For those about to squat…we salute you.
Perhaps you’re a gym newbie who has been eyeballing that squat rack from afar, but are a little intimidated at the prospect of trying squats for the first time. Or, maybe you’re a more seasoned fitness veteran who may need to check up on whether you’re doing squats the right way.
Either way, squats are one of the most important—although often misunderstood—exercises that one can do. Fitness trainers and experts have cited squats as being at or close to the top of the list, in terms of exercises that they routinely spot problems with. Indeed, they report walking by squat racks at pretty much any time of day and seeing someone performing them incorrectly.
Squats are incredibly important exercises that involve a large portion of your muscles to perform (thighs, hips, back, glutes). Thus, each individual repetition can be quite taxing on your body’s ligaments, tendons, and interconnected muscle tissue. However, they can also be exhausting for the wrong reasons—in that they’re plain being performed incorrectly. The latter can result in extreme pain and duress, and sometimes even injuries.
In order to help you not only make sure that you’re on track with your squats, but have a better chance of avoiding injuries, we’ve included some helpful pointers for you to consider.
Fortify Your Upper Body Strength
In order to be able to handle any decent amount of squatting weight, you should have a strong chest and upper back. Here are a few exercises that can help you to develop a more powerful upper body.
- Dumbbell Flys
Lie down flat on a bench on a bench. Begin with a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells extended outwards, with your elbows bent 90 degrees. Raise the weights until they touch each other above your chest, while inhaling, and squeeze your shoulders and chest. While exhaling, slowly lower the weight back down slowly to starting position. These work your chest primarily and shoulders secondarily.
Grab a pullup bar with a wide grip, making sure that your palms are facing away from you (overhanded grip). Keep your legs straight and elbows slightly bent. Pull your body upwards until your head is approximately level with the pullup bar. Gradually lower yourself down (no jerky movements) to the starting position. This is great for your upper back and arms.
- Seated Rows
Seat yourself on a rowing machine bench. Grasp the row handles so that your hands are facing one another, and lean your upper body forward with your legs slightly bent at the knees. From this starting position, pull backwards on the handles while exhaling and contract your back muscles. When your hands reach your chest, gradually move your body forward back to the starting position. Rows work your back and arms out.
Perform each of these exercises for a total of four sets, 10 – 12 reps each set.
Develop Your Core
The muscles that sheath your torso—from your upper legs, all the way up to your shoulders, are your core muscles. If these are underdeveloped, you are much more likely to either fall forwards or backwards when performing squats. Doesn’t sound too appealing does it?
Not surprisingly, you’ll want to build up a stronger core to fortify your body’s focus and alignment, as well as its ability to remain balanced throughout the entirety of the squat movement.
The following are exercises that can help to develop your core so that you can better prepare yourself for your almighty squat routine.
- Barbell Side Benders
Stand with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, and hold a barbell across the back of your shoulders in a palms-forward grip. Be sure not to have the bar too far up on your neck and grip the bar farther out from your shoulders. Keeping your head aligned with your back, bend only at your waist (as much as possible) while inhaling and contracting your side. When you reach as far as you can go, return to the erect position while exhaling. These exercises help to strengthen your lower core muscles and hips.
- Overhand Crunches
Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent so that there’s a 60 degree angle between your calves and hamstrings. Keeping your feet planted flat on the floor, reach your hands up above your head and interlock your fingers. From this starting position, bring your shoulder and upper back off of the floor while exhaling. Keep your arms, back, and head aligned with one another as you contract your abs. Gradually lower your upper body back down to the floor as you inhale. Overhand crunches strengthen your mid-core area including your abdominals.
- Flat Bench Lying Leg Raises
Lie flat on a workout bench, with your legs extended out and away from your body. Place your hands underneath your gluts with your palms facing downwards, or, if you lack proper balance, grip the sides of the bench. From this starting position, raise your legs upwards until they are at a 90-degree angle with the floor, making sure that they remain straight. Exhale as you perform the rep and contract your core. Slowly lower your legs back down until they are straight once more. These greatly strengthen your entire core.
Perform each of these exercises to exhaustion.
Inspect Your Shoes
Have you ever noticed people squatting with their heels resting upon weight plates? Well that’s because this allows them to squat as deeply as they can while remaining more upright, even when their ankles are in tight. Bad posture as well as sedentary work habits account for people not being able to perform proper squats.
One could be that a person’s ankles are too tight or rigid, and don’t allow for a fully extended squat rotation. This can be somewhat alleviated by placing 5 or 10 lb. weights under their heels. Not being able to perform the exercise’s full range of motion could also be due to other factors.
Another remedy for this is by investing in a pair of weightlifting shoes. Weightlifting shoes come with reinforced soles and slightly elevated heels, and allow you to better maintain proper squat form.
While both of the above solutions are great, simply stretching your ankles and rotating them before your workout, can help to make them both more flexible as well as decreasing their tightness.
You’ve Got This
Sure, squats are great for strengthening your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, hips, and back, but ironically, you have to have these muscle groups already relatively fit before you attempt to perform them. Using these guidelines, you can develop these areas of your body to the point where performing the perfect squat is possible (while lessening the potential for injuries).