Squatting is the most effective exercises full stop. That said, anything worth doing is worth doing properly – particularly because if your squat technique is poor the chance of injuring yourself will be high!
Remember to keep the following tips & form checks in mind before beginning a squat routine & as always – check with a trainer who can help you perfect your form & get the most out of your squat sessions.
1) Keep Your Spine Straight & Look Straight…
One of the most common problems you often have when first learning to squat is rounding the back. When you start squatting, be careful to keep your spine straight & your eyes straight ahead. If you are looking down at your feet or up at the ceiling – your’re likely stressing your lower back or neck area, particularly if you are lifting heavy. Keep your head level & in a neutral position, do this by aiming to keep your chin parallel to the floor.
Make sure you keep your chest held high so that your spine is as upright as possible throughout the entire range of motion (ROM).
2) Proper Breathing…
One of the most common mistakes is breathing at the wrong time & in the wrong way. Remember to breathe deeply, all the way down into your belly. This helps to create intra-abdominal pressure, which improves the effectiveness & safety of the squat. A deep breath can dramatically help to support your spine under heavy loads.
Also – remember to fill the belly before you begin to squat – once you are pinned down by the weight there will be no time or space to suck in & try to expand your stomach! At the bottom of the movement you want a full inhalation in line with contraction of your deep abdominal muscles & pelvic floor. I explain this in detail in my book The ShapeTrainer.
Expel your breath slowly & evenly as you push back up, do this through pursed lips as not to release that good tension to quickly. Remember that you always want to begin exhaling at the moment of greatest exertion. So as you begin to rise from the bottom of your squat – this is the time to start releasing some air from your lungs.
3) Move The Bar Vertically…
The barbell should always stay in one straight line. This means you are not bending forward or arching backward, but moving so that the bar goes up & down in a straight line. Being precise about how the bar should be moving as you squat will keep your shoulders, hips & knees in proper alignment & keep your spine straight as you move up & down.
4) Push With Your Heels…
The heels should be the point of greatest pressure as you push back up. Because you are keeping the barbell in line with your ankles, this is also the point where you will be pressing & feeling the most pressure. If you are pushing from another area of your foot, it is likely that your entire form is incorrect.
The whole of your foot should be flat on the floor with your toes engaged. Although slightly more pressure will be directed through your heal your entire foot should be in action.
5) Knees & Toes…
Proper squat format includes bending your knees without leaning forward far enough that they bend out to far in front of your toes. The alignment of your shin is important for the fact that the further forward your knees are to the end of your toes, the more pressure on the front of your knee joint.
The more upright your spine (column/trunk) is throughout your squat motion the less pressure you will place on your knee joints. This motion will also increase the intensity of the exercise across your thigh muscles. Stronger thighs, better response from you training routine, less chance of injury – this is a very important point when squatting.
6) Bar Just Above The Blades…
The barbell should not be resting on your neck! In a proper squat, the barbell is resting on your traps. Practice finding the right spot & getting comfortable with the bar on your traps before you even begin to add weight to the bar. As you squat, squeeze your shoulder blades together, producing a cushioned spot for the bar to rest on muscles, not on your spine.
There is always the option of using a pad to cushion the bar, however for full proprioception (feeling & being aware of every part of the movement) you would be wise to use the bar alone. A towel or thin layer of clothing can help but essentially you want to feel exactly where the bar is at all times throughout your squat movement.
7) How Low Can You Go?…
The lower the squat, the more effective you are at engaging more muscles – & making the squat fully worthwhile! The deeper you squat the more you harness the power of your glutes & hamstrings. Your glutes are in play most at the very bottom of your squat – the lower you squat ‘with good form’ the better your butt will look & the stronger it will be.
Remember to increase your weight slowly or on the advice of your trainer & always have a spotter in case you reach a point of muscle failure within a set! With careful planning & the right help you won’t be as likely to break form & risk injury.
A very simple stretch can dramatically help most people to get lower in their squat – a calf stretch. Before each set stretch each calf individually. Notice how this gives you more freedom to squat lower while maintaining an upright position of your trunk.
8) How “Slow” Can You Go?…
We get it – squatting isn’t exactly a relaxing exercise. It is however, as effective as it is uncomfortable, so it’s well worth getting your squat technique right – make that discomfort worthwhile! Remember to descend slowly & push back up deliberately, without bouncing at the bottom. Control the entire movement.
To get the full benefit of squatting – you want to squat as deeply as possible. Squatting deeply will insure you engage as many muscles as possible. Train yourself to control the entire movement through perfect form. Then you can play with the speed of the movement.
Most muscle soreness is brought on from the eccentric phase of the movement. In a squat that is the lowering portion as you sit down into the movement. The slower you perform this part of your squat the more soreness you will bring on in the days following. Why is this good? Because you are creating more tiny muscle tears which your body will heal making the muscle(s) in question stronger & more useful.
Once more, always start by squatting with a trainer who can watch your form & help point out any mistakes. If a friend or trainer is not available, try squatting in front of a mirror so that you can check for proper form without looking down at yourself (thus bending your spine, no-no #1).
Again, squats aren’t exactly a picnic in the park – but they are one of the most effective exercises which engage & effectively build some of the largest muscles in the body. Therefore, these are exactly the exercises that will make you proud to show off your body & its abilities the next time you DO go for a picnic in the park!
To Your Best Health
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