The squat is a key component of many strength training programs and should be an important part of anyone's workout. However, squats can be dangerous if performed incorrectly. There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your form is correct and your technique safe.
In this article, we will outline the 9 most common mistakes people make when performing a squat and provide instructions on how to fix them so you have a better chance at getting the results you want from this exercise.
Retract and Depress Your Shoulders
It is important to get your shoulders down and back, so that they are retracted from the ears.
This will help you create an upper body that resembles a "shelf" and allow you to maintain good posture throughout the squat.
The first step to achieving this position is to press your shoulder blades together and down. It may seem like an unnatural thing to do at first but it is crucial in allowing you to fix the problem of having an arched/rounded spine during the descent of the squat.
If you struggle with this position because of tightness in your front then try doing a few sets of dumbbell chest flies and face pulls before you squat.
Set up symmetrically
It is important to get your weight on your shoulders and feet under the bar before you lift the weight. This will ensure you're in the correct position and can maintain good posture throughout the movement, but what also matters is to be symmetrical.
Place your hands on the bar and line up your posture and shoulders so that the bar rests on the to of your shoulder blades and your neck is perfectly in the middle of your hands.
Before you lift the bar double down on retraction and depression of your shoulders and, place your feet directly under the weight and a bit wider than shoulder-width.
Take a deep breath
Make sure to take a deep breath before lifting the weight. Do this before you even take the weight off the rack and hold your air and abs as you begin to descend. Doing this will activate all of the muscles in your core so they're all working together to help stabilize you while lowering yourself down.
Imagine you're about to be punched in the gut and have to hold your breath because you're under water.
Many lifters fail a squat not because they are too weak, but because they have poor bracing. Practice the above strategy to maximize your core stiffness.
If you struggle with breathing deep into your belly then try a few sets of deep breaths while lying on your stomach. This is called crocodile breathing and will help expand your ability to hold more air in your core.
Unrack the bar with your legs
A large squat rack is the best for holding the weight and allows for ample room to get set up. As you go to lift the weight, do not make the mistake of leaning or swaying the weight. Use your legs and squat the weight off the rack. Many lifters lose tightness in their core by not using enough leg drive to get the bar off the rack.
If you struggle with this then try putting 50% more on the bar than you normally would and practice partial reps inside the rack. The extra weight will force you into a better position and you'll learn what it means to push the bar off with your legs.
Once you've learned this technique you can take the extra weight off the bar and practice it with lighter weights just like any normal warmup set.
Step back from the rack with one or two steps, making sure to keep your heels flat on the floor as you do so. A few short steps will give you ample space and allow for a much more comfortable and safe descent.
Take 2-4 small steps
Take two to four small steps back from the rack to allow for more space between you and the bar but not so much that you're more than 2 feet from the place you picked the bar up from.
This is important because you want a few inches of room in order to descend without distorting your form. Distorting your form by squatting too close to the rack can cause excessive stress on your back and will result in injury as well as make the walkout excessively hard.
This is especially important at heavier weights. Many times a lifter will be mentally defeated because the bar "feels" too hard. Lucky for them this can be easily solved by taking a fewer number of smaller steps during the walkout.
Bend your knees before your squat
Bending your knees before going down into a squat can also help you keep your form tight and your lower back safe. It's important to keep a little bend in the knee before you start descending or else you won't be properly aligned to move better.
Only once the knees are bent can the hips work properly and the quads become strong and properly active during the squat.
This is especially important if you're going heavier than your normal routine or working with an injury that limits mobility. Bending the knees will not only protect your back but also maintain complete control of your body, and failing to bent them can lead to wonky movement patterns which won't transfer well to day-to-day movement.
PS it's ok if this makes your knees go over your toes at the bottom of a squat.
It's important to squat as low as possible and really get your hips down. This will make the whole movement more comfortable and help you stay in control of the weight.
Many people think that if they don't go super deep then their form is less than perfect. THIS ISN'T TRUE!
Don't be afraid to get a little deeper because this can also help you maintain good form and avoid injury - just don't go so long that your ack starts to round. If you can't help but round your lower back a little then I'd encourage you to elevate the heels until you have the mobility to not round your spine while squatting.
In order to get strong, we need to think of your body as a full system that needs to be strengthened from top to bottom. Establish a clear and objective range of motion during warmup and work to keep that depth consistent.
Every human being should be able to sit fully into the bottom position of a squat where the calves touch the hamstrings while the heels remain on the ground.
If you're like most Americans then you probably can't do this yet, but that's ok. You can fix this by stretching you're calves and hips before you squat.
Some of our favorites are goblet squat holds, kneeling calf stretches, and wall tibialis raise.
Spread and twist the floor
Glute activation is a key part of any squat. The glutes are the strongest muscle in your body and need to be activated during squatting to properly transfer force and complete the exercise with optimal form (i.e. keeping your knees out).
A great mental cue is to imagine that you're standing on two rugs, with one foot on each, and you're trying to spread those rugs apart with your feet. This helps activate the glutes and improve stability in the hips, knees, and back.
This can be especially important if you're squatting heavyweight, and it becomes even MORE important when one of your knees caves inwards: the glute on that side won't be activated properly if it's falling inward so make sure to keep it pushed back out.
Some people don't do well with the rug analogy, and instead, need to think of screwing their meeting into the ground or opening their groin, or twisting their toes out and the heels inward.
Activate with a nice controlled tension at the hip to help keep your form dialed in and get the most out of your glutes with the squat.
This cue is especially important at the beginning of your descent and as your try to push your feet into the floor to stand.
If you struggle with understanding this movement idea then try putting a band around your knees during your warmup sets. As the band tried to pull your knees together you'll begin to understand how to tension the glutes through a full range of motion.
Ready to go?
Squats are an extremely important exercise for both strength and mobility. They also help to build a strong core, which is crucial in day-to-day life. The 9 steps above will help you master the art of squatting like a pro (and avoid injury!).
If you're looking to significantly reduce your levels of procrastination and take your strength to the next level, there's no need to beat yourself up. We want to help.
Sign up for a free coaching consultation today and someone will guide you through the 9 steps above. We have online coaching programs and in-person training for you to take advantage of.
Let's work together on building confidence, reducing anxiety, and making this your year!
Authored by William Barker
July 2021, all rights reserved