How To Perform the Perfect Squat
Do you even squat? If you don’t, you’re missing out… big time. The squat is the perfect full-body workout that doesn’t require any equipment. It works your hips, glutes, abs, and hamstrings, and even tightens your core. If you’re still not convinced, it improves your balance and coordination and could even improve your bone density. It helps build muscle and lose weight. It’s been called the king of exercises.
Let’s take a look at the different types of squat, how to perform the perfect squat and common squat mistakes.
What’s So Good About Squats?
The simple answer is ‘everything’. But that’s not going to cut it for most of you, so we’ll break down a few of the reasons that you should be squatting every day. First, squats are a compound movement, meaning they use multiple joints (knee and hips). That means that you are making the most of your workout time and working multiple muscle groups and joints at once. In fact, the squat is a full-body movement, so you are working everything! Also, when you use multiple muscle groups at the same time, your body produces anabolic hormones, which help you burn fat and build muscle. Win-win.
There’s nothing new about the concept of squatting. It’s one of the most natural body movements we do. Think about it, you’ve been squatting your whole life. When you were a toddler, you were squatting all the time – either trying to get up or falling back down. In many countries, people squat over the toilet instead of sitting on it and sit in a full squat, instead of the way we sit in the west. Weirdly, modern furniture has taught us to sit in the wrong way. Squatting is the most natural body position for us.
So, you’re not going to find an exercise that gives you a better return on your investment. And, it’s our most natural body position, so we’re getting back to our roots when we’re squatting. Now, you need to know the different types of squats and how to do them correctly. You can also use a squat rack machine to help you do your best.
The Bodyweight Squat
It’s called the bodyweight squat because that’s all you need – the weight of your body. No equipment, no gym, just your body. To start your squat, you need to get in the right position.
- Stand with your feet just slightly wider than your hips and your toes facing forwards. This doesn’t have to be exact, but just find a position that is relatively comfortable for you.
- Look at the wall in front of you and pick a position, you will continue to keep your eyes focused on this position throughout the squat. The weight on your feet should be on the heels and toes (you should be able to wiggle your toes).
- Put your arms out in front of you to help you keep balance. You can opt to cross your arms in front of you, but this is really for experience squatters.
- Breathe in and unlock your hips, pushing them back slightly. Keep your body tight throughout the movement.
- Push your bum backward and move your body to the floor. Keep your back straight and your spine neutral and keep staring at the spot on the wall.
- As you move downwards, try to keep your knees in line with your toes, this should help keep your body in the correct position.
- Move down until your knees are lower than your hips. You can go lower but you might need to work up to that. The best squats are the deepest ones.
- Breathe out and move back upwards, keeping your bum clenched and your knees in line (imagine your feet are trying to spread the floor).
Remember: You need to keep your whole body and core tight throughout the movement. This is important to make sure you’re using your whole body and will be extra important if you add weights.
Adding weights can give you even more out of your squats. Here are a few variations of the squat with weights.
The front squat (also known as a barbell front squat) is pretty much the same as a bodyweight squat, except you’ll be holding a barbell under your chin. It’s definitely more advanced than the bodyweight squat and shouldn’t be attempted by a beginner. Plus, you should always have someone spotting you, in case things go wrong. This workout focuses more on your quads and requires you to keep a completely straight body position. Make sure you have mastered the bodyweight squat before attempting this as it uses all the same principles.
There are two types of grip you can use to hold the barbell: clean and arms crossed. To do these safely, you need a free-standing barbell machine (also known as a smith machine).
Arms Crossed – First, walk up to the bar with your hands out in front of you underneath the bar. When the bar hits your neck, cross your hands and lightly place them on the opposite shoulders. This provides a shelf for the bar to sit on. You can then move the bar away from the machine and start your squat. Keep your back straight and your elbows up at all times.
Clean – Put your hands on the bar, a little bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar and push your elbows underneath whilst moving your upper body towards the bar. The elbows need to be high to create the shelf for the bar to sit on. Move away from the machine and start the squat.
The back squat is pretty similar to the front squat, in that it is a normal squat using a barbell. But, you guessed it, the barbell is placed on your back this time. This method has its own advantages. They are much more challenging but will give you much better results. Again, this is a really advanced technique compared to the bodyweight squat and a lot can go wrong, so make sure you have practiced the bodyweight version and have a spotter at all times.
Like the front squat, there are two main positions for the back squat: Low and high. Both of these positions require the use of a Smith machine.
