Research-Review-Front-or-back-squats

The key aspect is that joints can resist compressive forces better than shear pressures.

Squats also assist to protect the knee joint since several muscles activate at the same time.

During leg extensions there is only quad contraction and with leg curls there is only hamstring contraction.  This can displace the tibia and stress the anterior & posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL & PCL).

Squats, on the other hand, engage both the quadriceps and the hamstrings. The tibia is now more balanced in respect to the femur. This maintains the ACL and PCL happy and healthy, as well as aiding in the rehabilitation of injured ligaments.

Shear and compressive forces rise in tandem with loading:

  • fatigue;
  • inept execution;
  • speedier reps; and
  • More resistance is needed.

What does all of this imply?

  1. Full-depth squats are safe when performed correctly and carefully at a suitable pace.
  2. However, you should probably stop performing those strenuous leg extensions.

4. Keep your ankles moving and your feet firmly grounded.

During squats, the ankles assist in support and power production. Limited ankle mobility may cause the heels to lift off the floor, foot pronation (elevation of the outside of the foot), and knees to cave in.

Remember to wear shoes that enable you to press through the midfoot and heel. Running shoes aren’t ideal for squats since they’re too soft and don’t offer adequate support.

Wear thin-soled (such as Chuck Taylors) or hard-soled shoes instead (such as Olympic weightlifting shoes). Alternatively, go barefoot (or wear Vibrams).

All-About-The-Squat 1626006876_674_All-About-The-Squat
Pronation is caused by ankles that are weak or immovable. Squatting shoes modeled by Arnold and Co. 

5. Maintain a neutral spine and a “proud” chest.

Remember the balance of movement and stability? Lower back stability and upper back mobility are required for a successful squat.

During a squat, the torso angle should stay rather consistent (as upright as possible, limiting forward lean). This does not imply standing upright, but rather maintaining a natural arch in the spine, folding from the hips (rather than rounding or hunching), and keeping the chest “proud.” As the hips drop during the fall, the body instinctively leans forward to compensate.

It’s OK if the lower back somewhat rounds in the bottom position of an unweighted squat. You’ll naturally straighten out a little bit as you add resistance, particularly with a barbell (which pulls the thoracic spine farther into extension). Simply maintain a neutral spine with little rounding (i.e. a natural S-curve).

For weighted squats, the lower back is often the weak link, particularly in those who have longer legs but a shorter torso. Standard barbell back squats may be difficult to remain upright if you are tall and/or have lengthy legs (in proportion to your torso). Try front squats and/or a broader stance.

Check read How Leg Length Affects Squatting if you’re a biomechanics nerd.

During squats, the erector spinae muscles are important because they assist to withstand spinal shear pressures. Squats (along with other torso muscles) may be strengthened by performing more of them.

When squatting with big weights, the forces on the spine may be very significant, far beyond what most biomechanics models suggest humans can sustain. However, the spine adjusts to increasing stresses with time.

The following is an example of what you can see in the picture below:

a) lumbar flexion b) thoracic extension c) neutral spine a) lumbar flexion b) thoracic extension c) neutral spine

In a perfect world, you’d want to find (c).

1626006877_27_All-About-The-Squat

The bodyweight squat: A movement screen for the squat pattern, Kritz M, Cronin J, and Hume P. Strength Cond J, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 76-85, 2009.

Squatting is a skill that can be learned.

If you squat and have tight ankles, immovable hips, a weak torso, pain, or odd sounds in your joints, you probably have a defective movement pattern that has to be corrected.

If squatting causes you discomfort or you don’t have the mobility or strength to perform it correctly, swallow your pride and adapt the exercise (see squat progressions below).

Because it requires less external resistance (and less stress on the joints) to produce the same load on the muscles, full-depth squats are generally safer than shallow squats (thanks to lever arms). For most individuals, full-depth squats are the best option.

There are a few exceptions:

  • Knee rehab (which, in most instances, should proceed to full squats);
  • disproportionately large legs in comparison to the torso; and
  • Those with particular partial-squat objectives, such as sportsmen training jump squats.

Progressions in squats

However, most adults in Western societies (where people sit rather than squat) struggle to squat properly at first. They’ve frequently lost their natural ability to fall down effortlessly on their haunches, which they had as children.

As a result, many people must relearn how to squat properly.

Here’s a quick rundown of the movement.

Begin by standing tall and with excellent posture. Feet may be close together with toes pointing forward or wide apart with toes pointing out. Experiment with different foot placements to see which one works best for you.

  1. Lift your ribcage and take a deep breath.
  2. Push the butt back first, then sit down, keeping this “proud chest” in mind. (Imagine sitting in a chair that doesn’t exist or sitting on the toilet.)
  3. As the butt moves back, allow the body to naturally tilt forward from the hips.
  4. Keep your heels on the ground.
  5. Lower yourself till your hamstrings are in contact with your calves. (Or, for starters, as far down as you can go.)
  6. Ascend by driving through your heels and maintaining your chest “proud” and your head high.

