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.