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How to improve your squat

The squat is the single best exercise for improving your strength, power, and size, yet it is poorly understood and consequently often labeled as ‘dangerous’ or ‘too complicated’.

While the sheer number of muscles involved do make it hard to master, they are also the reason there is such a great pay-off; a properly executed squat will work your glutes, quads, adductors, groin muscles, lower and upper back, abdominal, costal, and lateral trunk muscles. It is a fantastic core exercise, and when performed correctly, also the safest exercise for developing lower body strength.

We’re going to take a look at three key tips to help you execute an accurate squat, and in so doing, learn to reap the full benefits of this amazing compound exercise.

#1 Achieve Proper Squat Depth

A proper squat should result in your hips lowering below the top of your knees. Anything less than this is a partial squat, and consequently fails to draw upon the strength of your glutes, adductors, and hamstrings.

Further, stopping the squat and reversing your downward momentum at anything less than a correct deep position will stress your knees and lead to injury. You need to drop to the point where you hamstrings and adductors are taut, and produce a slight ‘bounce’ which helps you straighten up.

The vast majority of weight lifters at the gym will perform a partial squat; do not follow their example.

#2 Open Your Knees

A properly executed squat requires that you not only achieve the correct depth, but also have your feet and knees correctly positioned to maximize your ability to control and lift the weight.

Without the bar, drop down into the bottom of your squat, feet at hip width and toes pointed slightly out. Then place your elbows on the inside of your knees and push them out wide. This is your target knee width. The reason you want them out so wide is because it allows for easier depth and it harnesses the power of your adductors.

If you can’t keep your knees out during a squat, you probably have weak adductors.

#3 Lift With Your Hips

Once you have achieved proper depth, you need to rise up. It is important that you visualize this properly so that you don’t focus on the wrong part of your body.

What drives the squat back up are your glutes and hamstrings, and so it is essentially your hips that do the lifting. Don’t try to straighten your knees, or push down on the ground with your feet, or straighten your back. Instead, imagine a rope tied to your pelvic cradle that is drawing it straight up.

Simply lift your hips, and you will optimize your muscle usage as you finish your squat.

Wrap Up

If you focus on these three key elements, the rest of your squat should fall into place. However, there is no substitute for a good training coach when you’re getting started, and if you can find somebody to spot you as you learn you will avoid developing bad habits that could plague you down the line.

Perfect form is essential when executing a complex compound exercise, and should allow you lift heavier weights with better results if you focus on getting your form right from the get-go.

Phil Tucker

Author Phil Tucker

Phil Tucker is a novelist and freelance writer who is currently based in Western Massachusetts. Of Brazilian British descent, he grew up in various countries throughout South America and Western Europe, and counts himself fortunate to have experienced different cultures and global points of view, all of which have informed his own. He's an advocate for the Body Beast workout. Click here to learn more, or visit his blog.

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • DeeDee says:

    This is very interesting! I was always taught to press through the heels on the way up for two reasons: 1: make sure my weight is back where it should be and 2: to really pull in the hamstrings on the way up.

    I will try a series of unweighted squats using the techniques suggested in the article and see if I notice a difference in how the work in distributed on the way up.

    • Lifefitnesskiss says:

      There is a difference between a weightlifting squat and a powerlifting squat. This article seems to focus, at least on some parts on the weightlifting sqaut.

  • Hi Phil,

    This is a great article! When I started working out, I didn’t know the proper way of squatting exercise until such time I injured my left knee. It was so painful and I stopped for almost a month.
    This is really helpful. Post some more! Thanks for sharing!

  • squatgirl says:

    great post, phil. thank you. i wish more girls would squat!

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