There are various functional movements you can incorporate into your training with a squatting pattern being a fundamental human movement patter that involves nearly every muscle in the body. Squatting improves your fitness, performance, and mobility for daily-life tasks.
Think about the movement next time you pick something off the floor, go to the bathroom, and sit down on your office chair. Thanks to scientific research, data shows that squats are excellent for building strength, power and mobility. They can help counteract chronic muscular-skeletal problems such as weak glutes, hunched back, weak core (torso).
With all this in mind how do you squat properly?
- Work on your balance stability and mobility – the prime movers in a squat pattern are the muscles around your hips and knees, but all joints below your belly button (hip, knee, ankle, foot) and most of the spine need to be stable and mobile to squat properly. One of the best ways to improve stability, strength and balance in a squat is with single leg work.
- Keep hips mobile – we all sit far too much which impacts hip mobility in two major ways: it weakens the glutes and it shortens the hip flexors. Both glutes and hip flexors support the activation of your hips so if they are weak or inactive your lower back takes over. You often see people leaning forward too much during a squat which puts stress on their spine.
- Knees follow toes – when squatting, keep knees stable, in line with the hips and feet. Don’t worry if your hips go over your toes, a study by Fry et al found that by limiting forward knee travel it shifts the stress from your knees to the hips/low back. More important that your hips are back, behind your heels.
- Keep your ankles mobile and feet planted firmly – ankle mobility is paramount in a squat. Dorsi-flexion of the ankle (i.e. lifting the ball of the foot with the heel in contact with the ground) is possibly the most important degrees of freedom for the ankle. Strong and mobile ankles help with support and power generation of a squat. Limited ankle mobility can lead to the heels coming off the floor, foot pronation (outside of the foot elevating) and knees caving in.
- Wear the right footwear – footwear that allows you to push through the mid-foot/heel. Your choice of footwear should be tailored to your personal goals. If you have any desire to squat heavy weights, purchasing weightlifting shoes is the one for you. Otherwise flat shoes such as cross trainers or even going barefoot is an option for strength training. Running shoes are the worst type to wear for squatting
- Keep your spine neutral and chest proud – the angle of the torso should remain relatively constant during a squat (as upright as possible limiting forward lean). This doesn’t mean being straight up but keeping a natural arch in the spine, folding from the hips rather than hunching your back and keeping your chest proud.
The example in the video is a goblet squat. However there are a load of different variations from plate, barbell, zercher, front, overhead, split, pistol etc. I would suggest as a starting point to go with a bodyweight progression such as sitting down on a chair then aim for the full range of movement before starting to add in load.
You will need to try out different stances to really see which one is the best for you and your body shape. Focusing on your tempo, form and technique is key to getting it right.
Work on your mobility regularly. Without a mobile body you are likely to get injured at some point whilst squatting or any other activity.
Take your time but don’t over analyse it. Watch a toddler squat they have the best technique!