Low-bar back squat – This is the most common type of back squat and is definitely the one you should try first. It’s also the position favored by powerlifters and weightlifters because it is taught in the book Starting Strength. Let’s take a look at how you do it.
- Step up to the bar, facing towards it.
- Then, step under it and grab the bar with your hands. Don’t use your thumbs to grip the bar because this could throw your wrist alignment out of whack.
- The distance between your hands depends on how flexible you are. The narrower the grip, the better the shelf the bar has to sit on. But, if you can’t do this narrow grip, just widen them until it’s comfortable.
- Now that the bar is on your back, stand up and take the weight of the bar, keeping your core tight.
- Move away from the machine and make sure your body is in the same position as it was for the bodyweight squat (feet a hip-width apart, toes pointing forwards, bum pointing backward).
- Complete the squat as taught in the bodyweight squat sections.
High-bar back squat – This is another super-popular type of squat. It is often used in Olympic lifting and works all of the major muscle groups. The difference between this and the low-bar back squat is that the barbell is sitting on your traps instead of resting on the deltoids. Other than that, the technique is pretty much the same.
- Step up to the bar, facing towards it.
- Again, step underneath the bar and grab it, but this time wrap your whole hands around the bar (thumbs included).
- The width of the grip should be as narrow as possible, with it still being comfortable. The narrower the better, but don’t hurt yourself.
- Place the bar on your trap muscles, about two inches higher than your deltoids. This should rest the bar across your shoulders.
- Make sure the bar is not resting on your spine, as this could cause serious injury.
- Step back, get into position (same as the bodyweight squat) and tighten your core.
- Complete the squat.
N.B. This squat is arguably the most dangerous of them all. It shouldn’t be completed by beginners unless you have a professional trainer with you. Plus, you should always have a spotter who knows what they’re doing!
The goblet squat is a little easier than the last two and doesn’t require as much equipment. In fact, all you need is a medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell. It’s the perfect middle ground between a bodyweight squat and one of the more advanced barbell squats. It adds weight to the squat, which helps you burn weight and build muscle, without the added danger of using heavy gym equipment. Here’s how to do it.
- Hold your medicine ball, kettlebell, or dumbbell at the center of your chest.
- Get your body position in the same position as a bodyweight squat.
- Bend your knees and drop into the squat, standing straight back up.
- Don’t push your bum out as much as you would do in a bodyweight squat.
- At the bottom of the squat, drop the elbows inside the knees.
Commons Squat Mistakes
Now you know how to do the perfect squat and the different types you can try, you need to know about the common mistakes. It seems that, if you go into any gym around the world, you’ll be able to spot someone squatting wrong. Despite it being one of our most natural movement, we seem to struggle to do it right. Here’s what you should be looking out for.
Not Warming Up – You should never forget to warm up before you exercise. Some people seem to mistake the squat for a warm up and jump straight into it. You need to do some light exercise before to get the blood pumping around your body or you could risk hurting yourself. We’d recommend around 5-10 minutes of light cardio like jogging or cycling.
Not Going Low Enough – How low can you go? That should be your motto when you’re squatting. For a bodyweight squat, you can place a small box underneath your bum so you have something to aim for. This should remind you to really get down to the floor. Also, try widening your stance slightly to get deeper. A low squat is a good squat.
Heels Coming Off the Floor – Your body needs to be completely grounded when you’re squatting and that means keeping your heels on the floor. Raising them off the floor can cause structural problems with your joints and muscles (especially when you have weights on). If you are struggling, go back to a bodyweight squat and focus on getting this right.
Drifting Knees – It’s tempting and easy for the knees to drift inwards when you’re squatting. Make sure you keep your toes from 5-15 degrees outward to stop your knees from moving inward.
Otherwise, you won’t be able to get as deep as you want, and you could even injure yourself.
Leaning Your Body Forward – Another easy mistake is letting your body lean forwards. You can fix this by putting the majority of your weight on your heels. Your spine should be in a neutral position and remember to keep your body pointing towards that spot on the wall.
Going Down Too Quickly – You could really injure yourself by descending too quickly. It’s okay to move back up fast as long as you are in control, but on the way down you should always take your time. Focus on your form and make sure it’s perfect before you even attempt to speed it up.
- How to Do the Perfect Squat – Greatist
- Strength Training 101: How to Squat Properly – Nerd Fitness
- High Bar vs Low Bar Back Squats. What’s the Difference? – BoxLife