It's Trainer Tip Tuesday and I'm talking about the SQUAT. This is gonna be a long one so hope you'll stick around! The squat is a classic exercise that most people perform. They will strengthen the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core. In order for me to talk about proper squat form, I must first dispel a few common and widely spread myths.
1. Squats are bad for the knees. FALSE. If this were the case we would remain standing or supine for the rest of our lives. We "squat" many times throughout the day from the time we begin to learn to walk. Flexion of the hips, knees and ankles is a natural movement, and doing so with weight is not functionally uncommon. If you have bad knees, or have had surgery on your knees, you must be very careful with your form when doing squats as exercise, but squatting itself is not bad for them. Improper form is what is harmful, not the exercise itself.
2. The knees must never pass the toes when squatting. FALSE. This myth drive me crazy because the person stating it clearly doesn't understand biomechanics and the many variants in the structure of the human body. For example, people with long legs and a short torso will, in almost 100% of cases, not be able to perform a squat with the knees behind the toes. In fact, our knees pass our toes many times through our daily lives and no one freaks out about it. Take a look at your knees the next time you go up and down the stairs. This particular myth needs to die, quickly. Your knees will not blow out if they pass your toes.
3. The only proper squat is ATG and you must break parallel for it to be effective. Again, FALSE. Again, biomechanics! Again, variants in the human structure. There is not only one proper way to squat and if someone says there is, run, run far far away. Many people CANNOT and SHOULD NOT squat low low. The first clue is a butt wink/tuck.
This is evidence of tight hamstrings and/or hips and can cause or contribute to disc issues. Some people are not built (genetically) to squat low AND THAT'S OK. A parallel squat can be just as effective, or more so, if done with proper form and muscle activation. Just because one person squats low doesn't mean they are doing it correctly and doesn't mean that's the gospel of squats.
There are other myths I could talk about, but these are the trifecta of annoying myths I see on the daily. If you have more questions, or you would like a form check, please reach out...I would be happy to help get you on track. Click here to book a FREE 15 minute live online consultation with me.
Now onto my proper form tips, I will talk in terms of a bodyweight squat (see my tutorial video below). Things will vary, particularly posture, when adding weight in front or behind:
1. The first thing one needs to focus on BEFORE squatting is posture. Stand with the feet hip distance apart, toes pointing forward or in slight external rotation. Soften the knees so they are not locked in a hyper-extension. Soften the hip flexors so your butt isn't tucked under and the hips are stacked over the knees. Core engaged-navel to spine. Shoulders pulled down and back so they are stacked above the hips, not curved forward. Neck long, with the ears over the shoulders. (If you are holding a weight, you have many options, goblet squat, front squat, dumbbells down squat, back squat, overhead squat...whichever you choose, please start with bodyweight only to learn form then slowly add weight as you gain strength, stability and confidence.)
2. A squat is a HIP HINGE exercise. It is not a knee bend and it is not a glute exercise primarily. (This is another myth I can't stand...but moving on...) when initiating a squat the first thing that should happen is a shift of weight towards the heels of the feet and a "break" or hinge of the hips back. You should think of lengthening the spine out of the top of the head and the tailbone and try to keep them in a straight line (not necessarily a vertical line) with minimal curvature and absolutely no tucking/butt winking as you sit back. Aim your bottom back as if reaching back to sit in a chair. Bend the knees ensuring that they follow the direction your toes are pointing and that they do not knock or wiggle.
3. Move SLOWLY. There is no benefit to moving fast here. The slower you go the more control you will have and the better the form will be. When you hit the bottom of your squat (which is just before the butt winks). Pause for a moment then drive into the heels to begin the extension of the legs. Again, move slowly. Pay attention that the hips are driving back, that the knees are in alignment with your feet and that your chest is lifted and not curled in. As you reach the top of the extension, do not, in any case ever, lock the knees into hyperextension. Do not tuck the tailbone under and thrust your hips forward. This is the misconception about the squat being a glute-building exercise. Do hip thrusts on the ground or on a bench to get that motion and to focus on the bum. Doing a hip thrust at the top of a squat throws off your posture and spine alignment in just as bad or in a worse way than a butt wink and can cause all kinds of injury to the back. Is it worth it? Nope.
So I hope this info helps. The photos is this post are of myself (pink shorts doing a goblet squat-photo by Michael Brooks), and my clients Cari (doing a back squat) and Camille (doing an elevated "dumbbell down" squat). We all have very different structures and strengths so you will notice the variations in our postures and forms. NO 2 PEOPLE ARE THE SAME...so NO 2 SQUATS WILL BE THE SAME.
Beginner, intermediate or advanced exercises will benefit from more in depth form instruction. No one is perfect and we can always learn more. Thanks for sticking this one out folks!!! Happy squatting.