How to Do Squats the Right Way

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You may not have realized, but your everyday life of household to-dos probably involves a lot of squatting.

If you drop something, you’ll probably squat to pick it up. If you’re sitting on the toilet, you’re squatting downwards and then back up. If you’re cleaning the floor, you’re in some kind of squat position.

Plenty of people have referred to squats as the king of all exercises, and rightfully so! Squats are a total lower-body fitness necessity. The areas and muscles worked during a squat include:

  • hips
  • glutes
  • quads
  • hamstrings

If you’re focused on breathing, coordination, or balance, the movement works the core. People who want to increase strength or bone density should also include squats in their routines.

Here’s our advice on how to do a safe and effective squat, with only your body weight.

Squats: Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, hips lined up over your knees, and knees over ankles.
  2. Relax your neck and shoulders and roll the shoulders back and down, away from the ears. Your goal is to maintain a neutral spin position so you neither hunch forward nor sway back.
  3. Keep your arms either extended forward with the palms facing down or facing each other. Another option is to put your hands behind your head, touching your head but not pushing your head forward.
  4. Take a deep inhale and slowly move your hips back while keeping your core contracted. Continue sending hips backward as the knees begin to bend. Do not allow your toes to jut past your knees throughout this move. Sit back into your hips.
  5. As your butt begins to stick out, make sure the chest and shoulders stay upright, and the spine stays neutral. Focus on a point in front of you so that your head faces forward and your neck stays in a relaxed position.
  6. Continue to lower down as deep as you can go without feeling any pain and without compromising your form. Your knees should not buckle inwards and they should be facing forward. Your hips may sink below the knees as long as you keep good form. A good tip is to touch your knuckles to the ground while running your forearms on the inside of your knees and thighs.
  7. Keep your spine in neutral position, core engaged, and body weight in the heels as you exhale and push up to standing. You should push from your heels so the momentum moves up your legs. When standing, tuck your hips back to the front to complete the movement.

Until you have perfected the form, you should focus on bodyweight squats. You’ll still be challenged with a bodyweight squat if done correctly because you’ll be squatting deep and low. To challenge yourself at this point, increase your repetitions.

Once you’re feeling good about the move, you can add a weight or a sandbag and continue to slowly increase the weight.

Squat Variations

The most common weighted squat variations are front, back, and goblet squats.

Front Squat

When performing a front squat, keep the sandbag or barbell resting just above the collarbone (clavicle) area. Point your elbows up and out with your triceps parallel to the ground. You may feel unstable when holding the bar with just the fingertips but the weight when rested on the collarbone is a solid “shelf” for the bar. The hands are there to prevent the bar from rolling.

If you’re new to strength training, try to perform this type of squat once you’re comfortable holding the barbell in this position. When lowering into a front squat, the body will remain upright compared to a bodyweight or back squat, and you don’t need to reach back with the butt.

Your focus should be on keeping an upright position with your elbows up and pointing forward throughout the movement.

Back Squat

For a back squat you could use a sandbag or a barbell. If you’re new to using a barbell, please consult a personal trainer to help with form and positioning.

When performing a back squat, rest the weight on the trapezius muscle group. These are the muscles at the base of the back of your neck, and your upper back. Keep your hands facing forward and your elbows pointing down (which will naturally happen if you’re holding a barbell or sandbag).

The back squat is similar to the traditional bodyweight squat with one minor difference: your breathing. When you’re squatting, take an inhale before you lower and don’t release the breath to exhale until you return to standing. Essentially this movement is performed with a little more momentum.

Goblet Squat

Pick a weight of choice that you will hold at the center of your chest. Good examples include a dumbbell, a kettlebell, or a medicine ball.

Lower into your squat while keeping a slight bend in the knees, moving straight down and then standing straight up. In a goblet squat, your focus is not to push your butt back as you would with a traditional squat. Instead, drop the elbows between the legs inside the knees for a full range of motion.

Goblet squats are an effective exercise for those new to strength training since they keep you from leaning forward. Holding a weight in front of the chest helps stabilize the working muscles.

[This article was previously posted in Healthline on October 30, 2015]

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