One of the most popular exercises for both bodybuilders and regular Joes alike are squats. This compound, full-body exercise is relatively simple: All you have to do is lower your body into a sitting position against a wall, freestanding, with a bar or with weights.
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Squats offer a multitude of benefits, including building up leg and glute muscles, developing core strength and improving balance. To make the most out of this popular and valuable exercise, however, it’s important to perform a squat using the correct form.
Check out these seven helpful tips for perfect squats.
1. Don’t Lead With Your Knees
Even though the basic instructions for performing a squat are simple, the technique you use for squats must be precise. Improper squats can cause a variety of problems, including muscle strain, injury, and imbalance.
To improve your squat, you need to understand first and foremost that squats are not just knee bends. When you squat, your legs, hips, and back should be doing the work — not your knees. Start with your legs straight (not bent), and then lower into a squat, bending your knees, keeping your arms forward (if a freestanding squat) and keeping your core engaged.
2. Hold Your Arch
Your back should also be involved in the squat process. Contrary to popular belief, though, your back should not be completely straight while completing the exercise. This is especially true when performing variations of squats that involve your arms, like overhead or front lifts.
Pull your head back, stretching your neck up. At the same time, clench your butt and tighten your hips. Your back will naturally arch slightly, improving balance and flexibility.
3. Go Wide Or Go Home
Another important thing to master while improving your squat technique is to go wide. Many people to draw their knees together, and even collapse their torso, while squatting. This can add strain and decrease the effectiveness of the exercise.
Go wide instead. Spread your feet so that they are at least a shoulder width apart when squatting. If you are using a barbell, hold your arms at least a shoulder width apart as well.
4. Keep Your Toes Out
Once your legs are spread wide apart for the squat, avoid letting your knees turn inwards. This puts more pressure on your knees, which can eventually lead to injury and strain. Further, your upper thighs and buttocks muscles will not get the full workout with your knees acting as a buffer point.
As a general rule, the knee should be aligned with the direction of the toes. If your knee is not tracking over your toes, this may result in twisting of the joint, unwanted torque and injury. Have your toes slightly pointed out to track the knee properly.
5. What About The Elbows?
Whether you’re performing freestanding squats or squats that involve weight lifting, you should keep an eye on your elbow alignment. The placement of your arms during exercise affects the positioning of your torso and spine.
It’s not uncommon for lifters to develop some pain in their elbows associated with squatting, most commonly in lifters who don’t have a lot of flexibility and are squatting with low bar style. Some ways to get around this is using an open grip, which help the wrist stay straight. Wrist straps can also help prevent the wrist from over extending.
You may also want to consider widening your grip if you’re in pain; start quite wide and work your grip in to find the positioning that works best for you. Lastly, point your elbows down; elbows up can put more pressure on the wrist and elbow, unless you are flexible.
6. Try Variations
Consistency is key when it comes to the technique you use for your squats. At the same time though, variety is important.
The many different variations of squats target different muscle groups and offer unique benefits. Each form of squat can also highlight a different area of weakness. For example, an overhead lift squat will reveal help reveal how effectively you really have been maintain your back arch while doing the exercise.
Add variety to your workout all your muscles and to keep yourself on your toes concerning technique and weaknesses.
7. Stay Focused
Avoid thinking about other things while squatting – and definitely don’t text, watch TV, or otherwise distract yourself. Squats are simple, but they must be performed with precision to really get the full benefits.
Try counting or going over a mental checklist while you squat instead, like mentally checking off how far apart your feet are, if you back is arched, etc. The more you put into to perfecting and practicing your squats, the better they will be.