Squats may be the most common movement in your training regimen, but you’re probably doing them incorrectly. Sure, they may seem like an easy and straightforward exercise, but doing them well is difficult. This movement engages the glutes, quads, hamstrings, hips, and core. If even one muscle group isn’t activated properly, the entire form could be disabled.
As a strength coach, I always recommend nailing the basics of a bodyweight squat before adding weight or trying more complex variations. If you add too much weight or do too many reps without proper training, you can get injured.
The first step in cleaning up your squat mechanics is to watch yourself do them. Try squatting in front of a mirror or taking a video of yourself to reference as you go through these common mistakes.
1. You are not creating a match
You may be focusing on your quads and glutes when you squat. And even if you’re not wrong to do it, the strong squat shape starts from scratch. Yes, I’m referring to your feet, the most important support base in this movement.
The concept of torque refers to rotational force, a critical factor in your ability to create stability in your hips when squatting. To achieve this, think about screwing your feet into the floor. Rotate your right foot clockwise and your left foot counterclockwise. When you do this, you should feel the arches of your feet lift.
This slight adjustment will ensure you are in the most stable position for squatting. You will likely notice a huge increase in your power after you learn how to create effective torque through your feet.
2. You are not maintaining a neutral pelvic position
Excessive anterior or posterior pelvic tilt during a squat can significantly increase the risk of hip, knee and back pain. If you find your lower back rounding or arching at the bottom of the squat, this is an indicator of pelvic tilt, which can make this exercise uncomfortable and even painful.
How to prevent pelvic tilt when squatting:
1. Stand in a neutral position with your tailbone slightly tucked in. Squeeze your glutes. Make sure your head is stacked directly above your spine.
2. Keep your ribcage locked. Engage your core as you begin to load your hips.
3. While hinging at the hips, push the knees out to the side by pushing through the feet and lower into a squat position. Maintain a flat back.
4. As you stand up, push yourself off the floor and push your hips under your torso, squeezing your glutes at the top to bring your pelvis into a neutral position.
3. Your heads in the wrong position
Proper head positioning during a squat can improve stability and power. If your head isn’t neutrally aligned, it can make balance difficult, cause excessive pelvic tilt, and prevent your core muscles from stabilizing your spine.
Think about tucking your chin in slightly and focusing your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you. Your eyes should stay focused in front of you. Like your back, you don’t want your neck to be rounded or arched. This could lead to pain and injury.
4. You are allowing your knees to collapse inward
As I explained in the first tip, creating torque will help prevent your knees from collapsing inward as you squat.
As you screw your feet into the floor, the arches of your feet should lift. This will help your knees stay aligned with your feet, ankles and hips. If your ankles or knees keep sagging inward in a low squat, you may have some mobility restrictions through your hips or ankles.
How to squat with proper form
1. Your foot position will vary slightly depending on your body. However, a good rule of thumb is to have your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Your feet may be pointing forward or pointing slightly outward.
2. Create a pair by screwing your feet into the ground and driving them towards your little toes. This will help create hip stability.
3. Squeeze your buttocks. Make sure your rib cage is down and your head is tilted back. Everything should be stacked in alignment with your spine.
4. Keep your shins perpendicular to the floor as you lower into a squat. Tighten your core and squeeze your shoulder blades towards your spine.
5. Maintain the twist through your feet, pushing your knees out as you come up out of the squat and away from the floor.
6. Squeeze your glutes up to complete the rep. Find neutral alignment before starting the next rep.
Taking the time to optimize your squat mechanics will improve strength and power in training and on the trails.
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