The Ultimate Squat Tutorial
The squat is the most primal and basic exercise that everyone should be able to do properly. It’s a movement that everyone performs daily when they’re either sitting down into a chair, sitting on the toilet, bringing themselves down to the ground, or lowering themselves to safely pick something up from the ground. It’s an extremely functional exercise that no matter how basic, has some simple rules that should be followed, those rules are for a very important reason, not to make the coach look cool, but to protect your knees and lower back.
The things to keep in mind for a good squat are:
- Feet just outside hip-width
- Feet pointing outwards in a comfortable position
- Keep a neutral spine (see explanation below)
- Push the chest out naturally
- Pull the shoulders back and down
- Push the heels, balls of your feet and toes into the ground
- Engage the core muscles
- Push the butt back
- Pull the butt down towards the ground with your hamstrings
- Push the knees outwards
- Bring the arms upwards as much as flexibility allows
- Knee joints remain inline with the hips and ankles at all times
- Keep the feet flat on the ground
- Try to bring the butt below the knee line if flexibility and strength allows
- Push back up through the heels
- Squeeze the glutes (buttocks)
- Push the hips all the way forward
- Lock the knees fully out
The squat is a primal exercise which I prefer to do bare feet, in fact, I prefer everything but high impact exercises bare feet. You’re more connected with the ground, better stability and your feet thank you for it.
Healthy Neutral Spine
Maintaining a neutral spine means to keep your spine as much as possible in the same position it was when you were standing and the spine was completely vertical with its natural curves. The spine also includes the cervical, so don’t forget to keep your head upright as well.
Personally I will take a deep breath, slowly and controlled release part (quarter) of my air on the way down, but not all of it, I won’t relax and will keep protecting my spine by keeping my abs firm, on my way up I exhale. I’m sure there are a million and one ways to breathe, this is my preference.
First pushing the knees forward and/or pushing them too far forward over the toes, this happens when you don’t push your butt backward first (breaking at the hips). Usually a sign of weak glutes (gluteus maximus) as well.
The knees going inwards towards each other. This is not a natural position for your knees to be in, the knees are made to bend like a hinge (flexion and extension) and not to twist or move sideways. When your knees are buckling in you’re at risk of damaging your knees. This risk is tenfold when you jump and land with the knees buckling in. Knees buckling in can also be a sign of weak abductor muscles. Common injury as a result of buckling knees is ACL tears. Fix it by pushing your knees outwards to keep them in line with the feet and hips, and/or strengthen your abductors.
Pushing back up through the balls of your feet, not a major mistake but different muscles are used, the muscles at the front of the leg are used rather than those at the back. Put the weight in your heels and push up through the heels to activate the right muscles.
Not squatting too or below the knee line is something you should strive for when performing squats, don’t worry if you’re not able to do so right away, the cause could be lacking strength, flexibility or both. Flexibility lacking, could be in the hips, hamstrings and even calfs plus ankles. Keep this in mind and do stretches to work on these areas.
Falling down in the squat rather than pulling yourself down in a controlled manner. Just falling down and relaxing all muscles puts a lot of stress on the knees and can cause serious damage to the knees when the muscles are not prepared to slow down the weight of the upper body so it comes down in a controlled manner and stops before the knee reaches maximum flexion.
Leaning forward with the upper-body when coming down or coming back up. This can be caused due to a lack of hip mobility or a weak core. Leaning forward puts unwanted pressure on your spine by making your lower-back doing all the work. Make sure to push the hips forward and push the chest out when coming back up. This becomes even more of a problem when you start to squat with weights and can cause serious lower-back injury. To assist with remaining as upright as possible, lift the arms up into the air as high as flexibility allows and look ahead, not down.
Not maintaining a neutral spine, a neutral spine is what your back looks like with a normal ‘S’ curve when you’re in a proper standing position with shoulders back. Losing the natural curve in your spine during the squat can be caused due to not having enough flexibility for the depth your squatting, in this case, you should not squat as deep until your flexibility allows you to do so. It can also be caused by a weak core, your abdominal and/or lower-back muscles are weak and need to get stronger to maintain the neutral spine. This mistake becomes even more dangerous when you start to load your squads with weights and the structural foundation of your spine is not able to fully support the load.
What Are Core Muscles?
When you hear trainers say “activate your core muscles” you might be wondering “what are my core muscles?”. The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly and the mid and lower back, it’s the muscles that play a huge role in your posture, they protect your spine and other areas, they allow you to resist force and much more.
Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. Source: wikipedia
Locking the knees out or not?
First, let’s define what the difference is between the two and what “locking out” actually means. When you do not lock the knees out you keep constant tension on your muscles, if you lock your knees out you come to full extension (ROM) and release the tension on the muscles.
When you’re locking out you should just stand like normal, don’t force anything and don’t jerk the knee into lockout. If you want to rest between sets, lock the knees out safely, if you want constant tension then don’t lock the knees out or perform the exercise slower to gain longer tension on the muscle. This applies to almost any joint and non-repetitive exercise you do.
Locking out a joint takes the tension away from the muscles and places it on the joint/skeleton, if you’re double jointed and have a greater hyperextension than most people, you should probably avoid fully locking your knees out during exercise, especially with loaded exercises.
Should you still have questions or doubts, do what feels natural and safe to you and keep in mind not every human being is made the same, not everybody exercises with the same goals in mind, if you happen to do squats 200 times a day 7 days a week, and you feel you cannot control the lockout safely on each rep, then don’t lock out your knees! If you’re squatting with a huge amount of weight, and you feel you cannot control the lockout safely on each rep, then don’t lock out your knees. If you’re squatting an extreme amount of weight then you probably rather be safe than sorry.
If you still don’t see a reason why to squat properly, let’s name a few more benefits of squatting properly. Apart from the main reasons, to avoid injuries and make sure no muscles are neglected, without proper form and technique you will never be able to move on to more complex squats like; front-squats, goblet squats, back squats, pistol squats and so on.
IS THIS THE ONLY WAY YOU SHOULD SQUAT?
No, there is always an exception to the rule, this technique is for squatting when exercising, there are times when you need to squat differently and as long as you’re squatting safely there is no problem.
Am I demonstrating the most perfect squat known to mankind? Of course not, but it’s damn close.
Common Mistakes in Exercise Form and Repercussions explained by a Caveman Trainer.
Barbell Back Squat
1. Standing too far away from the barbell prior to deadlifting the bar, and holding the bar away from the shins and thighs on the lift
- When the client squats down to grasp the bar, the torso will be extended beyond the center of gravity, and the back will be unsupported.
- The client is likely to either arch or round the back to try and lift the weight purely with the back muscles, without the assistance of the big lower body muscles.
- This puts undue stress on the spine and back and will result in injury.
- The client should be asked to place his toes under the bar before beginning the exercise and told to imagine he is skimming the bar up his shins and thighs on the lift.
2. Over-arching the back, and not tensing up the core muscles when pressing the bar overhead
- The core muscles need to be tensed in order to provide support for the spine and back, like a “corset” to hold the body upright and properly aligned.
- Not tightening up the abs and lower back muscles, and over-arching the back, will bring the body out of alignment. The weight will be behind the body’s center of gravity.
- This places undue stress on the spine and back when pressing the bar overhead.
- At the “rack” position, when the bar is resting at shoulder height, the client should be asked to tense his core muscles to support the torso and back, before pressing the weight upward without arching the back.
3. Not keeping the back straight when performing the squat
- The client’s tendency may be to round the back and hunch over. This brings the weight of the bar onto the neck and the back, rather than over the legs. (Remember, the squat is primarily an exercise for the glutes and legs!)
- Hunching over will place a great deal of stress on the spine. Rounding the back will make the client lose balance and the client may tip forward.
- The client should be asked to keep the back straight throughout the squat. It may help to instruct the client to look forward or upward, which will naturally make them straighten up the back.
4. Allowing the knees to travel beyond the toes at the bottom of the squat
- Beginners will tend to push the weight of the body forward on the squat, rather than to the back as if sitting down on a chair.
- The best way to detect this is when (looking from the side) you see the knees situated in front of the toes, rather than in a straight vertical line.
- This places a great deal of pressure on the knee joint and the front of the knee, and over time, will cause knee pain and injuries.
5. Allowing the knees to travel inward toward the centerline of the body
- Beginners may allow their knees to “fall” inward toward the centerline of the body during the downward or upward phase of the squat.
- Less commonly, the client may also allow the knees to travel outward, away from the centerline.
- Both these common mistakes take the knee out of its natural range of motion and place a great deal of lateral stress on the joint. Over time, these will cause knee pain and injuries.
- It may be an indicator that the resistance is too high. Lower the weight and monitor if the client is able to maintain proper alignment with less resistance.