Learn to Squat with Proper Technique
Learning to squat correctly is key to any exercise program. Without proper technique you can end up strengthening muscle groups you didn’t mean to, creating further issues down the road. The squat is a multi joint, full body compound exercise. Knees move in a variety of ways, ankles, feet, hips, back, arms (for an overhead squat), you name it, some aspect of your squat could use some work. So let’s look at ways you can focus on improving your form to squat with better form.
Forcing yourself to sit backwards
For some of us sitting butt first is hard. We want to move from the front of our body. So we have to reeducate our brains on how to go butt first.
The tool for this entire guide is going to be a wall.
Face away from a wall about 6 inches away. Push your hips and butt behind you slightly bending at the hips. Do this until your butt makes contact with the wall. Repeat a few times a day until this becomes the common way for you to sit throughout the day.
Practice this same behavior when sitting on your couch or in your office chair. Go hips and butt first. Doing this routine with common daily activities will reinforce your brain and your muscle memory to remember this tactic when it comes time to exercise.
Correcting knees over feet
Now that we’re moving hips and butt first its time to see where your knees are during your squat. You never want your knees to be over your feet. They should be tracking slightly behind your toes with your knees officially over your 2nd and 3rd toes.
Stand facing a wall with your feet slightly touching the bottom of the wall. Begin to sit. If your knees hit the wall then your knees are tracking too far forward. Your knees should make slight contact with the wall near the bottom of your squat but not before. For additional stabilization you can place a chair behind you to sit on.
Knees not tracking over 2nd and 3rd toes
It is possible but your knees may cave inward and not track over your 2nd and 3rd toes. The easiest way to spot this is with a mirror. By using a mirror you give your brain and body an external input to see where it exists in relation to the environment. With practice your internal picture will match up with the external.
This is where a mini resistance band can come in handy. They’re less than a $20 investment and will come in handy for a variety of exercises you can do at home. Place the band above your knees when you go down to squat. You’ll feel the tension on your legs from the band. Slightly press your knees out, creating additional tension on the band. Check yourself in the mirror to see where your knees are versus your toes. Repeat as needed.
Tracking your butt, back, and head alignment
Keeping your back “flat” can be hard, especially if the words don’t really mean anything or have any context behind them. This is where a wooden dowel or even a broomstick can come in handy. Hold the item behind your back at 3 points of contact – your butt, your back, and your head.
As you start to push your butt and hips back notice where the feedback is from the item. If your head, back and butt aren’t all touching the stick while you go through the squat motion then you risk injury. Keep contact on all 3 points for the entire range of motion.
Only squat as low as your can maintain your 3 points of contact. It’s completely OK to not squat deeply while you’re learning to control your body. This is a lifelong skill you are learning. You’ll be able to squat deeper and deeper as your body becomes stronger and more flexible.
Keep Your Chest Up
A mirror will come in handy for this one as well. Stand in front of the mirror while wearing a T-shirt with a logo on the chest area. Go into your squat. Can you read / see the logo in the mirror? No? Lift your chest. Can you see it now? Good. The logo or even a piece of tape on your shirt will serve as a reminder to make sure that’s visible and you’re not folding your upper body over.
Keep your feet on the floor
One side of your feet may want to roll up while performing a squat. Practice gripping the floor with a towel if you see one or both of your feet starting to roll inward (baby toe comes off ground) or outward (big toe comes off the ground.) Place the towel under your feet and grip the towel with your toes. Repeat as needed. You can do this activity while sitting on your couch.
Don’t forget to breathe while performing any exercise. In the squat you want to breathe in when you are sitting into your squat and breathe out when you start to stand back up. Give a short, forced exhale while you start to stand to give yourself an extra “umph.”
Once you’re ready for bodyweight (or air) squats, it’s time to come up with a tempo. Tempo is the speed at which you do each part of the exercise. When you’re starting out I recommend a 4-2-1 tempo. In this case you would slowly sit for 4 seconds, hold at the bottom of your squat for 2 seconds, then explode back up in 1 second. Repeat this tempo for the remainder of your exercise routine. I would probably start with 3 sets of 12.
Everything comes from your core. You need your glutes to fire, your hips to move, your hamstrings to not overly tighten, your low back not to round, and your abs to hold your body upright. You should always stretch and strengthen body parts to make sure you are performing exercises to the best of your ability.
If you have the mini bands you can perform glute bridges to strengthen your glute muscles. You can also perform clamshells and walks with the bands to work the hips / glutes.