Do you love to squat? I do. Squats are an amazing compound exercise (a multi-joint movement that uses the coordinated action of various muscle groups) that blast your legs in ways no other exercise can. They hit your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, all those tiny stabilizer muscles and even help with posture and core strength. Unfortunately, most people do not squat correctly and put themselves at risk for injury and don’t get the full benefits of the movement. Free squatting with no assistance is a very difficult exercise to master. But not to worry, these tips will have you squatting with perfect form and bring you to new levels of squatting proficiency in no time.
First, let’s do a quick squat test and see how you fare.
Start in a standing position with your arms straight above your head with your biceps inline with your ears. Drop into your squat keeping your upper body as straight as possible and hold at the bottom position. Now judge your form based on these 4 criteria:
1. Have your knees extended beyond your toes?
2. Has your lower back rounded at the bottom position?
3. Have your arms dropped and fallen from your original starting position?
4. Are you able to squat deep enough so that you upper thighs are parallel or below parallel to the floor?
These four form questions are critical to mastering your squat and ensuring that you get the most out of this complex movement. Use the guide below to test yourself, correct your form and then start shaping that booty!
Step 1. Key stretches to do before you begin your squats
Because squatting is a compound movement that uses a variety of different muscles and joints, it’s critical to stretch out beforehand. You never want to stretch your body when its cold, so I suggest starting with a 5-10 minute warmup (you can jog, skip rope, do jumping jacks, etc). Once you are warm, do the below stretches.
Lower back – lay on your back and pull both your knees to your chest to stretch your lower back. You can let one leg extend straight to the floor while keeping other knee tight to your chest as a variation.
Upper back – lay on the floor in the fetal position. Extend your bottom leg and keep your top leg bent at a roughly 90 degree angle from the hip. Use your upper arm to make large circles starting in front of you and circling backwards. Try to keep your arm straight and your hand skimming the floor throughout the circle. 10 times should do it and you should feel your upper back completely open up. Switch sides.
Glutes and hips – Start by doing hip rotations in both directions. Then, sit up on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend one leg up to your chest and cross it over the other leg. Grab the crossed leg with both hands and pull towards your chest to stretch your glute. Switch legs and repeat.
Ankles – sit on the floor with your knees bent. Bring one leg up, letting your ankle rest on the opposite knee. Using your hand, rotate your ankle around in both directions about 10 times.
Hip Flexors – Get into a lunge position and keep your upper body as straight as possible. Lean back slightly to stretch your hip flexor. Switch legs and repeat.
Calves – Find a wall and walk towards it. Stand right up to the wall and put your foot with your toes up on the wall and lean forward. Switch feet.
Knees – Slightly bend at the knees and rotate them in clockwise and counter-clockwise directions. 10 times each way should do it.
Hamstrings – Keep your feet shoulder width apart and bend down at the hip to stretch out. Or even better, go for a downward facing dog. It’ll hit your calves and ankles too.
Quads – Stand straight and bend your leg backwards so your foot comes up to your butt. Grab your foot and pull gently to stretch the top of your leg. Repeat on the other side.
Great job, you’re done stretching!
Step 2. Let’s Squat!
The best way to test your squat form is to start by squatting with a slight elevation in your heels while holding a weight out in front of you. This ensures that your alignment and center of gravity are perfect. Once you master this, you can remove the assistance.
Take 2 books of equal thickness or anything sturdy that’s about 1 inch off the ground that you can stand on (I use 10lbs plates and lay them on the floor). Rest the heel of each foot on the 1 inch platform with the balls of your feet still on the floor, and point your toes slightly outwards. Now take a heavy book or 5lbs weight and hold it straight out in front of you with both hands. Drop into your squat and pay attention to the 4 areas mentioned above. You should see drastic improvement across the board.
I suggest doing 5 sets of 20 squats trying to keep absolutely perfect form. After a few weeks, you should be able to eliminate either the elevation under your feet or holding the weight in front of you. Figure out which one to eliminate by assessing your form and eliminate the one that doesn’t affect your form. Give it another few weeks and up your reps to about 25-30 for 5 sets. Once you feel strong enough, get rid of the 5 pound weight and squat like a champ. If your form is perfect, you can begin adding weight via a barbell.
There are plenty more resources to geek out over squat form and if you are interested, I suggest you search more on the topic. I hope this simple tutorial will help your progress.
Burn that Booty,
Party Smart. Sweat Smarter.