The squat is the KING…of poorly performed exercises. Get your barbell squat technique wrong and instead of growing nice quads and glutes, you’ll feel aches and pains in your knees, hips, back, and even shoulders. But if you want to learn how to squat properly or how to do a squat, follow these 4 easy steps and I guarantee you’ll get your back squat form perfect.
Step 1: Setup. Your anatomy will determine what your perfect squat form looks like. Let’s start with your foot stance. Hold a light weight at your chest, set your feet hip width apart, and squat down. See how that feels and note how low you could get. Widen it by an inch or two and compare. Keep going till you find what feels best and enables you to squat the lowest. As for your foot angle, most people’s joints will feel better with their toes pointed out slightly, so don’t force yourself to keep them straight. And the wider the stance you use, the more your toes will have to turn out.
Next, it’s time to grab the bar. Set your feet under the bar, half squat to get under it, and then place the bar on your upper back. Right onto the meat of your traps. Next, grip the bar with your hands as narrow as possible without pain in your wrists, shoulders, or elbows. Then, walk it out by extending your legs to lift it out of the rack and then taking three careful steps back. Lastly, to keep you balanced as you squat, spread your weight evenly over your foot by making sure each foot has three solid points of contact with the ground – your big toe, your pinky toe, and your heel.
Step 2: Create whole body tension. You need to first activate several key muscles that will protect your back and keep you strong as you perform your squats. Start with the lower body. Screw your feet into the ground as if you were trying to touch your heels together. Then, level your pelvis with the floor by tilting it back as if it was a bowl of water and you were trying to prevent it from spilling. Lock this in by squeezing your inner thighs, glutes, and quads. For the upper body, pull your elbows forward under the bar and pull the bar down into your meaty upper traps. This helps activate your lats and keeps your upper back stable. Finally, take a deep 360 breath into your waist then brace your core.
Step 3: Descent. Pull yourself down into the squat using your hamstrings. Let your butt drop down between your heels and push your knees out in the same direction as your toes. Keep your upper back tight by pulling the bar down and continue lowering as deep as you comfortably can. Squat down to at least somewhere close to parallel. But if towards the bottom of your squat your upper body falls forward, or your heels come off the ground, or your lower back rounds excessively into “butt wink”, these are all signs you’re not yet ready to go that deep. There are 2 reasons for this. The most common reason is limited ankle mobility. In this case, try elevating your heels onto weight plates and see if that helps with your squat technique. The other reason is a weak core and glutes. In this case, you can try out a more stable exercise like smith machine squats before progressing to the barbell.
But once you can get deep enough, you may notice your knees end up over your toes. As long as your knees don’t cave in or out and instead push out in the same direction as your toes, letting your knees go over your toes is perfectly fine. But, once you reach the bottom position, to maximize growth DO NOT let gravity drop you into that last inch or two. Research suggests this is the most important part of the movement for growth. So force your muscles to work by controlling the weight down and pausing for half a second at the bottom before moving onto the final step…
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The final step of learning how to squat properly (step 4): ascent. We want the chest and hips to rise at the same rate. To do this, drive up out of the bottom by pushing the floor away and thinking about driving your traps up against the bar. Continue pushing down against the floor and getting tall until your legs are fully extended. But as you come to the top, avoid letting out a big exhale. Instead, maximize the pressure in your abdomen to protect your back by keeping your lips held tighter together as you breathe out, to gradually let air out. Then, take another deep 360 breath in, brace, and repeat another rep.
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