Is this the best exercise ever – that we just struggle to get right? It always features heavily in exercise examples, discussions and is considered a major functional movement for life.
I think it’s definitely one of the best – if you do it correctly. A full squat requires core stability, as well as mobility of your hips and ankles. Seeing as squatting is such a prominant and important movement pattern for daily living, you would think perfect form comes naturally. It does for some of us – have you ever watched baby or child squat? Excellent form! At the other end of the population, the ability for an older person to get up out of their chair is an indication of their functional ability and independence.
But as adults, we often have muscle imbalances stemming from hip flexor tightness (sitting related), weak gluteal muscles (from sitting on them) and poor core stability (again, sitting too much) which compromises our form when squatting.
So prior to starting a strengthening program, it is advisable to relearn how to squat before stacking heavy barbells on your shoulders.
I’m here to help you do that.
This week is the first in our series about the maximizing your time in the gym with our six big moves. Starting with the squat, we’ll do a basic assessment you can do at home. Every movement can be progressed or regressed, depending on your current mobility, strength level and any limitations due to injury.
A TEST FOR YOU RIGHT NOW:
Can you squat correctly? Jump up now and let’s see how you do.
Stand up with your feet shoulder width apart. Using your arms out in front to help with balance, bend your knees and push your hips back as far as you can until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your chest and body upright and your feet flat. Don’t worry about your knee position.
Stand side-on to a mirror to check yourself out. This is how it should look:
– Your feet are flat
– Your ankles and torso bent forward at the same angle
– Eyes forward and chest up (that’s if you weren’t checking yourself out)
– Knees directly over your toes (not inside or out)
From front-on, check your symmetry. Are your toes pointing straight ahead? Do your knees stay inline with your toes or collapse inward?
If your squat looks amazing (just like mine above), feel free to start at Stage 2 or 3 and challenge yourself. If not, start at the beginning and work to increase your range of motion with bodyweight.
The most important thing with the squat is getting a good range of motion. If you could not get your thighs parallel to the floor or lower, first we need to work on range. Having a TRX (which I highly recommend) will help to support your bodyweight while building leg strength and core stability. This encourages good form throughout the range of motion.
You can also use a pole or sturdy furniture for support. Use one arm to rest on the support, with the other up behind your head. Push your hips back into a squat, as described above. Remember to switch arms for the next set. Aim to get 15 good reps out with bodyweight before you progress to the next level!
Goblet squat: The next level adds a challenge to your core by holding weight up at chest height. Your center of gravity is above your midsection – meaning your core has to stabilize throughout the movement. Plus, you don’t have the awkwardness of holding heavy dumbbells by your side, where your grip strength gives out before your legs do.
The Movement: Get a dumbbell, weight plate or kettlebell and hold it at chest height, with your hands just underneath your chin. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, push your hips back and squat like described above. Remember to keep your torso upright, do not let your back round. Keep your knees tracking over your toes, instead of collapsing inward.
Offset Squat: Holding a dumbbell, kettlebell or sandbag on one shoulder is the next step up. Having this uneven load forces your core and hips to work harder to stabilize throughout the range of motion. I love doing this movement with a sandbag – it’s really challenging!
The Movement: Pick up a single dumbbell and hold it shoulder height on your right side, keeping your elbow tucked in. You should feel your left side contract to keep you standing upright. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, push your hips back and descend into a squat as described above. Remember to keep your chest up!
STAGE FOUR & BEYOND
Overhead Squat: the single best exercise ever in my opinion. This movement adds significant challenge to your core and shoulder, making it a total body blast. If you have never done this before, try without a barbell first to get a feel for the motion.
The Movement: Start with your arms up overhead, palms facing in (hold a barbell if you are advanced). Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Engage your core and push your hips back, descending into a squat as described above. Keep your torso upright throughout the movement and don’t let your back round.
From here, the exercises get super creative – and super fun! Progressing through the different stages is important for increasing mobility in your hips and ankles, before adding resistance. This paves the way for an overall, more effective and efficient squat.