The squat is a key functional movement that is essential to building strength and fitness and maintaining overall health. There are a lot of common misconceptions about the squat that are perpetuated by misinformed media outlets and health and fitness professionals. You may be familiar with many of these myths, such as, “Squats will damage your knees”, “You’re not supposed to squat beyond 90 degrees/parallel”, or “Squats are bad for your back”. First, it is important to understand that the full squat is a natural movement that is necessary for everyday life. The squat movement allows you to get up from a sitting position and also to pick up objects from the ground. If you’ve ever spent any time observing a young child, it becomes clear that the ability to squat correctly is something that humans are born with, but then forget in the process of becoming older and exchanging natural play for structured sports and activities.
To learn how to execute a proper squat, it is advisable that you first practice air squats, which are squats performed using only your bodyweight. Follow these steps for a proper squat:
1.) Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. The toes should be turned out slightly at about a 15-30 degree angle. The head and spine should be in a neutral position, with the head lifted and ears over the shoulders, which are pulled back slightly.
2.) Begin the movement by pushing your hips down and back, as though you are going to sit down in a chair. Raise the arms and hands out and up as you squat down. For a challenge, the arms are raised alongside the ears as close as possible.
3.) As your hips go down and back, maintain the natural curve of your lumbar spine and keep your weight in the heels of the feet. Do not allow your weight to come forward onto the balls of your feet.
4.) Do not look down at the ground, but keep your head up and ears in line with the shoulders throughout the squat movement. Your gaze should be slightly above parallel at all times.
5.) Keep the torso elongated and the midsection tight as you descend. The knees should track over the insoles of the feet, but they should not move forward or roll outside of the feet.
6.) Go down beyond when the thigh is parallel to the ground. You’ve reached the full squat position when the hip fold is below the knee. The bottom of the squat should not be a resting position, but your hip flexors and core should be engaged.
7.) Use the glutes and hamstrings to rise from the squat, following the same route that you took on the way down. Do not shift forward or move the feet, but focus on putting pressure on the outside of the feet as you push up.
8.) At the top of the squat, stand tall with the hips and knees extended.
Be sure to include the squat regularly into your training routine for best results!