When it comes to working out, few moves allow for such high amount of reps as the bodyweight squat. Because they are a great way to condition and strengthen the lower body you will see them performed throughout all of Grind’s classes. Done correctly, these dynamic movements can not only help build muscle and burn fat but can also help build joint mobility and strengthen tendons. However, if done incorrectly, they have the potential to lead to a variety of injury and stress related pain. A good workout will almost always leave you sore but there is a vast difference between healthy muscle soreness and pain resulting from putting undue stress on joints and ligaments or straining the spine. Apart from avoiding injury, good form helps maximize the benefits of the move and achieve greater results in the targeted area. With the number of squats, we do during classes, the last thing you want is to discover you aren’t activating and utilizing the muscles targeted in these exercises. Below you can learn about the proper form that will help you maximize the results from these moves while protecting your body from injury as well as the individual benefits of performing them as a regular part of your exercise regimen.
The Bodyweight Squat
Squats are a key component of lower body strengthening and conditioning. The primary focus of a squat is the quadriceps, which is the large muscle group located in the front of your thigh. The squat also benefits your calves, located on the back of your leg below your knee, and the hamstrings, which is the muscle that runs along the back of your leg from your hips to your knees. Well executed squats can also help strengthen the tendons in your knees, build hip joint mobility, ankle mobility and help elevate heart rates increasing calorie and fat burn.
You may have heard it said that this move should be performed as if sitting in a small chair behind you. There really isn’t a better description provided you sit into chairs with good form. When I see most people sit down, their form is just as questionable as seen when squatting and often for the same reasons. We simply aren’t asking anyone to sit down 30 times in a row to the beat of a song.
To perform the squat correctly, you should start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. In the typical squat, your toes should rest in a comfortable position turned slightly outward. (The instructors will sometimes tell you to change this position to alter the squat to target different areas) You want to find the place that feels natural and comfortable to you but overall, your toes should not be pointed straight forward. While squatting, your chest should stay up and spine straight. It is best to keep your shoulders back to help the alignment of your spine. That can be helped by keeping your hands out with your thumbs facing up.
As you begin the descent, you hinge slightly forward at the hips (again, keeping your back straight) and push your rear out as if there is a low chair behind you that you are trying to sit down on. When you practice this move, pay close attention to where the pressure in your feet is. If the weight of your foot is in the front of your foot or your heels are raised, your stance needs to be adjusted. The pressure of this stance should be in your heels.
Good form in your knees is also essential to the squat. It often gets said that your knees should not go over your toes (which often happens as a result of bending the knee first without the rear “push” of sitting in a chair) but you also need to be sure your knees are not pushing in or out while getting in or out of the squat.
Once at the bottom of your squat you will now need to push out of the squat. It is important to keep in mind that your ascent should exactly mirror your descent. Do not lean forward to get up or change the pressure in your feet. Tighten the muscles in your glutes (those fabulous peach muscles) and use them to push yourself back up as if a string was pulling your head back up to standing.
One more note is to be mindful of your breathing. While breathing might seem like a no brainer, proper technique of breaths can also help reduce injury and increase endurance. By filling your lungs with air on the way down, you help add to core strength and stability and the strength of your spine. Breathe in on the way down and out on the way up.
The goal of a full squat is to eventually be able to drop your hip joint slightly lower than your knees, but this should not be attempted until you’ve achieved good quality form and built up the conditioning of your legs. The tendency to try to do the deepest squat often leads the body to naturally compensate for its weakness and compromise form and technique.
Remember, your body wants to avoid immediate injury and your natural inclination will be to adjust. However, your body will “dump” the stress on a part that might be able to handle that stress once or twice but cannot handle it 30 times in succession. That is how you end up with long term stress injuries. Instead, focus on finding a good spot that pushes your limits while also allowing you to keep good correct form and posture. Overtime you will be able to drop lower and deeper as your muscles gain strength without asking your knees and back to bear the strain.
Quick Takeaways while performing squats:
Do keep: Feet slightly wider than shoulder width Toes slightly outward Knees behind toes Chest up Pressure in heels Squeeze glutes to push up
Do Not: Round back Allow knees to pass over toes Allow knees to drift outward or inward Raise heels or push through toes
Side note: Oftentimes, things like age, weight and stress have created bad habits in our forms. Many toddlers have very healthy natural squat technique in their day to day movements. If you happen to be around a toddler, watch how they squat to pick up and investigate items and you will see the most natural form of a good bodyweight squat.
Happy Squatting! :)