How To Do The Perfect Squat

The Squat. Champion of all exercises. The keystone upon which most exercise programs rest. But how do we do a squat? More importantly, how can we do it well?

A squat done with poor form can lead to knee injuries, hip weakness, knee/ankle pain, and low yield on results. A squat done with poor form doesn’t do much for you…and, if you do end up with a knee injury, can take you out of the gym for days, weeks, and even months (in severe cases).

A squat done with good or great form can change your physique, produce hip and core strength, increase lower-body power, and even improve your knee/hip/ankle strength. Sounds good to me.

So let’s learn how to do it right.

The first step is: don’t overload yourself. On any exercise. Don’t walk into the gym with shorts, shoes, and ego– don’t let overconfidence or insecurity drive you to put too much weight or resistance on your body before you begin the exercise. Start light. There’ll be plenty of room to grow.

Step two: stance. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (or even slightly farther apart!) and toes angled very slightly outward. If you have long femurs, or long legs in general, you may need a wider stance. If you have knee weakness, you may need a wider angle at the toes. Listen to your body or, better yet, get a trainer to help you modify the exercise to your unique body.

Step three: protect your spine!!! Engage the muscles of your core to stabilize and protect your spine. A slight arch in the lower back will help keep your lumbar vertebrae safe. Keep your erector spinae (the muscles on either side of your spine in your lower back) contracted through the motion. Pull your belly button in and use your abs to further stabilize the movement…but, especially if you’re unsupervised, keep most of your focus in the back muscles which will stop you from curving your spine and hurting yourself.

Step four: hip hinge. Like most lower-body compound exercises, the squat is hip-loaded…this means: you’re using the large muscles of the hip to move the weight, taking pressure off of the knees. Great in theory, but how do we execute this in practice? Easy. Begin the motion at the hips. The descent of the squat starts with a hip hinge, not a knee bend. Your hips should sail backwards as you lower yourself down. You should feel the weight in your glutes, hips, and thighs…not your knees or calves.

Step five: leading with your hips, lower yourself toward the ground. If you’re a beginner/intermediate exerciser, you don’t need to go super-low. If the angle between thighs/calves (the angle at the knee) is around 90-degrees, give or take, you’re fine. Going lower than that is very much an advanced movement and can put strain on the knee joint even if you’re properly hip-loading the weight, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re extremely well-trained. Especially at a beginner level, feel free to stop short of 90-degrees. Another tip: don’t let your knees travel past your toes. This often happens if the weight isn’t properly hip-loaded or if you favor the knee-bend to the hip-hinge. It puts a lot of downward pressure on the kneecap…and I don’t think I need to go into detail on how that might be a bad thing.

Here is a stock photo to give you an approximate idea of where you should end up:

Right, well, now that you’ve got your stance and your spine is protected, you’ve hinged your hips, hip-loaded the weight, and allowed your hip muscles to carry the load as you lowered yourself down…I highly recommend taking a beat at the bottom of the movement. This shouldn’t be a long pause, just a half-second will be enough. Then use the muscles in your lower body to push yourself back to a standing position.

There we go! Great job.

Which reminds me. A final tip: do not read anything on your cellphone while you’re in the middle of a set.