If you have ever wondered how to do squats correctly, wonder no more my soon to be confident squatting friend.
In this guide I am going to break down every single thing you need to know about the squat.
From beginner to intermediate to advanced.
Where to start, how to do it correctly, what mistakes to avoid.
Fair warning, this is going to be a long guide. If you are into learning all of the intricacies of exactly how to do squats correctly, this guide is going to be right up your alley.
Sit back, grab a pen and paper, and take some notes.
You will need them for your next leg day for sure.
To save time, I will stop dilly dallying because we have a guide to get into.
Let’s kick it.
How To Do Squats Correctly
Benefits Of Squatting
Before we dive into exactly how to do squats correctly, I just want to give some quick background on why squats are so incredibly important.
If there is one movement pattern I include in every single training program I write for my clients, it is a squat pattern.
Now as you will see here there are many different ways to squat, it does not solely have to be a barbell on your back.
Yet some form of squat pattern is critical I believe in any well developed strength training program.
Increased Total Body Strength
You may look at the squat and think that it is a lower body exercise.
You my friend, deserve a medal for being very studious 😉
Yet, it is so much more than just a lower body exercise.
Yes it is going to train and strength almost every muscle in your leg, but also, it trains and strengthens your
- core musculature
- Back and lats
- Hips and glutes
- Shoulder stability and mobility
Just to name a few.
The squat is truly a full body exercise.
You have to keep your core braced and engaged the entire movement (which we will touch on later in this guide!).
Your lats stay flexed and engaged to help with your core and keep your lower back safe.
Your upper back aids in thoracic extension ( think “good posture” ).
The squat is one of a few exercises that truly encompasses full body strength and power.
Plus, it is kind of essential for life.
I mean how else are you going to get up and down from the toilet?
You may have just chuckled ( which, I don’t blame you ) but it is true.
One of the main reasons someones checks into a nursing home is because they can no longer use the bathroom on their own.
They can’t do a bodyweight squat down and up from the toilet.
The squat is going to make sure you stay strong and healthy not only now but as you age. You will be able to keep the quality of your life.
Which to me, is so much better than looking good naked.
Increased Bone Density
Yet again, the squat is not just for building massive legs or the “dumptruck” butt that ladies chase now a days.
Which by the way, if you are a female reading this and you want to grow your glutes, I have another super in depth article on how to do that HERE .
This goes for really any resistance training, but making sure you know how to do squats correctly is going to lead to a positive impact in your bone density.
As we age our bone density begins to decrease. This is why if someone falls when they are older, they are much more likely to break a bone.
Since your legs are kind of the things that allow you to move around on a day to day basis, increasing your bone density on your legs is probably a good idea.
Doing squats routinely can do just that for you, again, greatly improving the quality of your life not only now, but as you age.
One of the most underrated benefits of performing squats is its positive impact in flexibility.
When you think flexibility you probably think stretching, yoga, etc.
That is called passive range of motion, you are lying down pulling and stretching your leg back.
There is something called active range of motion. This is the range of motion your muscles can actively get to without any assistance, like you pulling your leg back behind your head.
The active range of motion is more important because this is what our bodies use on a day to day basis.
One great way to improve your active range of motion is to go through your active range of motion under load ( load = your bodyweight or any extra external weight ).
You will improve and increase your active range of motion by putting stress on your body in this range of motion, which is going to increase flexibility.
Yet again, this can be beneficial right now but also as you age to keep or even improve the quality of your life.
See any patterns here? Squats are great for your aesthetics, but they also play a massive role in making sure as you age, you get to continue to live a strong, healthy life.
Feel Like A Bad A**
Okay so this one I am throwing in just because it is so true.
I don’t know anyone who does squats with correct form who doesn’t just feel empowered afterwards.
You feel strong, you feel accomplished, you feel powerful.
There is no better feeling than knowing is literally trying to hold you down, but you just push through it.
Getting all emotional and philosophical here, but you get my point.
Squatting is great for not only your physical health, but mental health as well.
How To Do Squats Correctly : Step By Step
Now that we know the massive benefits that squats bring to you, let’s dive into step by step how to do squats correctly.
There is a progression scheme of how you should be performing squats. If you have never done a squat before or don’t feel comfortable doing them, you should not start by putting a barbell on your back and squatting.
You are asking for an injury or to simply learn improper movement patterns, which is going to haunt you in the long run.
