The squat exercise is one of the best exercises you can ever do. It is a compound exercise and uses some of the largest muscles in the body. I found it difficult to find one good resource for all the necessary information on how to do squats safely and effectively. With that in mind, I set out to put together this resource on how to do squats safely and effectively. It is a collection of useful information from expert sources. The intention is that the reader can derive the most benefit from the squat exercise with minimum chance of injury.
Table of Contents for Article
How to do squats – Muscles involved
Main Muscles Involved
The main muscles are the large muscles that enable the desired movement.
Stabilizer Muscles Involved
It also works other stabilizer muscles. Stabilizer muscles are essentially the smaller muscles that don’t cause the main movement. These muscles instead facilitate the movement of the larger muscles by keeping these muscles steady during movement. These are the muscles that help with balance. The squats exercise helps with strengthening the Erector Spinae (back), Transverse Abdominus (core abdominal muscles), Gluteus medius/minimus (buttocks) muscles.
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How to do squats – The best resources available
Here are some videos that show you how you can do squats safely and effectively.
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How to do squats exercise safely
The squat is an exercise that can be extremely effective when done correctly. At the same time, it can cause injuries if done incorrectly. In order to achieve the desired effectiveness from the exercise, you need to pay attention to exercise form. The following is an excerpt from an NSCA Position Paper on the Squat Exercise. These are general guidelines for reducing the potential risk of squatting-related injuries. The italicized text is my input while the rest of it is extracted from the NSCA paper.
- An approximate shoulder width stance should be used.
- Descend or lower the body in a controlled manner. The ascent can be made at a variety of speeds. You need to ensure that technique is not compromised at faster speeds. Treat the squat exercise with respect. Do not be in a hurry to do this exercise. While a variety of speeds can be used, it’s probably not a good idea to move too fast with heavier weights. Faster speeds can be applied to bodyweight squats or when carrying very light weights.
- Proper breath control is important to support the torso. The breath should be held from the start of the descending motion until the athlete passes the sticking point on the ascent. This NSCA gibberish may sound confusing but non-athletes can inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up. Those lifting heavier weights when doing the squat exercise can benefit by taking a deep breath before descending. They then hold their breath until the point when they start to ascend. At this point they start to exhale.
- Avoid bouncing or twisting from the bottom position. Bouncing or twisting at the bottom position could cause injuries.
- Maintain a normal lordotic (lordotic refers to lordosis which is a medical definition of when there is an inward curvature of a portion of the spine.) posture with the torso as close to vertical as possible during the entire lift. One way of achieving the correct posture is by keeping your shoulders back and your chest out while keeping the torso absolutely flat. The lower back needs to be as flat as possible at all times. This lets you achieve the correct posture required to do squats exercise safely.
- Generally in typical back and front squats, descend only until the tops of the thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly below.
- Feet should be kept flat on the floor. A common mistake is to shift body weight to the heels, which should be avoided.
- Forward lean of the knee increases sheer forces on the knee. Keeping the shin perpendicular may increase the shear forces on the back as a result of forward trunk inclination. Although there are exceptions, the shin generally should remain as vertical as possible to reduce sheer forces on the knee. Maximal forward movement of the knees should place them no more than slightly in front of the toes. Depending on the type of squat being used, volume and intensity should not be increased at a rate that exceeds the body’s ability to adapt to the imposed demands. In simple words, do not compromise form. At all times, keep an eye on your form and make sure that you are in the best form possible.
- Every effort should be made to maintain a constant stable pattern of motion each repetition, in order to load the muscles in a consistent manner and help prevent injury. Never lose focus when you are doing this exercise. Always focus on your form.
Common errors with squats
The 6 most common errors when doing squats are as follows;
- Descending to fast. When you move down too fast, the main muscles involved in squatting tend to relax. This results in a loss of tightness at the bottom which can cause problems once you start to ascend.
- Moving the torso too far forward. When your torso is extended too far forward, large forces are exerted on the lower back. This could result in a lower back injury known as spinal disc herniation.
- Knee is not in alignment with the direction of the toes. The knee should move in the direction of the toes during the squat exercise. When this does not happen, an added twisting or shearing force is imposed on the knee joint. These forces could cause injuries to ligaments in the knee area. One tip is to have your knees slightly pointed out in order to allow the knee to move in the direction of the toes.
- Lapse of concentration. At all times, ensure that you are concentrating on your movement and aware of your form. When you are carrying heavy weights, the slightest distraction can cause an injury.
- Lack of respect for the squat exercise. This would probably happen to someone who has been doing it for a longer period. Overconfidence could lead to a lower awareness to exercise form.
- Being too tired is another cause of injuries. You may be too eager to finish the required exercise while your body may not have the energy to do so. This is usually apparent in exercise veterans. Listen to your body at all times.
Issues with deep squats
A deep squat is when your thighs go below the parallel position at the lowest point. There is a lot of controversy about the safety of deep squats. An NSCA paper that looked into the available research could not find evidence that deep squats should be contraindicated in those with healthy-knee function. The paper advises against squatting below 50 or 60 degrees for someone who has PCL disorders (Posterior Cruciate Ligament). Deep squats are also not advised for those who have disorders such as chondromalacia, osteoarthritis and osteochondritis.
The paper further suggests that the gluteus maximus (buttocks) muscles are best developed when squats are are carried out through their full range of motion. The quadricep femoris (thighs) on the other hand, is best developed with a squat depth parallel to the floor.
Further resources on how to do squats
Further credible references on how to do squats exercise safely and effectively
- Squats : How to master proper techniques once and for all
- How to do proper squat technique
- How to do squats – The Proper Squat Technique
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