The squat is often considered one of the most fundamental movement patterns you can do. It effectively works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and abdominal muscles, and it promotes mobility and strength that carries over into everyday activities. However, if done incorrectly, squats can place too much load on joints such as the knees, causing pain in athletes and average gym-goers alike. Adults often lose quite a bit of mobility overtime due to normal life activities; sitting behind a desk for several hours and driving for multiple hours throughout the day can cause tightness in the hips and weakness in the glutes. By working on body weight movements, such as the squat, mobility and range of motion can be increased, ultimately decreasing general aches and pains. Here are some tips on how to perform the bodyweight squat properly.
Step 1: Foot placement
A proper squat begins with the feet hip-width to shoulder-width apart and the toes pointing directly forward. Due to a lack of mobility in the hips and/or ankles, people often place their feet wider than shoulder-width apart when they set up to perform a squat in order to work past that limited range of motion, but a true squat isn’t that wide.
Placing the feet too wide can cause you to use the adductors (inner thighs) more and can cause the knees to cave in, creating more pain down the road due to incorrect form and stress on the wrong muscles and joints. Work on your mobility first to get your feet no wider than shoulder-width apart.
Step 2: Initiate the squatOne of the main differences between a deadlift and a squat is where the initial movement takes place. In a deadlift, the initial movement is a hinge movement from the hips. In a squat, the butt will sink down, but the hips won’t move too much - the initial movement comes from a bend in the knees. You want to bend at the knees and begin to sink the butt down, ultimately getting your hips parallel or below your knees. It is good to note here that the knees shouldn’t track past the toes; they should be in line with your toes in order to prevent your knees from taking too much of the stress of the movement.
Step 3: Power down with your heels to come up
Once you have come down to the bottom of the squat, you want to make sure that you come up powerfully and effectively. Initiate the up-phase by driving your heels down in order to be able to squeeze through your quads and your glutes to come up to a full standing. As you reach the top, you should be engaging the muscles in your legs and your abdominals.
Step 4: Remember to breathe!
During the squat, you should inhale as you sink down to the bottom and exhale to power up. If you exhale too early, you’ll start to lose power and momentum, and you’ll get a sensation of being “stuck” at the bottom of the squat.
Squats are a great functional exercise that work several major muscle groups in the body. While there are many weighted variations to try, it is important to learn the proper mechanics of the body weight version first before placing a load on the body.
Lauren Weiss is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor based out of Long Beach, CA. She specializes in kettlebell training and unconventional workouts and has been working with both types of fitness for over a year. Lauren has her BOLT Kettlebell Sport Certification through the USA Kettlebell League and has expertise working with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and several unconventional fitness tools. Lauren received her BA in Journalism and uses her writing expertise to craft thought-provoking articles about trending fitness, health & wellness topics. Follow Lauren on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.
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