The squat is one of the most popular exercises in any workout. It works multiple muscles throughout the body and has several variations. You can add weight to the squat to make it harder or even add plyometrics to the mix to increase your heart rate and burn more calories.
Unfortunately, despite its massive popularity, the squat is one of the most poorly executed exercises in the gym today. The consequences of performing the squat incorrectly can lead to major injuries, especially to the knee, hip and back. And most of us are unaware that we don’t have the necessary movement efficiency or the flexibility to squat in a safe manner.
My one wish is that you will take a step back, realize that you “might not know squat” mechanics, and reassess whether you should be using heavy weights. Maybe you’ll dial it down by perfecting the body-weight movement first so you can save your body from horrific damage. Take it from me: I was a softball catcher from ages 8 to 22, and now I’m looking at the possibility of a partial knee replacement just 10 years post-collegiate career! If only I could have taken this information into consideration when I was younger, I’d be dealing with far less pain and future medical procedures.
So if you’re realizing that you “might not know squat” technique, let’s explore the most common mistakes and identify helpful tips to improve this area of your fitness routine.
You “Might Not Know Squat”
Two of the most common mistakes made while performing a squat are 1.) excessive forward lean and 2.) knees moving in. Watch out for these form mistakes while you’re in the gym. This can lead to major injury and is possibly indicative of muscular imbalances that require attention.
The proper form typically starts with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward, and back straight. I like to tell clients to contract the glutes, pull their shoulder blades toward their spine and keep their eyes forward (because we all know where the ground is). As you descend, push the knees out and sit back like you are in a chair (make sure your knees track in line with your toes even as you push out, or abduct). Pause for a few seconds at the bottom of the squat. Thighs should be parallel to floor (mobility permitting, hip crease slightly below knee joint). Then come back to the starting position by contracting the glutes and pressing up through your heels.
If you are reading this, recognizing that you “might not know squat” dynamics and possibly don’t possess the necessary movement ability to perform this exercise without injuring your body, it’s time to break it down. Now don’t fret—you can squat a lot of weight in less time than you think once you master the basic body squat. Even better, you can modify a squat to the very basics of the movement by starting with moves like a wall sit or squat. (You can support your back with a stability ball placed between the arch of your back and the wall.) You can also use a TRX suspension trainer to help you “sit back” and keep your chest up as you descend into the bottom position. As your strength progresses, your flexibility improves and you gain an overall awareness of body position, you can safely begin advancing your movements to contain the body squat and incrementally adjusting the weight you use.
The most important lesson is to have patience, leave your ego at the door and set the heavy barbell down on the squat rack if you’re struggling with the basic fundamentals of this classic exercise. Take it from me: Your knees and back will thank you!