There are certain ways you should begin and progress the squat. I am going to start with the most basic squat first and work our way up.
Follow along to see step by step how I would progress a client through their squatting journey.
Goblet Squat ( Start Here!)
We are going to be starting off with a goblet squat. Now, you may think “well what about just a regular body weight squat!”.
Great question. You can absolutely start with a bodyweight squat first and that is 100% acceptable.
The same principles are going to apply whether bodyweight or doing a goblet squat, so I am going to break down piece by piece how to do squats correctly.
Follow along as I walk you through each step.
Your feet should be slightly outside of hip width as well as your toes slightly pointed out.
Now, everyones femur structure and hip joint are going to be different, so this can vary a bit person to person.
Yet generally speaking human anatomy tells us feet slightly outside of hip width and toes slightly pointed out give you the best chance of achieving proper hip external rotation.
This just means you are allowing your femur to move freely through the hip joint as you go down into your squat, creating less hip / lower back pain and more range of motion in your squat.
Grip The Ground With Your Feet
You want to have the weight distributed evenly across your feet. You don’t want to be too far forward on your toes, yet you also don’t want to be too far back on your heels that you fall on your butt.
A great way to fix this is think about gripping the ground with your feet.
Think about how monkeys feet around. They grip the ground as they walk. That is how I want your feet to be.
Think about a tripod, it has the 3 points of contact right?
That is how I want your foot to be.
Your big toe, your pinky toe, and your heel should all be pushed into the ground groping the ground like a monkeys foot.
You can also think about ripping the ground apart with your feet. Think if there is $1000 cash underneath you and the way to grab it is to spread the floor apart with your feet.
All or any of those cues should just about do it to make sure the weight is distribubted evenly over your feet.
The next step that most people forget about when learning how to do squats correctly is to brace your core.
Remember I said the squat is a full body movement? This is exactly what I mean.
You want to brace your core like someone is about to sucker punch you.
Or think about if you are a little backed up.. sitting on the toilet.. and you really gotta push one out.
- Disclaimer, not responsible if you poop yourself *.
I have attached a video here below on how to properly brace your core if you are a more visual person.
This is a critical part in performing a safe and proper squat, so be sure you understand this fully.
Push Hips Back Slightly
When you think about a squat you probably think down and up, right?
Well you are right, but, there is one part people sometimes miss.
You want to break at your hips first, NOT at your knees first.
Let me say that again. You want to slightly push your hips back first and then think about squatting down, not simply bending your knees and going down.
This is what creates a ton of pressure on your knees, usually creating knee pain.
You want to ever so slightly break from your hips like someone is karate chopping your hips, then start to descend down into your squat.
Don’t over exaggerate it like the guy in the picture above trying to imitate Kim K, but ever so slightly break the hips first, then descend down.
Squat Down To Parallel
By this point you really have most of the hard work down, now it is just about executing the movement!
You want to now simply squat down like you are sitting on a chair or sitting on the toilet!
You want to try and get full range of motion when you are performing squats.
This mean you want to be at least a 90 degree angle, or when your hips are in line with your knees.
A picture of that is shown above.
Anything above this means you should work to get that extra range of motion.
At first if might be difficult or feel uncomfortable, so don’t beat yourself up if you are working at it.
Also don’t beat yourself up if you have to lower the weight to reach proper depth. When it comes to a squat, remember, proper depth > how much weight you use.
You will see better results and benefits from squatting to parallel then half squatting.
Now if you are like “Eric, I can’t get down that far, it hurts my knees!”. I totally understand.
Number one I would say if you were not doing all of the things I mentioned prior to this, start doing that and tell me if that makes a difference.
Second, don’t worry because we are about to talk about an option for you or anyone looking to learn how to hit that proper depth, so stay tuned!
Chest Facing In Front Of You
A massive part on how to do squats correctly is making sure your chest faces the wall in front of you every time.
My two favorite cues are either
- show your nipples to the wall in front of you
- If you have a logo on your shirt, the wall in front of you should be able to see that logo
This helps keeps your spine in a neutral position, protect from lower back injuries, and create more power.
This will require something called thoracic extension, which basically just means creating a slight arch in your upper back, not lower back, upper.
Think about pulling your shoulders down and back into your back pockets while slightly puffing your chest out.
Do NOT look up to the ceiling and “keep your chest high!” like all of our awful football coaches taught us.
That is going to lead to poor mechanics and a rounded, hurt, lower back.
