The squat is one of the three basic exercises in weightlifting. Anyone who wants to train their legs or butt will sooner or later stumble across this exercise – and that’s for a reason. In my opinion, squats are an essential exercise for every athlete. Since a lot of weight is moved, a correct execution is particularly important to avoid injury. In this blogpost, I’ll tell you how to perform a squat and what to watch out for.
Busy? Then I’ve summarized the most important information of this blogpost for you.
The squat primarily uses the quadriceps (the four-headed thigh muscle). In addition, the glutes maximus (your butt) is equally involved, so the squat is a great exercise to build a nice booty.
In addition, the muscles on the back of the thigh are also involved in this exercise. The back extensor and the entire core provide stability throughout the exercise and are therefore also worked.
You start a squat by positioning your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point slightly outwards, so your knees are naturally pushed outward slightly. This is important so that your knees do not tilt inwards during the exercise!
During the exercising, hold the tension in your core. The back should always stay straight throughout the movement. As an aid, try to consciously stretch your chest forward and upwards! In addition, your heels remain firmly on the ground during the entire exercise!
Now you go down, until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground. Imagine sitting on an imaginary chair. From this position, you push yourself out as explosively as possible, while your back remains straight. Once at the top, you push your hips forward again. You have now performed a squat! If you have balance problems during the squat, you can stretch your hands in front of your body to prevent yourself from falling backwards.
With a barbell
The squat with your own bodyweight and with a barbell are pretty similar except some minor adjustments. At the beginning of this exercise, ideally position the barbell slightly below shoulder level on a rack. Then you stand in front of the barbell and grab the barbell at about shoulder width. Now you step beneath the barbell and position it centrally on your trapezius. Your knees should be slightly bent here! If this is not the case, the barbell is positioned too high on the rack.
The closer your hands are, the easier it is to position the barbell. For some athletes, however, a wider grip is more comfortable and more secure. Try both and find out which grip you prefer. If this is uncomfortable at the beginning, you can use a special foam sheath (this is available in most gyms). Alternatively, you can simply wrap a towel around the barbell.
Now lift the barbell out of the rack. For this, it is sufficient if you stand up (if you have followed the hint for positioning the barbell). During the exercise, it is important to keep the tension in your core. Your back should stay straight during the entire exercise. Now you take a deep breath and hold your breath until you return to the starting position. This so-called valsalva maneuver serves to stabilize your core and is especially important for squats with a lot of weight! With bodyweight squats, you’ll quickly realize that inhaling down and exhaling in the upward motion is more comfortable. Apart from that, there is no difference to the squat with your own bodyweight.
To keep your balance during a barbell squat, the barbell should always be above your metatarsal bone. Seen from the side, the barbell should therefore move in a straight line downwards.
Low Bar Squat
What I have described now is also referred to as High Bar Squat and is probably the most common execution of this exercise. Alternatively, there is also the Low Bar squat. The difference is the position where you place the barbell.
For the High Bar Squat the barbell rests on your traps, while the for the low bar squats, it is positioned on your back shoulder muscle. Again, the barbell should remain above your metatarsal bone throughout the entire execution. But to do that, you have to lean forward (compared to a high bar squat).. This makes it harder to fall backwards during the exercise.
The stress is also shifted from your thighs towards your butt with this variant. The low bar squat can be advantageous if you have poor mobility around your ankles. Since your knees do not have to move that far over your ankles to get into the lowest position of the squat, this variant is often more comfortable with limited mobility.
Knees above your ankles?
You may have heard, that the knees should not move beyond your toes, because that would be harmful for the knee. That is not correct. For example, in 2003 a study was carried out. This has shown that the load on the knee is in fact higher when the knees are pushed beyond the toes. If this was not the case, however, this strain shifted to the hip joint!
It should also be noted that the strain per se is not bad. Each of us puts strain on his muscles when working out, that’s nothing bad. How and if you can push your knees beyond your toes depends greatly on your physical condition. Flexible athletes often feel better when their knees are pushed further beyond their toes. Less flexible athletes often prefer the other option. You have to find out for yourself which variant works best for you!
No straight back
As with any exercise with a lot of weight, caution is needed. As the weight rests on your trapezius, your back plays a central role in stabilizing. Often it happens that athletes do not keep a straight back when squatting. This primarily happens when pushing upwards from the low position.
So always make sure to have a straight back. Focus on pushing your chest forward and upwards. Inhale before performing a squat and hold your breath until you finish your repetition.
A common mistake that you have probably often observed yourself is the depth at which the squat is performed. In order to build your muscles the best way possible, the thighs should be at least parallel to the ground at the lowest point.
“Half-Reps”, ie incomplete repetitions where the legs are only bent slightly, have little in common with a correctly executed squat and will not make your legs significantly stronger.
Every beginning is hard. If you are not familiar with the execution of the exercise, it is worthwhile to use simpler variations. From there you can slowly progress!
Squats with sitting down
You can do this variant with or without additional weight. You just position a chair or a bench in the gym beneach your butt. If you do a squat now, you actually sit down before returning to the starting position.
That way you can slowly get comfortable when performing squats. You do not need to worry that you might fall backwards as you will end up in the seated position at worst.
Aside from increasing weight or repetitions, there are heavier variations of squats that challenge you in new ways.
For this variation you stretch one leg straight in front of you. In this position, you now perform a one-legged squat. For a lot of people it is easier to grab the stretched leg with one hand. Apart from a tremendous load on one leg, this exercise also requires a lot of balance!
At the beginning, it may be easier to position the leg on a raised surface. That way, the stretched leg does not have to be kept parallel to the ground constantly.
One-legged squats with additional weight
One-legged squats can be made even more difficult by adding additional weight. A weight vest is certainly the most natural way to increase weight. Alternatively, you can hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands.
This variant is also possible with a barbell. However, this requires a high degree of balance and body tension and is only suitable for very advanced athletes.
In summary, squats are one of the best exercises for your legs and your butt. Whether with your own body weight or a heavy barbell, your legs will definitely feel this exercise for a long time!
Are you looking for a workout plan that integrates the squat and will make you stronger? Then you should check out the 5×5 plan!
How do you feel about squats? Do you actively integrate them into your routine or do you prefer other exercises for your legs? If so, which and why? Let me know in the comments!
References: Study on knee position