The squat is one of the best exercises you can do, regardless of your fitness and physique goals. It strengthens countless muscles in your body, improves your movement patterns, burns a lot of calories and builds lower-body power that’s vital for any sport.
But, as simple as the squat seems, there’s definitely a right way to do it and many wrong ways. If left uncorrected, they could ruin your results (or even cause injuries).
Here are the top 10 mistakes and how to avoid them:
ROUNDING YOUR LOWER BACK
Never let your lower back round when you squat: It can cause injuries and hurt your spine. Instead, keep a flat, neutral lower back as you descend and rise to keep everything in its proper position.
One of the easiest ways to fix this is by using a squat variation that keeps your torso more upright and activates your abs. Try the goblet squat and train your body to use the correct technique.
EXTENDING YOUR LOWER BACK
The other end of the extreme is to arch your lower back as far as it will go. It might seem safer, but it actually puts a ton of stress on your joints and overemphasizes the wrong muscles.
Avoid forcing your pelvis into an anterior pelvic tilt (i.e., when your belt buckle points downward). Instead, keep your lower back neutral and maintain that position throughout your squat. (It also helps to keep your neck neutral and your eyes focused on something a few feet in front of you on the ground.)
NOT SQUATTING LOW ENOUGH
You should always squat low enough so, at the bottom, the top of your thighs are parallel to the ground. This better improves your lower-body strength, your power throughout the full range-of-motion and takes a lot of pressure off your knees.
If you can’t go that low, work on your mobility or switch to a different squat variation like plate squats.
NOT USING DIFFERENT SQUAT VARIATIONS
When it comes to squats, the most common one is the barbell back squat. But that’s just one of the dozens of different squat variations. Unless you’re a powerlifter or weightlifter, occasionally switch to different squats to work on different things.
LETTING YOUR KNEES GO INWARD
If your knees cave inward as you squat, you could really hurt yourself. Always make sure your knees go in the same direction as your toes.
If you struggle with this, chances are you have poor mobility in your lower-body. Make sure you do a full dynamic warmup to fully open your body before every workout. Also, try doing bodyweight squats with a mini-band around your knees to train your hips to keep your knees in correct alignment.
HAVING THE INCORRECT SETUP
If you’re doing a barbell squat, you’ll need to use a squat rack or power rack. In that case, you should always use the safety bars, which catch the barbell at the bottom — that way, if you can’t lift the weight, you can put the barbell on the safety bars and get out from underneath.
Also, when you set the barbell on the rack, make sure the barbell is around chest-height — too high or too low makes it difficult to rack or unrack the barbell.
Squat with free-weights, not machines. That’s because the squat is a complex, 3D movement that isn’t designed to be locked into a fixed-plane (like with machines). Also, by using free-weights, you get the full benefit of the exercise: strength, stability and balance.
USING THE SQUAT PAD
If you’re starting out, the barbell can feel uncomfortable sitting on your upper back, but avoid using the squat pad. It’s better to let your body get used to the sensation, otherwise you’ll never train your body to do so. Also, with the squat pad, you won’t get a feel of where the barbell is and it changes the positioning of the exercise.
FORGETTING YOUR GLUTES
Even though the squat is a lower-body exercise, a lot of people don’t use their glutes to power the movement. When you squat, focus on spreading your feet apart to turn on your glutes and increase your hip drive. And as you finish each rep, squeeze your glutes at the top to complete the movement.
WEARING THE WRONG SHOES
Believe it or not, the right shoes can make all the difference. Wear shoes with a thin or rigid sole so you can transfer power from your legs into the ground, and avoid shoes with lots of cushioning, which can absorb your force or even let your feet slide around inside your shoe. (Also, avoid shoes that limit ankle mobility.)