How to Squat: Technique Improvements & Common Mistakes
Having trouble with your squat technique and feeling uncomfortable in your squat?
There could be a number of issues like your chest falling forward, knees caving, or lack of mobility that are affecting your squat form.
Squats are one of the most commonly used exercises in the gym to improve leg strength, overall strength, build muscle in the lower body, and improve athletic performance.
Having a good squat technique is key for making consistent progress in the gym while preventing injuries as you start to increase the weight on the bar.
In this post we will cover how to squat with proper technique, common mistakes we see athletes make, and how to fix them to improve your overall squat technique.
Table of Contents
Basic Squat Technique
Squatting is a leg-focused movement that consists of hinging at the hips and bending the knees so that your body moves downward in a controlled, vertical motion. Once you get to the bottom of the squat, you will use your legs to stand back up to the starting position.
Regardless of whether you are squatting with no weight, dumbbells, or a loaded bar, there are a few things to keep in mind while you go through the movement.
1 . Proper Foot Width and Stance
Making sure you have the proper foot width and starting position for your squat will determine how deep you will be able to squat and how the rest of your body moves throughout the exercise.
The general rule of thumb is to position your feet at shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. With this stance, you’ll be able to have even weight distribution throughout your feet to help keep yourself balanced throughout the squat.
If your stance is too narrow, this may cause your chest to drop and shift the weight forward onto your toes so that your heels pop as you stand up from the bottom position.
On the other hand, if your stance is too wide, you may find that the weight will shift predominantly on your heels and also compromise the range of motion (ROM) of your squat.
Maintaining a neutral stance throughout your squat will help with even force production throughout the completion of the rep and help with controlling loads as you start to increase weight.
2. Hinge Hip and Knee Bend
Squats require you to hinge at the hips while bending at the knees so that you can maintain a straight, vertical path throughout the movement.
To help you hinge the hips, think about pushing your butt back while bending your knees. Pushing your butt back will help maintain a straight back throughout the movement so you can utilize the glutes and hamstrings to push out of the bottom position.
The hips should hinge at the same time that your knees start to bend so that your torso keeps a consistent vertical path throughout the squat.
3. Maintain an Upright Chest
One of the biggest cues to think about while squatting is to “keep your chest high”. This just means to keep your chest upright as you start to descend into the squat and maintain that upright position as you push back up to the standing position.
Keeping your chest upright also helps keep your back position consistent throughout the motion.
As you start to increase weight with a loaded back squat you may notice that your chest dips forward as you descend or push out of the bottom position. By keeping the chest upright, it will also help keep the weight distributed evenly in the middle of your foot throughout the squat.
4. Head Position
At the beginning of your squat, you should be facing forward with your head in a neutral position.
Think about having your chin up as you descend and keep your eyes looking forward. If you start the squat looking down at your feet or up at the ceiling, this can lead to more pressure being put on your back rather than absorbing the load through your legs.
5. Back Posture
Squatting with incorrect back posture can lead to other breakdowns in your squat technique which will compensate for your back.
In the squat, the back is considered to be part of your core that needs to stay stable and tight throughout the movement.
To help you keep a straight upper back throughout your squat, think about squeezing your shoulders back while keeping the chest upright. As you descend into the squat, push your butt back so that your lower back stays in line with your upper back.
Common Squat Mistakes and Fixes
As you fatigue or increase weight in the squat, you might notice some lapses in your technique just to complete reps.
Here are some of the most common mistakes that we notice among athletes and how to fix them to improve your squat technique.
Chest Collapsing Forward
The chest collapses when the upper body leans forward in the descent of the squat. This leads to more of a good morning movement rather than a squat.
How to fix: Have the sternum (chest) facing forward and brace with a belly full of air. Push the butt back while bending the knees and drive through the heels out of the bottom of the squat.
Back rounding in the squat can be a cause of the chest collapsing forward and a failure to push the butt back far enough during the descent.
