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Squats are incredibly effective leg exercises that you can use to strengthen your legs and improve the rest of your body, including your back, core, and arms. But if you’re not squatting correctly, you’re missing out on some key benefits and even putting yourself at risk of injury. Here are the seven steps to help you squat correctly and get the most out of this great exercise.
7 Steps to Do Squats Correctly
1) Assume An Athletic Stance
Before you start squats, stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Bend your knees, push your hips back, pull your shoulders down (keeping them level), and lower yourself until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Keep pushing your heels into the floor as you lower yourself—it’s fine if you have to bend a bit at the waist. Make sure not to let your knees go past your toes while squatting; make adjustments as needed so that they stay in line with each other. That’s it! Work up to doing three sets of 15 repetitions.
2) Look Straight Ahead
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes turned slightly outward. Look straight ahead and keep your chest up. Hold a barbell across your upper back or hold a dumbbell in each hand, and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. (A lower level will allow you to work on strengthening specific muscles.) Keep your knees behind your toes throughout, never letting them pass over. Make sure not to let them cave inward or extend outward; both actions can lead to serious knee injuries. As you come back up, raise yourself onto your toes for one second before slowly descending again for another rep. Repeat 10 times for two sets of squats, if you’re just starting out; do as many reps as possible once you’re stronger!
3) Brace Your Core
A lot of people aren’t aware that proper squat form includes maintaining a tight core. Squats should be done with a strong, stable core so you don’t put too much pressure on your lower back. Tightening your abdominal muscles will help keep your back straight as you go down into position—and then allow for more movement during each rep before you come back up. It also keeps you from leaning forward at all. If it feels too difficult or awkward at first, try holding onto something like a heavy bag or weight plate while performing sets of 10 repetitions each day until you get used to it.
4) Shoulders Back, Chest Up
When you’re squatting, your form should be impeccable. Keep your shoulders back, chest up, abs tight, eyes forward, arms straight out in front of you (with a slight bend) and feet shoulder-width apart. Your weight should be on your heels and your knees should be at 90-degree angles (but shouldn’t go beyond them). Slowly begin squatting down while remembering to keep everything tight—if you need to use a mirror while practicing, set it up so that you can check yourself out from head-to-toe as soon as you start lowering down. It takes practice but will become second nature over time.
5) Keep Your Weight in Your Heels
Keep your weight in your heels as you go down into a squat. The biggest mistake people make when doing squats is pushing too much with their toes and not enough with their heels. Keep most of your weight on your heels by pressing through them, not just pushing off from them, like you would if you were running. If you feel pressure on your toes, it’s likely that you’re putting too much weight on them rather than balancing between all parts of your feet (your heel, midfoot, and forefoot). This often leads to things like knee or back pain—both things we’re trying to avoid here!
6) Engage Your Glutes
In order to squat correctly, you need to engage your glutes. Doing so will help you keep a flat back, which is essential when doing squats. To properly engage your glutes, you need to lift your knees up high while squatting down and make sure they are pointed in one direction with both knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your weight on your heels while standing up straight with your shoulders pulled back. This will help prevent any extra stress or strain on your lower back.
7) Push Your Knees Out
Your knees should remain pointed in the same direction as your toes, both when you squat down and when you stand back up. If they point out too much or if they don’t track correctly, you might be placing unnecessary strain on your knees or other joints. To correct for bad tracking, push your knees outward by activating your glutes (butt muscles) as you lower into a squat and as you push yourself back up. Think about keeping active legs — those are strong legs that flex and extend with each movement. This small adjustment can make a big difference in how you move, which will help ensure more efficient movement patterns.
Squats are one of the most effective exercises you can do for your entire lower body. When you squat with proper form, you target a ton of muscles including those in your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves and more. Done correctly, squats can tone muscles in your lower body, which burns more calories. They also help strengthen your core and increase flexibility in your hips. But don’t forget about form; squatting incorrectly can cause serious injuries that may be hard to recover from. Follow the above seven steps and you’ll not only do squats correctly but also get stronger and more flexible over time. Eventually, you might even be able to try some tougher squat variations such as sumo or pistol squats!
What’s your favourite squat variation? Let us know in the comments!