If you had to pick one exercise to do for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
For me, the answer is simple: Squats.
There’s a reason the squat has been called the “King of All Exercises”. Not only does it work your legs (the largest muscle group in the body), but it also recruits your upper body and core muscles, and taxes your central nervous system and your cardiovascular system— resulting in a total body workout wrapped up in a single exercise.
There’s one big downside to squats, though— A LOT of people are doing them wrong. And not only does improper technique keep you from getting the results you want, it also sets you up for risking serious injury.
Here are the 4 biggest squat mistakes I see over and over— and what you can do to correct them.
You aren’t squatting deep enough.
We’ve all seen that guy at the gym— you know, the one with 300+ pounds on the bar who thinks going a quarter of the way down makes him a beast. Don’t be that guy!
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this problem is only limited to gym bros who can’t lift as much as they think they can— many people may thinkthey’re squatting deep enough, when the reality is they’re not. Many people also believe they shouldn’t deep squat because it might lead to injury, but in fact, the opposite is true. When your squat depth is too shallow, you limit your range of motion, causing your quads and glutes to activate ineffectively (or not at all), which puts you at risk of a serious knee, hip, or back injury.
Focus on this:
When you squat, focus on making sure your thighs reach a position that is parallel to the ground or lower. Make sure your weight stays back – like you’re sitting in a chair – as you perform the movement. If you’re struggling to get to parallel, you may want to consider speaking to a fitness professional about some hip mobility exercises, muscle activation techniques, or stretching options before attempting to squat.
You’re lifting your heels at the bottom of the squat.
As you squat, your weight should settle back into your heels during the lowering (eccentric) phase of your squat. This allows you to keep your weight back and decreases the strain on your knees, hips, and lower back. But for many people, this is easier said than done, particularly at the bottom of the squat. Often, they lack the ankle or hip mobility (or both) necessary to properly perform the movement, resulting in lifted heels.
Focus on this:
The quickest way to fix this is by focusing on your foot’s dorsiflexion – pulling your toes back towards your ankle – during the downward phase of your squat. To do this, simply focus on lifting your toes off the floor as you squat. This movement helps to force your heels into the ground, resulting in a better squat position. If you’re still struggling to keep your heels flat, try elevating your heels on a small weight plate during your squats, or think about investing in a pair of weightlifting shoes with an elevated heel. You may also want to focus on stretching your ankles prior to squatting to help increase your range of motion.
Your hips move first as you rise.
Another common squat problem occurs as you begin to rise from the bottom of your squat during the concentric – or rising – phase. Instead of rising with your hips and shoulders aligned at one time, you may find yourself allowing your hips to begin moving before your shoulders. This places unnecessary strain on your lumbar spine, increasing your risk of injury. And while this may be a sign of improper squat technique, it can also be the result of adding more weight to than your body is ready for— while you may have great form at a lower weight, adding too much may throw things out of whack.
Focus on this:
As you begin the concentric phase of your squat, really focus on keeping your shoulders and hips aligned in a neutral position, driving yourself upwards with your quads, and making sure your shoulders are leading the pack. If you find yourself struggling to keep your hips from rising, consider dropping the weight and focusing on proper form.
You’re rounding your back.
As you squat, you should be able to visualize a diagonal line running from your hips to your shoulders, a position known as neutral spine. However, many people struggle to stay neutral, particularly at the bottom of their squat. Instead, they drop their neck forward or tuck their tailbone under (also known as butt wink), resulting in rounded back. Not only does this rounding increase your chances of getting injured, the poor mechanics of this position also make squatting much more difficult.
Focus on this:
As you descend, fight the urge to lean forward or drop your head. If you need a visual aid, pick a spot on the floor about 4 feet in front of you to focus on as you squat, which will help to keep you from collapsing your neck. If you find it difficult to stop tucking your pelvis, try elevating your heels on weight plates, decreasing the weight you’re lifting, or reducing the depth of your squat (if you’re squatting below parallel).
The bottom line…
Squatting is one of the most powerful exercises in your workout arsenal. Not only is it a great way to recruit the largest muscle group in your body and build better overall strength, but it’s also a highly functional exercise— after all, you’re going to need to get in and out of a chair for the rest of your life. By focusing on correcting these common mistakes and improving your execution, you’ll be on your way to better squatting in no time.
Do you have any tips that have helped improve your squat performance? Hit me up at email@example.com and let me know what has worked for you.
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