Squatting is a go-to foundational movement for so many reasons. Squats are the standard movement for developing lower body strength and power. They help us maintain the strength and mobility to sit down and stand up, get in and out of our car and get down on the floor with our children and grandchildren. And, for many, the aesthetic benefits squats provide our backsides is reason enough to drop it low.
It’s important, however, to perform the squat correctly, or you risk more than you’re benefiting. There are three things to think about during a squat:
- Sit back. One of the most common faults during a squat is lowering your body and driving your knees forward, rather than pressing your hips backward as if you’re sitting in a chair. When you do this, you engage your glutes and take pressure off your knees. If this is a challenge for you, practice sitting back onto a chair or bench, then stand back up. Holding onto a bar or TRX Suspension trainer can also reduce the fear of sitting back.
- Spread the floor apart. Another common squatting fault is letting your knees cave in, known as a valgus knee collapse. This is a result of the glutes and hips not being engaged. To fire up your backside and make sure your knees are lined up over your middle toes, try “spreading the floor apart” with your feet as you stand.
- Master the move before you load it. Squatting is a very technical movement that requires core strength, body awareness and mobility at the hips, knees and ankles. Before you add a barbell or dumbbells, ensure your form is in check while moving your body weight.
The workout below improves your squat by strengthening the muscles needed to perform the movement. You can work this into your regular exercise routine one or two times per week. Perform 2 sets of 10 reps of each exercise, with a 30–60 second rest between sets.
TRX HAMSTRING CURLS
Begin your squat workout with TRX hamstring curls to teach your brain where you should be mobile (hips, knees and ankles) and how to activate the backside of your body during squats.
The Move: Adjust the TRX straps to mid-calf length. Sit on the ground facing the anchor point and place your heels into the foot cradles. Lie on your back with your legs straight and heels supported in the cradles. While pulling your toes back toward your shins, lift your hips off the ground. Drag your heels toward your backside while keeping your hips off the ground. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the motion, and then return your legs to straight. If lower intensity is needed, this exercise can be completed with your hips on the floor.
Now that you know what a squat feels like in a ground-based position, let’s take those same movement mechanics and move them to a stand. The TRX allows you to maximize the squat range of motion by slightly unloading your body weight. This is a perfect way for beginners to master the move, and more experienced lifters can use it to warmup and gain mobility before the real thing.
The Move: Adjust your TRX straps to mid-length. Stand facing the anchor point and hold the handles in front of you with your elbows slightly bent. Sink your hips straight down and back, and avoid “falling backward” onto the straps. Lower as far as possible or until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Return to a stand by pressing your feet into the floor and pushing your hips forward to a neutral position.
Doing squats over a box helps with the comfort of pressing your hips back and down, rather than driving your knees forward. The lower the box, the bigger the challenge.
The Move: Stand 6–12 inches in front of a bench, chair or plyo box. While keeping your weight firmly into the floor through your feet, sink your hips down and back. Gently tap the box with your glutes, then return to a stand by pressing your feet into the floor.
By holding the weight on the front side of your body, the counterbalance created allows you to move deeper into your squat while feeling more confident. This is a perfect way to begin adding load to your squats.
The Move: Hold a heavier dumbbell or kettlebell against your chest. Your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes turned out slightly. Drop your hips down and back while keeping your chest up and shoulders anchored down and back. Press your feet into the floor to return to a stand. Pretend you are separating the floor with your feet and engage your glutes as you power back up to the starting position.
BARBELL BACK SQUAT
Now that you’ve done all the prep work, you should be ready for the full-loaded squat movement.
The Move: Place the barbell just beneath your neck, so it rests on the “squishy” parts of your shoulders. With your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, drop your hips down and back, keeping your back and shin angles parallel to one another. Choose a depth that is challenging and safe for your knees and hips. Engage your glutes, press your feet into the floor to return to a stand.
This move isn’t just for raising your heart rate. By adding speed and explosiveness to the squat, you can dramatically increase the challenge and intensity.
The Move: Begin with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drive your arms back, and sink your hips down and back. Simultaneously press your feet into the floor, drive your arms up and jump off the ground. As you land, immediately absorb the landing by bending at the knees, hips and ankles upon impact, ending up back in the squat position.
SINGLE-LEG BOX SQUATS
Transitioning the squat from bilateral to unilateral (from two legs to one) is a big challenge in both load and coordination. To ease into this transition, begin with a higher box and then progress lower as you are able to maintain proper form.
The Move: Stand about 12 inches from a box, bench or step and face away from it. Shift your weight to your right foot and hover your left foot slightly above the floor in front of you. Sink your hips down and back until you tap the bench with your glutes. Engage your glutes and press your right foot into the ground to return to a stand. If possible, try to complete this move without stopping to “sit” on the bench. Ensure your right knee tracks directly over your middle toes on your right foot. After 10 reps, repeat on the other side.
For more fitness inspiration, check out “Workout Routines” in the app to discover and log a wide variety of routines by performance specialists. Or build your own routine with exercises that fit your goals.