Simply create a tad bit of extension, make your nipples face the wall in front of you, and you should be good to go.
Push The Ground Away From You
One huge mental cue that has helped myself and a ton of my clients is simply rather than thinking about just standing up from the bottom of a squat.
Think about pushing your feet into the ground and pushing the ground away from you.
Don’t think about getting up, rather, think about pushing your feet into the ground as hard as you can.
This little mental cue can make the world of a difference especially as you start to lift heavier weights.
As well as it can usually help keep your spine in its neutral, correct position.
When people start to think about “standing up” they tend to raise their chest and arch their lower back.
To avoid that, push the ground away from you, keep your core braced, and stand up tall.
You Did It!
And bam, that is the squat right there! You did it!
Now pretty much all of that is going to apply to any and all squat, which is why I wanted to start with that.
Now let’s talk about some variations for beginners and how to advance through these progressions.
How To Do Squats Correctly : Progressions
Goblet Box Squat
Now that you know how to squat and the mechanics behind it, a great place I like to start clients off if they have never squatted before is a goblet box squat.
This is a great way to start learning how to do squats correctly and getting used to getting down to a certain depth.
Since the box is there, it can give you some external feedback of how far you need to go. You won’t have to wonder when to stop and come back up, the box will tell you!
Also if you do struggle with knee pain, box squat variations are a perfect option for you because it takes the pressure off transferring the load from lowering to standing up.
If you are new and want to learn how to do squats correctly, I highly recommend you start with the goblet box squat.
DB Front Squat
The next progression is going to be a dumbbell front squat.
Now you could also perform this with a box as well, if you want to see that video, I can link it HERE .
Yet this is another way to move from a bodyweight or goblet squat to a bit more of an advanced movement pattern.
With the dumbbell front squat you really want to think about
- keep your elbows tucked close to your body and pointing straight down
- Making sure you keep your core braced the entire time
- Then simply following all regular squat motion technique
BB Back Box Squat
Now that you are progressing through the squat, next up comes the barbell back box squat.
The barbell on your back adds a whole different element to the squat.
This is where I would absolutely start with a box squat because it is going to feel a lot different having the weight rear loaded as opposed to front loaded.
Some things to think about are
— Be sure to keep your core braced. When the weight is front loaded, you are automatically forced to work your core more. When it shifts to rear loaded, that is taken away. Be sure to keep proper core bracing and do not arch your lower back.
— Keep your upper back tense and think about squeezing an orange between your armpits
— Really remember to push the ground away from you when you start to stand back up. Since the barbell is on your back, you are going to be even more at a dis advantage as gravity is pushing you down, so just be sure to really focus on driving your feet down
— Use the box to guide how far down you should be going and where to push back up from. Again, try to get at least 90 degrees! ( Hips in line with knees )
Where To Place The Bar On Your Back?!
** Yes, I know it is a broom stick.. don’t judge me!!**
When it comes to where to place the barbell for a back squat you have two main options.
The first is going to be a high bar squat. This is where the bar is up a bit higher on your neck.
The second is going to be a low bar squat. This is where the bar is down more towards your rear delt / rhomboids area.
Personally I am a fan of the low bar squat as I have seen it to be more comfortable and create less pressure on your neck / lower back.
Yet I would encourage you to play around and see which one works best for you!
Just be sure… don’t use those pads that you put over the barbell that you think are protecting your neck.
These make for a wildly unstable base and can actually lead to more injury as you are going to be unbalanced.
BB Back Squat
When it comes to how to squat correctly, here is the quintessence of squats, the barbell back squat.
By now, if you have started with the goblet squat, then db front squat, then a barbell back squat, you should have a pretty good understanding of the movement.
At this point it is all about continuing to learn, feel the movement out, and see what works best for you.
I would encourage you to start light and work your way up. Remember, proper form over everything here.
Not only to get the best result but if you get injured, you can’t workout anyway, so that does no one any good!
BB Front Squat
I threw this variation in here if you wanted to give it a go.
This requires some extra wrist flexibility / mobility, but it is a great variation of the squat.
You can choose to go with the wrist flexion grip or with the crossed elbow grip.
You can also choose to do this movement with a towel grip, I can link a video for that here below.
The main things to consider when performing a front squat are
- The weight is going to be front loaded once again, so just be sure you feel the movement correctly
- Keep your elbows as high as you can the entire time, the more your elbows drop, the more your back is going to round!
