Let’s face it…unless you are one of the unfortunate few that is in bed all day, we are all squatters. Every day. All the time. It’s not just for gym rats or boot camp aficionados. You use it to get up down from a chair or the toilet, to name two of the most basic uses.
Maybe you have never thought of it this way, but you even do a semi-squat in a split leg position when you go up stairs.
It is a skill that we need all of our lives.
That’s why it’s important to apply a little bit of thought to your technique. Seriously. If you go through life with a casual approach to this important move, you can predispose your body to break down in certain key areas. That would be your hips, butt, knees, and lower back.
A good way to check out your technique is to do the squat as an exercise. Then, once you conquer that right technique, it’s good to keep doing the squat exercise in order to keep your muscles tuned in to the best way to do the move. That way, whenever you are squatting in real life, the correct way will start to come naturally.
Let’s take a few minutes and go over the finer points. (Once you know these, you may even find yourself correcting others, or spotting squat mistakes at the gym. This in itself can be kind of tricky. Do you say something or not? But I digress.)
Let’s spell out the techniques in a list.
- The biggest thing you can do is use your biggest muscle when you squat. That would be your butt. Not using your butt is THE biggest mistake you can do. (Your butt muscle is big for a reason.) It will lead to overuse of other muscles as a compensation. Most notably, many of your hip muscles will overwork, your low back muscles will overwork, and the thigh muscle that protect your knee from becoming painful will overwork. Convinced? In order to make sure you are using your butt muscle, follow the directions in #2.
- Before descending into your squat, stand tall. Grab onto the back of a chair if desired. Then HINGE FORWARD FROM YOUR HIPS. This will automatically push your butt out behind you. Hold there to make sure you are keeping your back straight as you tilt forward, and not just rounding your low back or hunching your shoulders as you go down. Rounding your back for this move is a sure-fire way to put pressure on the spine area of your low back. If you do this a lot, your low back can start to complain. Aside: Hinging from the hips and using your legs is the way to pick up objects as well. That would apply to heavy objects or even light ones like a golf ball.
- Next, as you descend, keep pushing your butt back as you bend your knees. DO NOT LET THE KNEES JUT FORWARD OVER YOUR TOES. If your knees do jut forward, it probably means you are starting the squat by bending your knees. If that happens, you will not be using your butt muscle to get you down and up, but will be relying too much on your thigh muscles. On top of that, pushing your knees out front will create some pressure behind your knee cap that can lead to pain down the road. See my squat video here.
- Go down to where your thighs are parallel to the floor if possible. If not, stop wherever you feel a restriction, pain, or weakness. HOWEVER, if weakness is involved, it’s a sign that you need to continue doing the exercise going forward to gradually build up your strength. Start with 5-8 repetitions, and then build from there until you can do at least two sets of 10 repetitions.
- Foot placement: Have your feet about hip distance apart. If you want to get your inner thigh muscles more involved (this is a good variation), bring your feet wider than your hips. The same rules apply. Bring the butt back first, and do not let the knees travel out in front of your shoes.
- A FAQ: Is it OK to go further down than thighs parallel to the floor? This is a matter of some hot debate, but it appears that this will not be bad for your knees even though they will end up ahead of your feet. The key is that your butt and thigh muscles need to be strong enough to support this movement. You will also need to have a hip joint that is flexible enough to get you there. The same goes for your ankle joint.
The Tricky Part
There you have it. The tricky part is mostly about getting the butt back first. Having said that, the trickiest part may be to remember to use this form in your daily life. This is why it is important to make sure doing squats is part of an exercise routine that occurs on a regular basis. Two sets of 10 two or three times a week is a good goal. You can always do more, or throw in some related exercises like the leg press machine or wall sits.
PS. FOR EXTRA FUN once you have the form rock solid, do 20 mini squats in quick succession. Then do it again. This really gets things fired up, and gets you breathing hard as well.
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