Mastering the Squat: A Step-By-Step Guide
Welcome to your step-by-step guide to mastering the squat -- one of the best exercises on the planet!
Before we get into how to squat, let's cover all the reasons why you should start.
Squatting is great for:
- Building lower-body strength
- Improving ease of day-to-day activities (walking, getting up and down from chairs, etc)
- Increasing hip, ankle and knee mobility
- Improving core strength
- Improving cardio
- Burning fat
- Building muscle and shaping your legs
- Making you feel like a bad-ass
In addition to all the reasons above, we love the squat because of it's versatility.
It can be done just about anywhere and can easily be adjusted to match your fitness level and experience.
Add weight to your squat and improve your lower-body strength and shape.
Add reps to your squat and decrease rest periods to improve your endurance and burn fat.
Challenge yourself with your own body-weight or add resistance with kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells.
The variety of squats you can do is endless. This is great for keeping your workouts fun and breaking through plateaus.
Even with all the positives, squats still can get a bad rap.
For some, they can cause issues, especially around the knees.
This is typically due to one or a combination of reasons such as improper technique, too much resistance, previous injury history, or improper range-of-motion.
This is where your DSC coaches come in!
Today, we're going to cover everything you need to know about how to perfect the squat and make it work for you.
Let's get into it!
The Set-Up & Execution
Set-Up Key Points: (how you will start and finish each squat)
- Start your feet shoulder width
- Toes should be pointed slightly out
- Keep weight in heels
- Maintain a straight line from head to heels
- Keep stomach braced and glutes squeezed
Execution Key Points:
- Initiate movement by bending at the hip and knees
- Think about sitting back into a chair
- Knees should push out, away from each other
- Keep stomach braced and torso tall
- Keep weight back in heels
- You should feel your weight back in your hips
- Go as low as possible with -- heels down, no pain and neutral spine position
Step 1| The Assisted Squat
The assisted squat is a fantastic exercise to nail your squat technique and improve mobility with minimal stress on your knees, hips and low-back.
By holding the straps and using your arms, you are able to work on your squatting motion while keeping weight off your legs. By holding the straps you are "unloading" your legs.
If you have some kind of lower-body injury history, like bad knees, this is a great place to start squatting.
- Grab straps and hold at chest height
- Feet should start shoulder width, toes pointed out
- Start motion by bending at the knees and hips and sitting back
- As you lower, use arms to keep your weight into the straps and not legs
- Keep posture tall, go as low as possible with no pain and neutral spine position
- Return to starting position
- As you get stronger, have less weight in straps and more in legs
- Start with 2-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Step 2| The Counterbalance Squat to Box
Now that you have mastered your squatting technique and improved your mobility, it's time to keep progressing and building strength.
The counterbalance squat allows you to continue to work on your technique while working against your own body-weight.
Holding a weight out front, allows you to sit back and keep your core tight during your squat.
- Set up a box or bench behind you
- The box is used as a guide on how low you should go
- Start tall with plate at waist height
- Start motion by bending at the knees and hips and sitting back
- Keep posture tall and push knees out
- As you lower, bring plate up to chest level
- Go until your butt touches the box or bench and return to starting position
- Start with 3-4 sets of 8-10reps
* To increase the difficulty of your counterbalance squat to box, slowly lower the height of the box or bench, increasing your squat range-of-motion.
Step 3| The Goblet Squat
One of our favorite exercises is the goblet squat.
Now that you've built some lower-body and core strength as well as improved your squatting technique, your ready to add some weight to your squat.
This is where we take our squat to the next level, build muscle and shred fat!
- Start with dumbbell or kettlebell under your chin and against chest
- Like our other squats, feet start shoulder width with toes slightly pointed out
- Stay tall with stomach braced throughout
- Initiate movement by bending at the knees, sitting back and pushing knees out
- Go as low as you can with no pain and good neutral spine position
- Do not allow kettlebell or dumbbell to move
- Finish tall with glutes squeezed
- Start with 2-3 sets of 8 reps
(common mistake image on left, correct technique on right)
#1 Leaning too far forward
One of the most common mistakes is leaning too far forward. We like to tell our members to pretend they have a glass of water on their head and not to let that glass fall forward as they squat. This will keep the stress on your legs and off your low back.
#2 Heels come up
Keeping your weight in your heels will allow you to sit back, be stronger and use your glutes. Not being able to keep your heels down, typically means your squatting too low or have stiff ankles. If this is you, try squatting with 5lb metal plates under your heels.
#3 Knees cave in
When we squat, we want to keep good alignment of our feet, ankles, knees and hips. By keeping our joints in the right position, we are able to keep the stress on our working muscles and off our joints. One problem some people have is allowing their knees to cave in as they squat. This places excessive stress on the medial aspect of the knee. To fix, watch yourself in mirror as you squat and think "knees out" or place a mini-band just above your knees, forcing you to work against the band and get your knees out.
#4 Knees push too far forward
When squatting, we want to sit back. This not only improves our strength and stability by allowing us to use our glutes, quads and hamstrings, it keeps excessive stress off your knees.
#5 Losing neutral spine position
As you squat, your torso should lean forward slightly. When this happens your spine should not move. It shouldn't flex or crunch forward and it shouldn't extend or arch back. This will keep your low back healthy and improve the strength and performance of your squat. Typically, this is due to people going too low in their squat.