How to nail the perfect squat

Tuesday 11 August 2015
  • Chris nailing the perfect squat

Squats are the King Kong of any strength workout.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only do one exercise, it’d be the squat - that’s how good they are!

They’re a multi-muscle exercise that burn a mega amount of calories. Specifically they target your glutes (yes, they give you a spectacular rear), quads, hips, hamstrings, and sneakily strengthen your core and back too. If you’re doing them right…

While they might look easy enough, squats are surprisingly hard to do properly. People (including myself) who think they’ve got their squat technique nailed down, usually don’t.

So where are we going wrong?

[WATCH THE VIDEO TO FIND OUT IF YOU’RE NAILING YOUR SQUATS]

The 4 most common squat mistakes

Knees too far past your toes:

Yep, I see this quite frequently…

Bending your knees forward at the start of your squat is not good form (and it looks like this).

You’ve got to sit into it. 

The initial movement needs to be a hinge from your hips, followed by pushing your butt back and down. Once you start to lower, your knees will then naturally begin to bend.

Throughout the squat, the aim is to keep your knees in line with your toes. If they’re too far forward, your weight or the weight that you’re squatting with, is going to be putting a lot of pressure on your knees which could lead to knee pain. Plus, your glutes and hammies won’t be doing their fair share of the work.

Not pushing through your heels:

Whether you’re doing a body-weight squat or you’ve loaded up a barbell, all the weight should be felt through your heels. Never in your toes. 

In fact, you should be able to wiggle those little piggies.

If the weight’s in your heels, you should have no problem engaging your glutes, hammies and quads.

You’ll then drive through the heels to push all that weight back upwards (or concentrically - more on that here) to a standing position.

Curving your back and letting your chest fall forward:

This is probably one of the most difficult parts of a squat to get right. But also the most crucial.

Avoid curving your back and always try to keep your chest proud, with shoulders back and eyes dead ahead. 

A flat back prevents putting excessive pressure on your spine and back muscles. If your chest is too far forward, rather than stacked on top of your hips, that load is going straight to your lower back. 

Dangerous territory.

Again, getting this right is flippin’ hard and takes practice. Using a mirror or videoing yourself is definitely a good idea if you want to check your form.

Not going low enough:

How low you can go all depends on your flexibility and mobility. 

Of course if you have poor hip and leg mobility, take care and work up to a full squat. However more often than not, we’re just lazy and don’t go as low as we can. Translation: we’re only doing half a squat.

To get the correct squat depth, aim to get your hamstrings parallel to the floor (or lower if you can manage it). 

The best way to know how low to go is to use lowering onto a chair as a guide. You’ll soon get used to how far down you should descend. And the lower you go, the more you’ll be working those big muscle groups.

Mobility-boosting exercises such as dynamic stretching is another effective way to get your body prepped for a serious squat session.

Here’s what the perfect squat look like

No more sloppy squatting guys.

Our PT, Chris De Jonge, shows you how to nail the perfect squat plus some variations of this versatile exercise: 

 

Chris’ top squat variations

The good news is that there are so many different ways to perform a squat and some may suit you more than others.

Sumo squat:

How to
Take your legs further apart, so your stance is much wider. Point your toes slightly outwards to be in-line with your knees and lower down until your quads are parallel to the floor.

Equipment
A kettlebell or one large dumbbell held in the centre of your legs.

Target muscles
Sumo squats hit all the same muscles of a regular squat but have more of a focus on your adductors (inner thighs) and glutes.

Bulgarian split squat:

How to
Split your legs (like a lunge) and place one foot behind on a box or a bench. Bend from the front leg until your back knee is an inch or so away from the floor. Just bear in mind that the higher your back foot is elevated, the harder the squat.

Equipment
A barbell on your shoulders or dumbbells held either side of your body, as well as a box, bench or stepper to support your back foot.

Target muscles
The closer your front foot is to the bench, the more the squat will activate your quads. The further away your foot, the more you’ll feel a stretch in your hip flexors. However, all the usual squatting muscles will still get a workout.

Squat jump:

How to
This is the explosive version of a squat. With your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down normally and then drive up through the heels into a jump. Land as controlled as possible and continue to go straight back into a squat before jumping up again. Feel free to have your hands either side of your head, across your chest, or swing your arms as you jump – whatever’s most comfortable.

Equipment
None needed! Unless you what to safely attempt the weighted version as shown in this explosive power video at 1:15 minutes in.

Target muscles
You’ll certainly feel the burn in your quads but literally all of your lower body will get blasted when performing squat jumps. Even your core!  

 

Amy Cox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMY COX
Amy is UQ Sport’s resident blogger. She’s a peanut-butter loving Brit, who exercises to eat whatever she wants. You’ll find Amy either in the gym, playing badminton or doing the wrong moves in group fitness classes.