The following is a step-by-step guide to learning how to squat: E-Zy! Lurn To Squat Good

Various squat variants

The squat is more of a workout idea than a specific activity. You may have a hundred (or more) variants on the fundamental concept by varying the loading (overhead, front, back, dumbbells held at the sides, etc. ), form (1 or 2 legs), pace, foot location, and so on.

Squats on a plate

Plate squats provide proper load distribution and upright posture. Maintain a parallel relationship between the plate and the ground. You’re probably rounding your back if the plate tilts downward.

Try balancing a ball on top of the plate, as seen in the picture below, to be a true badass.

Make use of a light plate. You’re not performing this exercise to impress your gym buddies.

All-About-The-Squat

Source: Chiu LZ & Burkhardt E. A teaching progression for squatting exercises. Strength Cond J 2011;33:46-54.

Squats with a goblet

This is an excellent warmup or beginning squat variant for people who have difficulty with regular squats.

 

Squats in the back

The barbell rests on the traps/upper back, not the neck, in the traditional back squat.

 

Squat jumps

Jump if you want a strong leg contraction.

Jumps with more resistance may improve power production and jump height. When it comes to the best jump squat technique, the thighs should never fall below parallel.

Weighted vests are excellent for loading the jump. Dumbbells may also be used, but it is a little more uncomfortable. Because of the pressure on the spine, barbell and Smith machine jump squats are the most hazardous.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKz9YNNuH0Y

Squats by Zercher

For those who struggle with conventional squats, here is an alternative. Wrestlers will find it useful as sport-specific training, particularly if they utilize a sandbag instead of a bar.

 

 

Squats in the front

The weight is placed at the top of the front of the shoulders, in the “groove” between the deltoids and collarbone, in the front squat.

Because the body remains more erect in front squats, compressive stresses on the spine and knee joints are reduced.

There is a lack of mobility and/or torso strength if the barbell starts to slide forward from the shoulders. Many individuals believe that wrist range of motion is the limiting issue in this situation, but it’s typically stiff internal shoulder rotators that are the culprit (pec major, lats, teres major, subscapularis). Maintain a high elbow position throughout the action.

For front squat mistakes and fixes, see the table below.

 

1626006878_912_All-About-The-Squat

Source: Waller M & Townsend R.  The front squat and its variations.  Strength Cond J 2007;29:14-19.

Squats with your hands in the air

This is an excellent way to improve full-body mobility, balance, and strength. Plus, it’s simply a great design.

 

Squats with one leg

Try one leg once you’ve mastered two. Working on one side at a time puts more strain on the supporting hip muscles.

Squats of shrimp

 

Summary & recommendations

Squatting is a fundamental human movement. It makes you better in sports, fitness, and life in general when you do it.

Practice if you want to improve your squat. Practice helps you coordinate your movements and develops the mobility you’ll need to do them correctly.

Starting with a squat progression, such as squatting down to a step, is a good place to start. Make it a goal to achieve as much range of motion as possible, even if it takes some time.

Each bodily type is unique. Experiment with different squats, stances, and ranges of motion.

Instead of piling on weight to impress your gym buddies, concentrate on form and proper technique. Please leave your ego at the entrance.

Carry out your mobility exercises. Squats are more prone to cause injury in a physique with limited mobility.

Squats with a full range of motion are often safer than squats with a shallow range of motion. When squatting, the deeper you go, the more muscles you activate.

Control the descent and carefully reverse the movement. If you’re in a deep squat, don’t rely on your ligaments to get you out.

Consider how the squat can improve your fitness and performance rather than how much weight you can lift. Squatting in a way that enables you to lift the greatest weight isn’t always the best or most suitable choice.

Maintain a straightforward approach. Squatting is something that even babies can do. Don’t give it too much thought.

The squat is causing problems, so here’s how to fix it.

Try taking photos or videotaping yourself while you’re learning the squat. This can provide extremely useful feedback.

Having trouble finding a good squat pattern?

  • Try a broader posture with your toes slightly pointing out (remember knees follow toes).
  • Use natural foot positioning with toes slightly out (as in other athletic movements).
  • Keep your heels firmly planted on the ground. Put small plates under your heels if necessary until your hip and ankle joints are more mobile.
  • Control your squat speed with a 2-3 second descent (unless your sport or activity requires a different technique).
  • Keep your spine in a neutral position.
  • Breaks are necessary because fatigue can lead to poor mechanics.
  • Maintain a close proximity to your body with your hands.
  • Keep your head up and look forward.
  • Work on ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility exercises (All About Dynamic Joint Mobility).
  • Squatting progressions should be used (see above).
  • Find a coach who can assist you.

Do you have a hard time maintaining your weight on your heels?

  • Improve hip mobility.
  • Create a strong foundation.
  • Improve ankle mobility.
  • Increase the mobility of your thoracic spine (All About Spine Health).
  • Remove your shoes or replace them with a shoe with a thin sole.
  • Maintain a strong core and a confident chest.

Do you have a hard time stooping down?

