Squats, whether weighted or not, are hands down one of the best, most powerful full-body exercises you can perform: Not only will you tone your butt and thighs, but you’ll develop a stronger core—especially when you start to add on weight with a barbell, kettlebell or dumbbells. But with great power, comes great responsibility: Proper form is essential to seeing the benefits.
We turned to two New York City-based trainers—Keith Wittenstein, CF L4, coach at CrossFit Solace and Nick Lobotsky, CF L1, coach at CrossFit NYC—for some quick pointers on how to improve your squat technique.
1. Make sure to keep your weight in your heels. If most of your body’s weight is being grounded by your toes, you could fall over or compromise form and hurt yourself by being off-kilter. “Keeping your weight in your heels keeps you balanced and allows you to generate lots of force,” says Wittenstein. “It also activates the big powerful muscles of the posterior chain, including your glutes, hamstrings, calves and spinal erectors,” making your bod work harder—and look better. Plus, it helps take pressure off the knees.
2. Push your hips back as you go down. “Sending your hips back first, to initiate the squat, will help allow you to keep your weight in your heels as well as properly align the rest of your body,” says Lobotsky. If you begin your squat by sending your hips straight down, you’ll either end up on your toes in the bottom of the squat (see #1) or with your knees tracking way too far forward, past your toes.
3. Push your knees out slightly. When squatting, you want your knees aligned over your toes. So in reminding yourself to push your knees out slightly, you’re essentially preventing them from collapsing inward. Doing this “helps protect the knees and recruits more muscles in your hips,” says Wittenstein. Think about your knees pointing toward your pinky toes to achieve the positioning, he adds.
4. Keep your chest up. Don’t let your torso drop! Doing so will change your center of gravity, which can be dangerous if you’re using weight while squatting, explains Lobotsky. By holding your chest up and out, you’ll be able to keep the control the weighted bar better, he says.
5. Get loooooow. The goal when doing a squat is to have your hip crease below your knees when you’re in the down spot. “When squatting shallow or above parallel, the knee is doing most of the work and absorbing the force. By squatting below parallel, the knees release the force and the leg muscles start doing the work instead,” says Lobotsky. So not only will you see better results by getting lower, but you’ll also help alleviate pressure on your joints, too.
Now that you can squat like a pro, put your skills to good use with this one-song workout. You’ll feel the burn. Trust.