Squats are the one of the fundamental movements in functional exercise. You perform this movement multiple times throughout the day without even knowing it. Sitting down, standing up, bending down to pick something up, these are squats. The squat helps in building muscle, gaining strength, increasing flexibility, boosting metabolic rate and improving function. It engages multiple muscle groups such as: Hamstrings, quadriceps, lower and mid back, and glutes. Though there are various different types of squats, the base is always the same. Having correct form while performing the squat is very important. When done wrong, the consequences can be dire.
Here are a few tips on how to make sure you have perfect form every time you squat:
Make sure your head is in a straight position. You don’t want to round your neck. A good way to do this is to lock your eyes on the point in front of you where the wall meets the floor. When you look at the floor or the sky, your spinal alignment its automatically thrown off, which then makes it very dangerous to perform this movement.
Chest and Shoulders
The main idea in the squat is to keep your spine in proper alignment. By keeping your chest out and your shoulders back, your lower back will invariably have the proper natural curve. If your shoulders are rounded and your chest is sunken in, your spinal alignment will be thrown off.
Sometimes when people try to squat their knees will go over their toes, and their butt will go straight down. This causes their heels to come up off of the floor. Keeping your heels firmly planted on the ground is key, but this requires some flexibility, balance, and a “hip hinge”. When you squat, your hips should hinge so that your butt goes backwards in the downward phase. This will make it so your knees don’t go over your toes. The pressure of the squat is then going to be on your heels instead of your toes, and this will give more depth to your squat.
Lower Back Arch
You want the bottom of your spine (the lumbar spine) to have a slight arch. You should keep your back flat to slightly arched when squatting. When you arch your back too much, this causes hyperextension, which puts a considerable amount of pressure on the intervertebral disks. These are soft gel like cushions that are in between each vertebrae to provide protection. When a disk ruptures because of too much pressure, part of the spinal disk pushes beyond it’s normal boundary. This is called a herniated disk, and could possibly require surgery to correct. Keeping your lower back in a slightly arched position throughout the entire movement is very important.
While squatting you will want to keep an athletic stance, where your knees are slightly bent, your feet are firmly planted on the ground and you’re your toes are slightly pointed out. This helps with stabilization. The wider your feet are the more it engages your glutes and hamstrings. The closer your feet are, the more your quads will be engaged. A common mistake when using too much weight is that one or both knees will cave in. So keep your knees out and make sure to pick the appropriate weight for your fitness level.
Breathing is very important, particularly because of the intensity of the movement. Incorrect breathing technique can cause you to become light headed, nauseous, and in some serious cases black out. Take a deep breath in when you are lowering yourself down, and then exhale when you are pushing up. When you get close to the end of your workout, you might want to consider taking in a few extra breaths at the top of your squats as to give yourself a little more energy.
The depth is mainly based on your hip flexibility. If you have good flexibility, then you will most likely be able to squat “below parallel”. This is when your hamstrings are below parallel with the floor. If you have poor flexibility, then you will be “above parallel”. Typically you want to shoot for having your hamstrings parallel to the ground, deeply engaging your hips, thighs, and glutes. Sometimes you will see people squatting really low, this is called “ass to grass”. This is usually done only by power lifters though, and is not recommended for most people.
A good way to make sure you are squatting correctly is to look at yourself in the mirror from the side. You will be able to see the arch in your back and make any corrections that need to be made. You can also video tape yourself and look at the footage after.