  • Start by getting your body warmed up (All About Warming Up).
  • Rotate your toes out and widen your stance.
  • Consider squatting with your legs together.
  • Increase the mobility of your ankles, thoracic spine, and hips.
  • Create a strong foundation.
  • Begin the squat by sitting back with your hips.
  • Experiment with box squat progressions (high to low box).
  • Reduce the amount of resistance you apply.

Do squats cause your knees to buckle?

  • As a guide, wrap a light band around your knees (video).
  • Glutes and abductors of the hips should be strengthened.
  • Keep your knees out and “spread the floor” as much as possible.
  • Reduce the amount of resistance you apply.

Extra credit is available

1626006878_266_All-About-The-SquatThe squat has been proven to be helpful in the rehabilitation of cruciate ligament and/or patellofemoral injuries, with the best range of motion being between 0 and 50 degrees of knee flexion (see image at right). During partial squats, the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) is more active.

The patellar tendon’s ultimate tensile strength ranges from 10,000 to 15,000 N. The greatest compressive pressures ever measured were about 8,000 N at full squat depth in a study of powerlifters lifting 2.5 times their bodyweight.

Full-depth squats provide the highest risk of damage to the menisci and articular surfaces of the knee, rather than the ACL/PCL.

Squat knee stability may be improved by having strong hamstrings.

Keeping the heels on the ground reduces stress on the knee ligaments.

From the upright posture to 90 degrees knee flexion, squats have the most quad engagement. The hamstrings and glutes are the most important muscles.

The position of the toes (in, out, straight) does not seem to affect muscle activation. Only a wide stance allows more adductors to be used.

References

To see the information sources mentioned in this article, go here.

Schuna JM & Christensen BK.  The jump squat: Free weight barbell, Smith machine, or dumbbells? Strength Cond J 2010;32:38-41.

Chiu LZ & Burkhardt E.  A teaching progression for squatting exercises.  Strength Cond J 2011;33:46-54.

Debunking the misconceptions about the squat. Krista Scott-Dixon is a writer.

Why do you squat? Krista Scott-Dixon is a writer.

Squats with a goblet 101. Dan John is a fictional character. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/most recent/goblet squats 101

Squat with purpose: Techniques for a deeper squat. Gentilcore, Tony. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/most recent/squat like you mean it tips for a deeper squat

Salem GJ & Powers CM.  Patellofemoral joint kinetics during squatting in collegiate women athletes.  Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 2001;16:424-430.

Myths about leg training are debunked. Alwyn Cosgrove is a British actor. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/sports body training performance/leg training myths exposed

The bodyweight squat: A movement screen for the squat pattern, Kritz M, Cronin J, and Hume P. Strength Cond J, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 76-85, 2009.

Relationship between maximum squat strength and five, ten, and forty yard sprint timings, McBride JM, et al. J Strength Cond Res, 2009, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 1633-1636.

A biomechanical comparison of back and front squats in healthy trained people, Gullett JC, et al. 284-292 in J Strength Cond Res.

RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escamilla, RF Escam Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 127-141, 2001.

Comfort P & Kasim P.  Optimizing squat technique.  Strength Cond J 2007;29:10-13.

Effects of technique changes on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press, Escamilla RF, et al. 1552-1566 in Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001.

Squatters with five bad behaviors. Mike Robertson is a writer and a musician. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/sports body training performance/five habits of defective squatters

The squat: A good workout gone wrong? Green, Nate. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/sports body training performance/the squat good exercise gone bad

BC Fleming, et al. After anterior cruciate ligament repair, should you do open- or closed-kinetic-chain exercises? Exerc Sport Sci Rev, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 134-140, 2005.

Squatting kinematics and kinetics and their application to workout performance, Schoenfeld BJ. 2010;24:3497-3506. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24:3497-3506.

Waller M & Townsend R.  The front squat and its variations.  Strength Cond J 2007;29:14-19.

10 pointers for perfect squatting. Mike Robertson is a writer and a musician. http://www.t-nation.com/free online article/sports body training performance/10 tips for flawless squattin

Part 1 of deep squatting. Anders Hansson is a Swedish author. http://www.athleticdesign.se/athletics/squat article 1 english.html

Find out more.

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The squat is the king of lower body exercises, and it is the only way to build a strong lower body. The squat not only works your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals, but also trains your core, lower back, and stabilizer muscles. Over the years, people have used the squat in many ways, but the most common is the front squat. The front squat is basically the same as the back squat, but instead of going down to parallel with your body, you go forward about 10–20% from parallel and then back down.. Read more about muscles used in squats and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of doing squats?

Squats are a great way to burn fat, build muscle, and improve your overall health. They can be done anywhere and at any time.

How do you properly do a squat?

Squatting is a way to exercise your legs, buttocks, and back muscles. The proper squat involves bending your knees so that the tops of your thighs are parallel with the ground. You then push your hips back while keeping your torso upright and lower yourself until you feel a stretch in the backs of your legs.

What are the 4 points of performance of the squat?

The 4 points of performance are the depth, speed, range of motion and force.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • squat muscles worked diagram
  • what muscles do squats work
  • squats muscles worked
  • biomechanical analysis of a squat
  • what muscles are used in a squat
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