7 Tips away from the Perfect Squat
Without a doubt, one of the more effective exercises to build strength for the lower body is the squat. There are variations to the squat, such as the Swiss Ball Squat or Split Squat. But, for this article, we will focus on the traditional squat.
The squat targets the major muscles in the lower body such as the quadriceps (front of the thighs), glutes (buttocks), adductors (inner thighs), calves (lower leg), hamstrings (back of the thighs), hip flexors (over the hip bones), and abs (abdomen area). And, because squats target multiple muscles, it is considered a compound exercise.
So, since it is such an intense and involved exercise, following some helpful tips to make the most of it might be a good idea. The following 7 tips will help you make the squats more effective…
#1 Hip Flexibility
A proper squat requires good balance and flexibility from the hip, or the hip hinge. Every time your body squats, you should hinge the hips so your buttocks move back while moving downward, making sure the knees do not protrude over the feet. This will also allow for the pressure to be placed on your heels, rather than the toes, to provide more balance and depth.
#2 Head Position
One of the most common mistakes a person makes during a squat is when they look down. This causes the spine to be improperly aligned, and will put you at great risk for injury. It’s best to find a focal point that encourages your head to remain upright. A picture on the wall while you are upright and starting to squat would be a reasonable option. Although, if it’s too high or small, you might be looking upward too much instead.
#3 Shoulders and Chest Position
Just as with the neck, the rest of the spine also needs to be properly aligned. If the chest and shoulders are allowed to round or roll down, it will throw off your alignment and put you at risk for injury. Keep your chest out and shoulders in the upright posture, just as you would when standing at attention.
#4 Lower Back Position
It’s important to keep your lower back (lumbar) in proper position as well, but a bit trickier to maintain it. The lumbar area should be somewhere between slightly arched backward and flat at all times. If you arch too much, it is called hyperextending, which places too much pressure on the vertebrae discs and could lead to a bulging effect (herniation) or even rupture. This injury could result in months of physical therapy, surgery, or both.
#5 Foot Positioning
The proper stance for a squat is when the knees are slightly bent, feet placed about shoulder width apart, and your toes facing straight. The width you place your feet can vary slightly, depending on which muscles you want to target more. For example, wider apart will focus on the glutes, while in closer will target the quads more. Just make sure they are not too far out or in, otherwise you won’t be as stable as you should be for the exercise.
#6 Breathing Properly
As with all exercising, inhaling and exhaling properly is important. If not done appropriately, it could cause you to get lightheaded. The proper way is to inhale (breathe in) while lowering, and exhale (breathe out) forcefully while rising back up.
#7 Squat Depth
How deep should you go with the squat? This is probably the one question that most people struggle with, and the simple answer is; it depends. If you are just beginning with squats, or in rehabilitation, you might want to consider staying on the shallow end of the squat. In other words, stay above parallel to the floor with your hamstrings. On average though, your hamstrings should be parallel to the ground or floor. This engages the hips, thighs, and glutes the most. Some people will try to push it and go below parallel, but it’s not typically recommended to do so. It could lead to unnecessary injury to the knees and back, when parallel already gives you an intense workout.
If all the above tips are applied, you should be able to do squats that are highly effective in building lower body strength. If possible, do the first few in front of a mirror, so you can watch if you are doing them correctly. Or, if you are in physical therapy or working with a trainer, they will let you know if you need to make any adjustments.