You're probably here because you struggle with squats! Welcome to the club!
The squat is an exercise that is very popular amongst everyone, as it should be. It's extremely effective at improving lower body strength and core stability and is a good indicator of adequate mobility.
However, depending on how we are built, your squat may look different from my squat. And Becky's squat may be different from Steve's. And that's fine.
Here are some common misconceptions about good squat form:
Your knees can't push past your toes
You shouldn't go below parallel
Your torso needs to stay perfectly upright
None of those is true and have been disproven by research. Your knees can safely go past your toes. You should squat as low as you can with good form because 1) use it or lose it and 2) that's where you get more glute/hamstring recruitment (crucial for back, knee, and hip health!). And no, your torso won't stay perfectly upright unless you are a short torsoed, long legged beanpole. Your weight must shift in order to stay balanced and keep your center of gravity over your midfoot.
However, there are some key things that I look for when teaching someone to squat:
Neutral spine/hip tilt - no rounding or buttwink!
Knees wide and not falling in/medially
Stability at the bottom of the squat
Now, if you're struggling to achieve any of the three above, continue reading! Here are some progressions you can use to make your squats feel more natural and look great!
#1 - Box Squats!
I love using box squats to help people get into their hips more, learn to use a tripod foot, and help them get more comfortable at the bottom of the movement.
How to perform:
Push your hips back and then break at the hips and knees simultaneously
Sit alllll the way down onto the box (the box should be about 12" high; low enough to bring your hips below your knees)
Don't TAP. SIT. Actually put your weight onto the box without letting your feet come up off the ground
#2 - Squat To Box
Once you've mastered the Box Squat, move onto a Squat To Box. This may look very similar to box squats, but it is actually quite different. In a Squat To Box, you want to keep your weight over your midfoot instead of sitting back and transferring your weight onto the box itself. This is more like an open floor or air squat as it teaches you how to balance and distribute the weight. The purpose of box is so you know how far down to go and encourages you to still push your hips back.
How to perform:
Hinge at the hips and break at the knees and hips simultaneously
Bend your knees and reach your hips back until your butt touches the top of the box; stay controlled here so you don't come crashing down onto it!
TAP your butt to the box with control, not letting your weight come back onto it. As soon as your butt taps the box, stand right back up to your starting position.
#3 - Goblet Squat to Box
This is essentially the same movement as #2, except we are adding some load now. Since we are training the squat to become stronger at that movement because of its great transfer to other movements, we want to add load. Without load, it's hard to become stronger.
Start light and work your way up. It's always better to start too light and have to go a bit heavier than too heavy.
How to perform:
Select a weight that you can perform for 8 - 12 reps. This can be a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Hold the weight with both hands up against your chest.
Follow the instructions on how to perform from #2. The weight will help counterbalance you a little. Just be aware to have more control!
Eventually, once you get comfortable with the depth and control, you can move to an open floor or air squat with no box! Once my clients are able to goblet squat a 40lb dumbbell I move them to backsquatting with a barbell.
I hope that this helps you master your squat form and feel more comfortable squatting!
About the Author
Laura Su, BS Exercise Science, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Powerlifter, Entreprenuer
I'm just a girl who fell in love with movement in high school and now wants to bring the freedom that exercise brings to everyone else.
I started working out with the desire to look a certain way but eventually found the sense of accomplishment and clarity that training for performance brought. Now I want to help everyone, especially women, to learn how to train and eat for their health and performance and realize that when you do that, the looks you desire are simply a positive side effect.
In my spare time, I enjoy powerlifting, horseback riding, sleeping, and hanging out with my boyfriend. I hope you enjoy my posts and keep reading along!