How To Do Squats Correctly : Most Common Mistakes
Phew, okay, I know this is a ton of information being thrown at you.
Again, I hope you are writing out some notes and taking your time. Feel free to go back, re read, re watch videos, do what you gotta do!
I want to make this time now to cover the most common squatting mistakes I see.
Some I mentioned in here throughout the guide, but want to be sure I hit the nail on the head one more time.
Heels Coming Off The Ground
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to squatting is your heels coming off the ground.
This then creates a ton of pressure on your knees and just makes the movement suck for lack of better terms.
The easy fix here is to re read what we talked about how with how to grip the ground with your feet.
Be sure to keep your feet flat the entire time, create the tripod between your big toe, pinky toe, and heel.
And last but not least, grip the ground like monkeys feet!
Over Extending Lower Back
Don’t be like Kim K, come on now.
A common mistake in the squat is pushing your butt back too far and over extending your head / neck.
To fix this, think about your pelvis and ribcage as two buckets of water.
You want to make sure those two buckets of water do not spill.
If you flare your ribs up too much, the buckets will spill.
If you flare your butt back too far, those buckets will spill.
You want to have both buckets sitting directly over top of each other the entire time.
One great analogy that world class powerlifter Kris Duffin came up with is the open scissor closed scissor concept.
** pic here
Just be sure to think about bringing your ribcage to your belly button ever so slightly, keeping your core engaged the whole time, and not spilling those buckets!
We talked earlier about getting to at least 90 degrees parallel range of motion.
Let me make this very clear one last time.
If you are not hitting proper depth, the weight you are using is irrelevant.
Leave your ego at the door, work on hitting proper depth, then from there you can look to increase weight.
If you don’t you will leave tons of potential strength gains on the table as well as increase your risk of injury.
Knees Caving In
One thing we did not touch on in this article yet is where your knees should be tracking.
When performing a squat, we talked about your feet being slightly outside of hip width and toes pointed slightly out.
With this, this should do it’s job to set your knees up where they should be, but if not.
Just make sure your knees are tracking out over your 2nd or 3rd toe.
You do NOT want your knees caving inwards toward your big toes, this is going to create for a lot of knee pain.
Be sure to rip the ground apart with your feet, keep your 3 points of contact in the ground, and set up your feet placement correctly!
Hips Rising First
This is a mistake that I struggled with ( and candidly, still do to this day! ).
Having your hips rise before your chest is a sign that your lower back is going to be taking the brunt of the movement, not your legs.
You can see here from the picture above my hips rose, but my chest is still facing down. This makes this movement more of an exercise called a “good morning” which is. a low back dominant exercise.
This is going to lead to injury over time.
How to fix this can be a few ways.
- Think about pushing your feet into the ground and pushing the ground away from you.
- Allow your knees to go past your toes. Your knees going over your toes is NOT A BAD THING! I don’t care what trainer told you that. As long as your feet remain flat on the ground, your knees can pass your toes, and most often times has to in order for your proper mechanics to be correct.
- Keep your core braced the entire time, especially coming out of the bottom of the squat.
How To Do Squats Correctly : Your Knees Can Go Over Your Toes!
I just touched on it above, but want to again right here.
You have probably heard that when squatting your knees shouldn’t go past your toes.
Unfortunately, whoever told you that is spitting straight bologna.
Your toes can, and most times should, travel past your toes if you want to perform a safe, full range of motion squat.
As long as your feet are flat on the ground, there is no issue with your knees going over your toes.
If you try to keep that from happening, you will probably be too far back on your heels, causing you to be unbalanced, or arch your lower back at the bottom of your squat.
Therefore don’t be afraid to let your knees go over your toes a bit.
As long as your feet are flat on the ground and your knees are tracking out over your 2nd or 3rd toe, this is totally fine.
And again if you are someone with knee pain, I strongly encourage you to box squat instead, this can take a ton of pressure off your knees!
That’s A Wrap!
Phew, man, I told you this was going to be an in depth guide didn’t I!?
Once again, I know there was a lot of information here in this guide. Feel free to go back, look over some sections again, watch the videos, do whatever you gotta do.
I hope you found this guide useful and helpful, as well as got some tips you can implement today to get better at squats.
If you have any questions feel free to drop below.
Or if you are interested in seeing if we may be a good fit for coaching together, I can link my application form HERE.
Hope this helps, and happy squatting!