Everything you need to know about how to do squats
Before you start adding weight, you want to get the squat motion down with bodyweight squats first. Form is key, since performing squats properly can cut down the risk of injury during the move.
Here’s what you need to know about doing squats correctly, and how you can avoid some common squatting mistakes.
Before you squat, you should get in proper squat position: Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart, Tamir says. There’s no set rule for exact positioning of your feet—it’ll vary depending upon anatomical differences—but a good guideline is for them to turn out anywhere between 5 and 30 degrees. So rather than pointing straight ahead, your feet will turn out slightly, but how much they do will depend on your particular comfort level and mobility.
Dialing your feet into the ground helps engage your muscles, improve alignment, and create stability with the ground, says Tamir. It’ll also help keep your arches from collapsing, which can make your knees more likely to cave inward when you squat. (This is what’s known as knee valgus.)
Your upper body also matters for squats. “Keep your chest up, your chest proud,” says Tamir. This will prevent your shoulders and upper back from rounding—a common mistake—which could overstress your spine, especially if you are squatting with weight on your back.
When you’re ready to squat, think about starting the movement by bending your knees and pushing your hips back, says Tamir. Engage your core for the descent, and keep it braced throughout the move.
As for when you should stop the move? There’s lots of discussion about how low you should squat, but the average exerciser should shoot to hit parallel depth with their squats, says Tamir. “That means the back of your thighs will be parallel to the floor,” he says.
Some people have difficulty getting to parallel because of lack of mobility or injury—and if that’s the case, it’s better to end the squat at whatever depth is pain-free for you—but sometimes people default to quarter-squats because they’re using too much weight, says Tamir. If that’s the case, easing off the weight and performing the full range of motion for the move is optimal.
Once you reach the bottom of the squat, pause for a second so you are not using momentum to push yourself back up. (You can also increase the length of your pause to add difficulty to the move.)
Make sure your feet stay planted throughout the duration of the squat, paying particular attention to driving through your heels on the way back up, says Tamir. This will fire up your posterior chain—the muscles in the back of your body, like your hamstrings and glutes.
Some people have a tendency to pick up their toes when they’re focusing on driving through their heels, but you really want to make sure your entire foot stays firmly on the ground: “Your big toe is actually really important in glute activation,” he says.
You should also exhale on your way back up, says Tamir. Making sure you breathe throughout the move—inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up—is vital. You definitely do not want to be holding your breath.
At the top of the squat, try to tuck your pelvis into a neutral position. “Think of it like bringing your belt buckle to your chin,” says Tamir. Just be careful that you are not hyperextending: A common mistake Tamir sees often is people pushing their hips too far forward, which can actually make you lean backward and stress your lower back.