Front squat, back squat, body squats, ever wonder WHY we do squats? What perfect squat form looks like? Or what muscles the squat works? Well, you’re in luck! Today we are going to go over what exactly constitutes good squat form, obliterate some common myths, and why we should STOP skipping leg day.
Skipping leg day is one of the worst things you can do no matter what your goal is. Whether it is building muscle, losing fat, mobility, or overall health, the ability to perform a squat variation to depth is almost invaluable. No matter what our goal is, perfect technique is essential to keeping our body healthy and squatting for a long time coming. To begin with our proper squat technique breakdown, we will cover the feet and ankles and move up to our back and shoulders. I’ll introduce some nuances that vary between squat variation (front squat vs. back squat etc) but for the most part, these cues and tips are universally applicable to all forms of squatting.
- WEIGHT ON YOUR HEELS– Who else has heard or used this cue when training? Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at our first myth!! (No, it’s not a UFO no it’s not bigfoot). To be frank, emphasizing the weight on the heels in an effort to save the knees is misguided at best. Foot pressure should be at least evenly distributed throughout the entire foot. In order to accomplish this, think about gripping the ground with your big toe. What this is going to do is create what we like to call a “tripod” foot which is going to increase your stability when squatting.
- KNEES CAN’T PASS THE TOES– Now I KNOW that everybody reading this has heard this one. The good ol’ knees can’t pass the toes or vertical shin cue. This is something that has been parroted forever and is a myth that (k)needs to die (See what I did there?)!! The knees can and will pass the toes in a proper squat. The key is when the knees pass the twos. If you start your squat and your knees immediately shoot forward and you haven’t descended more than 3 inches then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. But, if you are properly tracking your feet and are descending in the bottom position with good control, then the knees will and NEED to travel over the toes.
Hips Don’t Lie
The hips have a crucial role in keeping your low back and knees away from injury and pain-free. Think of the hips as a bowl filled to the brim with water. If we tip this bowl too far forward or backward the water will begin to spill out and then we’ll die of thirst (figuratively speaking, of course). Well, we don’t want that right? Most individuals allow for their figurative water to be spilled out of the front of their bucket. What this looks like is the classic but out stripper pose when squatting down. This can cause a myriad of issues, but to keep it simple, we don’t want this! We want to keep our bucket flat so we don’t lose any of that sweet nectar out the front or back. Once we have out bucket flat, we want to descend as low as we can without letting it tip out the front or back. Most individuals allow for their water to tip out of the back which is known as “butt wink”. Butt wink is not a death sentence but it is something that we should try and avoid if possible. So not descending too far down to experience this butt wink would be a good idea.
Shoulders, Hips, and Core
When we squat we need to start paying attention to what our shoulders and core are doing in relation to our hips. Imagine I extended that figurative bucket that represented our hips all the way up to our shoulders and around our core and created a barrel. That’s how we need to think about our core. If we have our chest excessively puffed out and we’re sticking our butt out, our barrel is broken and won’t be able to help us very much. We need that barrel to be strong to be able to effectively put force into the ground. A good cue for this is “ribs down”. This not only is going to keep our barrel solid but it will serve as the beginning stages of bracing in the squat. Bracing is essentially creating tension in our core or remaining tight. Imagine that somebody is going to jab you in the stomach with their pointer finger, that is bracing and you need it to keep your torso tight during all portions of the squat.
Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
Notice that throughout this article the things that I did not touch on, the first being stance width.
- Stance width– Should your feet be far apart? Hip width? Shoulder width? Somewhere in between?? The reality is that it is going to vary largely from person to person. This is going to be determined by a few things but ultimately it’s going to boil down to personal preference. The same goes for whether or not your feet should be straight forward, angled outward, etc (if somebody tells you that you need to squat with your feet straight forward kick them in the shin and tell them it’s from me).
- Squat depth– This one is tricky, but to start off let’s debunk another myth (yay!!!). The ol’ squatting below parallel is bad for your knees. The truth is we all should be possess a requisite amount of hip and ankle mobility to perform a body weight squat well below parallel while keeping our back flat and our chest up. When we introduce a bar into the equation this depth can vary based on our anatomical makeup. Individuals with a long torso and short femurs will find it easier to squat to depth. Conversely, an individual with longer femurs and a shorter torso is going to have a tougher time. Think about two doors. One that is 5-feet wide and one that is 1-foot wide. The doorknob on the door that is 5-feet wide needs to travel much further to open all the way, while the door that is 1-foot wide needn’t travel nearly as far to open completely. The same principle applies to your legs.
These are the basics that should guide you in your squatting journey. If more visuals are needed then check out our youtube series on squatting at Irvine Spine and wellness. As always, if you have further questions or want to dive further into the weeds you can contact me on Instagram @jon_dick, Facebook Jonathan Dickinson, or directly to my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports Performance Coach
“Coach Jon, Irvine Strength and Conditioning Coach who is an athlete himself and someone I recommend to my patients. He knows what he is doing and his attention is on the proper form and injury prevention is what I love about him.”- Dr. Shakib