You may be surprised to find out that even experienced lifters, or even coaches, don’t actually know what is a proper squat form.
Whether you’ve been squatting a lot of weight and sport a fashionable red face or are fairly new to the squat game – here are some stuff that will get you, and your clients, a squat challenge that is worth your efforts.
The instructions on how to squat with a proper squat form are fairly clear:
- Feet shoulder width apart (there are variations), toes pointing out (15-30 degrees on both feet).
- Neutral back through the move (spine should be fairly upright – you want to avoid rounding or hyperextending)
- NO BUTT-WINK – read more about the butt-wink here
- Pull yourself down (hips move downwards, not backward) and stay centered on your heels. This is all about the regressive tissue.
- Knees track on the lateral aspect of the feet.
- Stay on the bottom position for at least 1 second, bouncing out of a squat isn’t great for your knees.
- Drive back up by pressing the ground with your heels.
The proper squat form explained
The main reason why we proper squat form is so heavily debated is that we have 2 types:
The organic squat (baby squat)
This is a relaxed position, round back is allowed and you should be able to mobilize your hips and spine from that position. A great resource for that is Ido Portal’s 30 day squat challenge.
The efficient squat (high load)
This is a position that needs a strict alignment of the spine, close-to-neutral pelvic tilt and more. We can go on and on about that but a really good exercise to achieve a proper squat form is lying on your back, arching your back OFF the floor while flexing both knees up, and ankles so that your feet rest on the wall. You then pull your feet off the wall while maintaining the spinal alignment, this is an isometric movement path conditioning to help you achieve a Proper Squat Technique for Weight Lifting
Here are two exercises you really must try, they will instantly improve your squat:
Some people, physically find the squat to be challanging – even if they have the best “coaching”, if it looks like something is wrong, something probably is.
However, not being able to squat – doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it:
While many of us are missing the movement foundations needed for proper squat form, there are increasingly growing methods to restore and improve the movement. It is important to understand compensations are inevitable if spinal alignment isn’t good, mobility in key areas is lacking or core activation, especially the anterior core, is problematic in bilateral patterns. That can all results in bad squats, pain and even injuries.
Drills for a proper squat form
Here are a few key resources to help both coaches and trainees, restore and improve squatting mechanics safely:
1. If you can’t touch your toes (hip-hinge mechanics) then you have no business squatting or deadlifting. You should work on touching your toes first – and then proceed. This isn’t about stretching, check the video library for free help. You don’t have to be an experienced deadlifter to squat, but squatting demands lots of hips mobility. Work on your proper deadlift form before you squat. Check our deadlifts resource here
2. You need ankle mobility if you hope to ever achieve a proper squat form, if you can’t dorsiflex your ankle to at least 30 degrees (45 is optimal), you will compensate. I’d make it a habit to work 30 seconds of ankle mobility on someone that didn’t have a problem, to warm-up the ankle, let alone someone with missing mobility.I’ve put together a little resource to help you with ankle mobility for squatting.
3. A heel lift, excessive out turn of the foot or even shoes – are all compensatory mechanisms for lack of dorsiflexion. This is ok as a training wheel to coach the movement but you should NOT do heavy squats with a compensation, it’s is by definition not the proper way to do squats.
The biggest mistake you can make is going to the leg press machine to “strengthen your legs” – especially, if you can’t squat. Strengthening a muscle in isolation, like any use of machines, is not helping the motor control, mobility and stability needed to perform a movement. don’t put strength on a dysfunctional movement. THIS IS WRONG. FULL STOP.
5. Anterior weight shift – most people pitch forward on a squat test because of an anterior weight shift. This should be progressed, not ignored. By doing the goblet squats as shown in the video below – you provide the squatter with an easy platform to reflexively learn how to engage their hips before they engage their thighs.
6. Quad Dominance – happens sometimes when people do too much with their feet or don’t do anything at all. When approaching the squat, the knee flexion and quad load often incorrectly come before the hip flexion and core load. Often, people think the pressure on the hips is a result of hip flexion limitation. Most of the times, the same pressure is due to the pelvis being tilted forward and the tight quads who dominate the move, try and pull it further forward which creates the pressure. By holding the goblet, it allows you to load the core and hinge just enough to make sure your quads don’t dominate the move. There are more variations to this goblet squat to enhance the core loading sequence – such as curling yourself under the weight. If your squat problems are mainly “stability”, the goblet will allow you to progress past them.
7. Valgus collapse – when you see this, you should know that knee pain / back pain and even an injury are not only possible, but likely. The good thing is that by using RNT, we can fix a good majority of problems. Here’s a quick video from the incredible Charlie Weingroff.
Please also note- Both quad dominance (point 6) and Valgus collapse (point 7) – are often symptomatic of an unstable anterior core. This could be manipulated by core activation and a simple brettzel and dead-bug type exercises.
8. Once you have a proper squat form, start building strength, alignment and symmetry, You can either do it by loading a goblet squat on one side, or going through progressions for a pistol squat.The main thing to remember is that symmetry counts. If you can do 10 on the left and 3 on the right – don’t progress until you can do an even number.
Before loading an efficient squat, I would say it’s very important to be able to squat down organically. One great resource is the 30 day squat challenge by Ido Portal. Other great resources to achieve proper “hardware” is some drills taken from FRC.
Drop it like it’s hot. Happy squatting!