How to fix: Similar to a collapsed chest, athletes should focus on keeping the chest upright throughout the squat, push the butt back in the descent, and drive through the heels as you stand up.
Heel Pop in the Bottom Position
If your heels are popping in the bottom of your squat, that means that there are other breakdowns in the beginning of your squat before reaching the bottom position.
The heel popping in the squat means that there is too much weight distributed on the front of the foot rather than the heels. This could be caused by the chest collapsing, hips not hinging far back enough, or a lack of bracing throughout the descent.
How to fix: Push the butt back while keeping the chest upright and facing forward. Keep the weight focused on the heels and continue to drive through the heels as you stand up.
Knees Caving In
Knees caving, also known as valgus knees, during the squat can be caused by a number of things including weak glutes, weak quads, or not thinking about driving the knees out while standing up a squat.
How to fix: Drive through the heels out of the bottom of the squat with knees facing out and maintain an upright chest.
Lacking Range of Motion
With many athletes that have tight hips and ankles, reaching the full ROM in a squat can be difficult. Practicing and improving the full range of motion for a squat strengthens athletes’ dynamic trunk control, posterior chain, quads, and the entirety of the anterior sequence.
How to fix: Use a box so that there is a target squat depth. We recommend using a 12-inch box.
Another option is using a slant board to elevate the heels and pause at the bottom of the squat with a very light weight to help push all the way to the bottom of the squat.
3 Exercises to Fix Your Squat
If it isn’t obvious, the only way to improve your squat is to do more squats! Although, there are different squat variations that you can use to address weak points in your technique.
Different variations can have different focus points such as working on positions, improving range of motion, and strengthening muscles that are hindering your squat progress. Let’s take a look at what you can do for each.
As mentioned earlier, box squats are a great way to work on range of motion for athletes that struggle with tight hips, ankles, or overall mobility.
Box squats allow you to have a target depth to to hit for the bottom of your squat. Like any other squat, you are performing the same movement except you do not start to push upwards until your butt meets the box.
We recommend using a 12-inch box as a target, but any box that is lower than your current squat depth will help. Over time, you can work your way to a decreased box height as your ROM improves.
Dowel Rod Zombie Squat
The focus of the dowel rod zombie squat is not to lift massive weights. The dowel rod zombie squat is a very light loaded squat that is meant to work on the upper body’s positioning and help you squat deeper.
Instead of loading a bar on your back, you will place a dowel rod across your collarbone in a front rack position with your arms extended.
The goal is to see the knees track forward, the hips come back, with an upright posture. We don’t want athletes to put too much stress on their hips or lower back from an overly-wide stance. This will help athletes to be mobile in their ankles, knees, lower back, and thoracic spine while maintaining a big chest.
3-Second Pause Squat
The final squat variation that we recommend will focus on a combination of position focus, range of motion, and overall strength.
The 3-second pause squat is meant to be done with a light to medium load. Athletes will perform a regular squat, but pause at the bottom of the squat and hold for 3 seconds before driving through the heels to stand up.
To help with this movement, really focus on a tight brace in the stomach by taking a deep breath before each rep. Then as you descend into the bottom of the squat, keep the chest upright while hinging the hips back.
Continue to brace and keep the core tight throughout the 3-second hold. After 3 seconds, drive through the heels while keeping the chest high to keep a consistent upper body position for the whole rep.
The squat is a compound movement that incorporates the entire body to stay stable. As seen throughout the guide, a single technical fault in your squat can lead to other issues throughout the movement.
Some key things to take away are the basic components to start the squat. Start with a stable stance with feet shoulder-width apart. Before you descend, take a deep breath into your belly and look forward.
As you descend, push the hips back while bending the knees and maintain an upright chest. Out of the bottom of the squat, drive through the heels and keep the chest upright for a consistent bar path.
To help with improving your technique, you can use variations with lighter weight to attack weaknesses in your squat. If you want to see more squat variations or variations for any exercise, sign up for the Peak Strength app and get started with a world-class program in your pocket.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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