A strong lower body enhances your stride and prevents injury. Incorporating resistance movements like squats into your strength training routine is an essential and easy way to complete your workout.
Squats are a functional exercise that benefits your joint and muscle health, as well as your posture, all of which are important for improving your shape and running speed, explains Noam Tamir, CSCS, CEO and founder of TS Fitness in New York City. York. But there are a few things on how to squat that you need to know before doing some reps quickly on your next day of strength training.
Sacrificing the shape can cause injury and will render movement ineffective. Common mistakes Tamir sees include:
- heels lifted off the ground, shifting weight on toes
- not going deep enough, stops with knees at 90 degrees
- allowing the chest to fall forward
- curving the upper body and spine, creating a hunchback
- losing the neutral position of the lower back spine (less often)
- standing with feet too wide or too narrow
- without controlling movement, running through repetitions
To avoid these mistakes, here is everything you need to know to squat the right way. And, once you’ve mastered a squat, try one of the following progressions.
[Thebestrunnersdon’tonlystayinthegym[Thebestrunnersdon’tjustruntheyhitthegym[Losmejorescorredoresnosolocorrensinoquevanalgimnasio[Thebestrunnersdon’tjustruntheyhitthegymThe Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training It will teach you all the basics to get the most out of your weight training session.]
How to do a proper squat:
Posture will vary slightly from person to person, Tamir explains, but her feet should be hip-shoulder width apart, with her toes slightly out (5 to 15 degrees). Your spine should be neutral, shoulders back, chest up. Be sure to keep your heels low and keep them planted throughout the movement. You can put your hands together in front of the chest to keep your balance.
Begin to stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with your toes slightly pointed outward, clasping your hands on your chest for balance. Start the movement by sending your hips back. Bend your knees to lower as much as possible with your chest raised in a controlled motion. Keep the lower back neutral. Press through the heels to return to the starting position. Repeat.
Aim to put your thighs parallel to the floor. To do this, squat down so that your thighs even with your knees, which should bend at a 90 degree angle. When you go back up, make sure your hips are positioned just below your ribs; you don’t want your hips to stretch too far back, says Tamir.
What are the benefits of squats?
“Squatting is one of the most functional movements you can do,” says Tamir. “It is excellent for joint health, it creates strength, improves posture and requires a lot of core work.” A bodyweight squat involves your core, mobilizes your hips, knees, and ankles, and builds strength in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Plus, you can do bodyweight squats anywhere.
How often should you squat?
It depends on what your goal is, says Tamir. If you are looking to develop resistance, you should do 3 to 4 sets of at least 12 repetitions. You will want to adjust your repetitions per series if you want to develop muscle definition, aim for 8 to 15 repetitions with weight, and if you are looking to develop maximum strength, do not do more than 6 repetitions with a heavy weight.
The same thing happens with frequency, if you are developing resistance with bodyweight squats or lighter weights, you can perform the movement more frequently since it is not so exhausting for the muscles, you do not need as much recovery. You can do bodyweight squats 3-4 times a week.
If you are focusing on building strength, using heavy weights will put more strain on your muscles. So if you are incorporating weighted squats this can range 2-3 times per week. You’ll want a long recovery time, so you don’t cause overtraining injuries, Tamir says.
What squat variations can you do?
Once you have mastered the correct way to squat, there are tons of variations you can make, Tamir says. You can add these variations to your workout or sub one on your circuit instead of a regular squat.
Why: Adding resistance in the form of weights will increase your strength and power.
How: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding weights at your shoulders, with your abs contracted. Send your hips back and bend your knees to lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, ideally lower. Push up to the starting position. Repeat.
Adding a plyometric element to the squat, a quick jump, increases your heart rate, making it a combined movement of cardiovascular strength that will increase endurance and reaction time.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward, bring your hands together on your chest to maintain balance. Send your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself as much as possible with your chest raised. You can move your arms back to gain momentum. Press through the heels up to explode, jumping vertically into the air. Gently land and immediately send your hips into a squatting position. Repeat.
Add another level of difficulty to a regular squat by keeping the weight in front of the chest. This will force you to further engage your core to keep the chest up, as well as increase your grip strength. This can help you develop heavier weights or back barbell squats.
Hold a kettlebell by the horns or a single heavy weight vertically in front of your chest. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed. Send your hips back to squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor while keeping your chest up. Go back to start and repeat.
If you have limited ankle mobility, you can try this variation. Stand with your feet much wider than a regular air squat with your toes slightly extended, bringing your hands together on your chest to maintain balance. Send your hips back and bend your knees to lower yourself as much as possible with your chest raised. You may find that you can go very low with wider feet. Press through the heels to return to the starting position. Repeat. For an added challenge, hold a heavy weight or kettlebell, and squat deep enough to touch the weight on the ground.
Sumo Squat Pull to Press
A sumo squat requires your feet to be even wider, forcing you to further engage your inner thighs (adductors), and the tight position can challenge your balance. Make a combined motion by holding a kettlebell and adding a press on top.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your toes rotated about 45 degrees, holding a kettlebell in both hands. Squat down and touch the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Get up and lift the weight to chest height with your elbows wide open. Turn your grip to grip the sides of the handle and push the kettlebell up. Lower yourself to the chest and assume the original grip before placing the kettlebell on the floor and return to the starting position.
Bulgarian split squat
While this looks a lot like a lunge, your feet remain stationary in this motion, so it qualifies as a split squat. Running is a one-sided sport, so you will benefit from doing one-sided exercises like this one, which can help identify muscle weaknesses and eliminate imbalances.
Hold a weight in each hand and take a small step away from a bench, box, or step. Reach your right foot back and rest on the bench laces down. Bend your left knee to lower yourself as much as possible with the control in a lunge. Push through the left foot to stand. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions per leg.
This is an advanced movement that puts a lot of pressure on the knee. Before continuing with this version, first try a one-legged squat in the chair to develop your strength and balance. Once you’ve mastered that, move on to a bodyweight gun squat before adding weight.
Begin to stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Beginners should do this next to a wall in case balance needs to be achieved. Pull your shoulders back and keep your back straight. Extend your right leg and arms out in front of you. Slowly send your hips back and bend your left knee to squat down to the floor, keeping your heel grounded. Get as low as possible in the squat without losing your balance. Drive back slowly. Exhale as you get up. Repeat on the other side.