How to Squat
The squat is one of the most important functional exercises you can do. Getting up from any chair or sitting down on the loo, we do it countless times every day.
As we get older we can lose muscle mass and strength and simple things become a struggle. This is one exercise that should be a part of virtually everyone's routine, as it's relatively simple to perform, requires no equipment, and can be done just about anywhere.
If squats are SO important why do so many of us struggle with them? Why do we end up with aching knees or a tight back?
In this article I'll take you through the basic move and some techniques you can use to improve your squat and get the most out of this simple and accessible exercise.
Firstly let's break the movement down.
What are we working? Bum, Legs, Core
Although squats are often regarded as "leg" exercises, they actually offer benefits throughout your entire body, including deep within your core and really help develop great mobility and stability through the hip.
The squat recruits all the big muscles of the lower body as well as the finer stabilising muscles. You need to develop really good posture to do it well so your back and core come into play.
How? The basic body-weight move.
Plant you feet firmly on the floor about hip width apart or slightly wider. Imagine you are spreading the floor between your feet.
Keep the legs straight but the knees soft and not locked out.
Keep the head up, if possible checking your form in a mirror ahead.
Take a deep breath in, draw in the belly button, keeping the back straight and the core strong.
Take your hips back & then down. As you do this push the knees out so you switch on your glutes.
Lower under control until the tops your legs are about parallel to the floor or, if you can, a little lower until you feel the back of your legs on your calves.
Make sure that you keep your back straight by pulling the shoulders back and down. Don't round it off or hunch forward.
Your knees should be in line with your feet and not in front of your big toe
Keep pushing the knees out and raise under control squeezing your bum as you come back to standing.
Remember to breathe during the exercise. Exhaling with the effort.
So it looks pretty simple doesn't it. So why do so many people struggle with it?
There can be a number of reasons but most of them come back to core strength and mobility through the ankles, hips, hamstrings (back of the thigh) and adductors (inside of the thigh), as well as difficulty in switching on the glutes in order to stabilise the knees and stop them from rolling in.
In this next section I'll go through some simple moves that will help you to work on your weak spots and strengthen your squat.
Hip & Hamstring Mobility
Tight hips really restrict how far you can go in the squat. People find that they can only go so far before they grind to a halt and start tipping forward with the upper body instead of taking the hips down. So firstly we'll look at a good move that will help you to open the knees and deepen your squat.
Get down on all fours on the floor resting your upper body on your elbows and keeping your trunk relatively parallel to the floor. When your hips are above your knees take your knees as far apart as you can until you feel a nice stretch on the inner thighs.
Relax on that stretch for a moment then, whilst maintaining a neutral back position, take your hips down towards your ankles as if you are squatting but in a horizontal position. This will deepen the stretch a little further.
Then from the bottom of the squat return the hips and slowly move back upwards. As the hips pass the knees you can slide the knees further apart again, then take the hips higher and deepen the stretch in the other direction.
Take the hips back down once more to the bottom of the squat. Complete 10 reps aiming to take the knees further apart each time. Yes you do look like you're doing something indecent to the floor but it's a fantastic stretch for the inner thighs (adductors) and helps improve your range of movement for the hips.
The chair squat limits your range of movement in the squat. In the early stages of learning the move this is useful, as you can always feel in control of your upper body and keep you chest up and back straight.
Having the chair behind you gives you a safety net that if you do lose your balance you can just sit down and not worry about falling over.
Even though you are only taking the hips down to the chair, make sure that you squeeze your mid section and glutes throughout. Make sure you push the knees out and you sit back and down, keeping the weight on the heels not the toes.
Just kiss the chair with your bum, then strongly return to standing. You can start with a higher chair, then as you get more confident and stronger you can use lower surfaces to progress the move.
If you are having trouble switching on your glutes (bum) to push your knees out then this move is great for helping you to really key into what you have to do to engage your glutes and keep the knees tracking safely over the toes.
Take a stretch band and tie it around your knees to you can feel the resistance even when you are standing normally.
Take your hips down so you are sitting into a very shallow squat, then move sideways like a crab for about 10 - 15 steps. Have a rest and repeat leading with your other leg. Repeat twice on each leg.
Door or Pole Squat
The door squat allows you to get down nice and low and still keep your trunk relatively tall as you have the support of the door frame or pole to stop you from falling backwards.
Stand quite close to a door frame with your feet between hip and shoulder width apart. Take the hips back and down as far as you can whilst still staying in control.
Remember to squeeze your glutes and push your knees out as you sit, keeping the core pulled in tight. Start the standing phase from the belly button. Squeeze that first, then squeeze your glutes and push out the knees as you stand. Stand straight up at the top squeezing the glutes right to the end of the movement.
As you get more confident you can practice sitting at the bottom of the squat, taking hands away from the door frame and stabilising your trunk but pulling the core in tight and move your body into a strong position.
The is simply a regular squat with a resistance band looped around your knees. the band gives you a point of focus so you can concentrate on pushing the knees out and engaging the glutes throughout the squat.
The 10 Second Rep
This is a super slow rep that takes 10 seconds to get from the top to the bottom of the squat. Every second, stop, assess your position and make the adjustments you need to perfect your technique. Move for another second, stop check and move again. It's like a flicker book squat that helps you familiarise yourself with where your weak spots are and where feel strong. Over time and with practice this will help you to join the dots and build a strong squat.
These are just a few techniques to help you nail the body-weight squat. I hope they really help. Once you nail the basic version you can move on to more advanced moves which we will cover in upcoming post. Let me know how you get on by popping a comment below the line. If you like what I'm doing feel free to share the blog around.
All the best