When it comes to everyday usefulness, few exercises compare to the basic squat. Whether you are working out in a gym or picking something off of the floor, knowing how to safely and effectively perform a squat will serve you well. When done correctly, a squat builds functional strength throughout the lower body. However, when performed incorrectly, squats can contribute to muscle imbalance and pain. To make the most of this stellar exercise, here are some tips on proper form that you should keep in mind.
STARTING POSITION: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed slightly outward. Draw your navel gently inwards, in order to keep your spine in neutral and engage your transverses abdominis. Keep your gaze forward, with your head and neck in line with your spine.
MOVEMENT: To initiate the squat, hinge forward at your hips and shift your buttocks backwards. Drive through your feet and bend at the knees and ankles. Lower your body as if you were sitting down into a chair. Keep your chest and head up and engage your abdominals to protect your spine. Your knees should stay in line with your feet and behind your toes. Only go as low as you can while keeping your heels on the ground and your thighs no lower than parallel to the floor.
COMMON FORM MISTAKES:
- Excessive rounding of low back:
If your low back is rounded, the pelvis and muscles around it will stay tight. This position puts pressure on the low back and can lead to injury.
- Knees move too far forward:
Your knees should stay in line with your feet and should not extend beyond your toes.
- Lack of hip flexion:
This occurs when you do not hinge forward at the hips and instead bend only through your knees. This can increase stress on the knees and keep you from building strength in your gluteals.
- Knees collapse inward:
This can happen when thighs may rotate inward and drag the knees with them, pulling them out of line with your hips and feet. This can increase pressure on the knees and lead to muscle imbalance in the hips.
A safely-performed squat may result in some discomfort in your muscles, but it should not cause sharp pain in your knees. If you experience anything beyond general muscle soreness, check your form. You may also need to reduce the amount of weight you are squatting or decrease the depth of your squat.
Squats are a great way to build functional strength in several large muscle groups at once. Try starting out with bodyweight squats, and add weight when you need more of a challenge. Whether you are a beginner or a lifelong athlete, squats are an excellent addition to any strength-training routine. We hope you’ll give them a try!