Squatting – the single best exercise you can do and how to do it as well…

When it comes to exercise, we feel the single best exercise you could do (and do often) is squat. Squatting is also an essential movement pattern in our daily lives from sitting in a chair to squatting down to tie shoelaces. Every able-bodied person should try to improve their squats as it will improve not only their strength, but their balance, stability, mobility and flexibility. 

When it comes to the type of squat there are so many different variations – body weight, back squat, front squat, pistol squat, split squat, overhead and the list goes on (aka you should never be bored!) 

Many people don’t squat and therefore miss out on major benefits. This may be due to technique errors causing pain or discomfort with the movement or other common misconceptions. Let’s debunk some of these.

Biggest mistakes:

  1. You do not squat low enough / you don’t get deep enough in your squat. 

A weighted squat should be built under control – it is something you work towards and it takes time. Increasing the depth of your squat becomes appropriate as you increase your range of motion and the strength of your tissues. This can be done gradually by building your body up. 

Start by doing a simple body weight squat (keep reading on for more info) and move deeper/lower in your positioning overtime. Then squat to a ball or bench and eventually you will move to not needing anything underneath you. Reduce the weight load and make depth the priority first until you can find a comfortable position BELOW parallel (i.e. thighs parallel to the ground). 

  1. You believing that squatting is detrimental to your knees

Squatting keeps your hips, back and legs functioning at a high level. I speak from a ton of experience as someone who was diagnosed with moderate arthritis in my knee at the age of 25. I was told I will never run again and the likelihood was that this would be a chronic issue that would affect me for my lifetime… Once I learned how to properly squat, I now have no knee pain and am substantially stronger. 

Where to start? The air squat (body weight only!)

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward. Let your arms hang loosely at your side. Look straight forward at the horizon and never down or up.

2. Engage your core muscles and push your chest out slightly by pulling your shoulder blades (scapula) toward each other.

3. Bend your knees and push your buttocks and hips back and down. As you lower down, raise your arms straight in front of you to counter balance. Make sure to keep your torso upright. Keep your weight on your heels and make sure your knees are over your toes but not beyond them. Many people falsely believe that your knees should never go forward and your leg should be straight up and down (90 degrees to the floor)…This is not correct and biomechanically makes  no sense.

4. Come down until your thighs are below parallel to the ground or as far down as you can get them. Make an effort to keep your knees spread apart, externally rotated (don’t let them fall inward). 

5. Straighten your legs and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to come back up, lowering your arms back to your side. Be sure you do not lean forward or shift balance to the balls of your feet.

Common Faults to Look For and Avoid:

  • Knees rolling in or caving inside of ankles/feet as you sink down into the squat
  • Head dropping down, which will typically bring the torso with it
  • Rounding of the back or loss of core tension
  • Heels rising off the ground (up on toes)

Points of Performance (things to focus on):

  • Keep your weight on your heels.
  • Make sure your torso is upright with your shoulders pulled back.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart with your toes slightly pointing outward.
  • Focus on spreading the earth apart with your feet as you ascend, rolling the pressure to the outside of your feet to ensure proper mechanics.
  • Squeeze your buttocks at the top of the squat and try to do the same throughout the entire range of motion (aiming for neutral hips during the entire squat).
  • Your buttocks, back and core muscles should be engaged the entire time.
  • Raise your arms while squatting down and bring them back to your side on the way up, keeping your shoulders back.
  • On the downward portion of the squat, aim to go below parallel.

Form and mechanics should always trump the number of repetitions of the squat. Never progress to a loaded or weighted squat until you have perfected the air squat.

If the air squat is too difficult or you need to correct one of the common faults, begin with the box squat. 

Box Squats: 

The box squat is safe and sound through all stages. As erect humans, the need for dynamic stability is paramount (holding ourselves upright is kind of important). Both our anterior (front) and posterior (back) chains are there to create a balance that allows us to be upright beings. The problem is most people have a dominance in the anterior part of their bodies. This movement is great for engaging the posterior more!

1. Maintain the same techniques as described in Exercise 1.

2. Squat to a box or chair.

3. Pause for two to three seconds on the box/chair without releasing your core tension (e.g., maintain proper form as if the box were not there).

4. Squeeze your glutes to come back up and do not shift your balance to the balls of your feet. 

As humans we squat every day so you might as well do it properly! 

Dr Sarah 

Ps You can also check out a video Dr Thom put together for more information!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiqIcUmCqkY