Can you perform a deep squat without your knees caving in, spine flexing, and feet pronating? What can you do if you are unable to perform a deep squat with perfect form? How do you get there? This article, the third and final in a series of three, I will guide you in your quest. In the two previous articles, I explained the factors influencing squat mechanics, and the myths surrounding the squat. Now it’s time to learn how to squat properly. However, if you are still unable, I will give you the lower body training on how to get there safely and effectively in the shortest amount of time.
Proper Squat Technique Tips
- Tripod foot connection to the ground – A proper foundation for the “perfect” squat starts with solid footing on the ground. If it’s not solid, your body will seek stability elsewhere, robbing you of the mobility you need to squat low with good form. Your 1st metatarsal (bone just behind big toe), 5th metatarsal (bone just behind little toe), and calcaneus (heel bone) must always remain in contact with the ground. Spread your toes apart (need a shoe with a wide toe box) and grip the floor the way you would grip a basketball with your fingers.
- Screw feet out – Create an external rotation force with your feet into the ground (right foot clockwise and left foot counterclockwise). This stabilizes the hips and engages the glutes.
- Tighten glutes – This should be done at the top of the squat to protect your lower back. Once you start your descent you don’t need to worry about it. You just need to focus on pushing your butt back and down.
- Brace abdominals – The amount of brace should be proportional to the amount of force needed to lift the weight.
- Pack shoulders down and back – During the low bar back squat you will want to bring your hands in as close as possible and lift your elbows up to create a shelf for the bar. For those with shoulder mobility issues, you may need to use a wider grip, but should continue to work on shoulder mobility, and working the hands in closer.
- Ideal bar placement for front and back squats – The bar should rest on the front of the shoulders during a front squat. Keep your elbows high, though many people don’t have the shoulder mobility to do this. The bar can be placed on the upper traps for a high bar back squat, or just above the spine of the scapula (on top of the rear delts) for low bar back squat. Use a “thumbless” grip while low bar squatting to keep pressure off the wrists. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and try to rip the bar apart to engage your lats (or just think about pulling the bar down into your shoulders).
- Initiate movement with hips – When I ask new clients to squat for the first time they inevitably initiate the squat movement at the ankle joint, and bend their knees first. This creates a tremendous amount of torque on the knees. It’s best to initiate the movement by sitting the hips back first.
- Knee tracking – Knees should track over the second toe.
- Maintain neutral spine – The curve of your spine should remain the same throughout the movement. Beware of overarching your back or tilting your pelvis under at the bottom of the squat, which is called a “butt wink”.
- Drive hips up and back – Come out of the bottom of the squat by driving your hips up and back.
- Proper breathing- For maximum efforts use the Valsalva maneuver by taking a deep breath at the top of the squat, and continuing to hold your breath until you move past the sticking point on the way up. For submaximal efforts and high reps, inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. It’s okay to hold your breath momentarily at the bottom of the squat during the transition back up.
- Parallel depth – Try to get your thighs parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat. Individuals with good mobility and no injuries can squat below parallel.
Many newbies who begin a lower body training program are unable to perform a full-depth bodyweight squat. At FAST, we like to progress these individuals slowly by starting with assisted squats, box squats, and/or goblet squats. Dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squats are great because the weight can actually help you to reach a deeper depth. We also like to have our clients just hang out at the bottom of the squat focusing on deep abdominal breathing, pushing the knees out, lifting the chest, and lengthening the spine. If you can get accustomed to holding the bottom position for a long time, it will become much easier to get there from the top of the squat. Be warned though, these can be brutally hard!
So, there you have it—a template to help you perform the best squat possible for your body type. Now you can choose the most efficient squatting style that will help you reach good depth with perfect form. If squatting still causes problems for you, there are plenty of other great exercises to strengthen the lower body including: single-leg squats, lunges, step-ups, hip thrusts, sled pushes, deadlifts, split squats, and single-leg deadlifts. If you would prefer guidance from a professional in your quest for the “perfect” squat, come to the FAST facility nearest you, and ask one of our strength and conditioning coaches for assistance.