The squat is one of the best exercises we can do for our body – it’s simple, highly effective and forms the basis of many activities of daily living such as sitting and jumping.
But how do you do them properly, with good technique?
Here’s how to do squats:
- Start in a natural stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out. Hold your arms folded across your shoulders or out in front of you.
- Keeping your feet flat on the floor and knees in-line with your toes, simultaneously bend your knees and hips, as if you were trying to sit back on a chair behind you.
- Descend in a controlled manner, as deep as you can while maintaining balance and good form, before returning back to a standing position.
- Repeat at least 10 times, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, and perform again for 2-4 total sets.
Today, we’ll also be exploring how to do squats most effectively, how you can progress the exercise, and the many benefits they offer.
Let’s dive right in.
How to do Squats
Start in a natural stance with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly turned out. Hold your arms folded across your shoulders or out in front of you.
As you practice, you will begin to get a feel for what your natural amount of ‘feet width’ is. You may also like to experiment with some amount of ‘toe-out’ – pointing your feet slightly outwards if this feels more comfortable.
Keeping your feet flat on the floor and knees in-line with your toes, simultaneously bend your knees and hips, as if you were trying to sit back on a chair behind you.
Descend in a controlled manner, as deep as you can while maintaining balance and good form, before returning back to a standing position.
Sets and Reps
Repeat at least 10 times, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, and perform again for 2-4 total sets.
When you’re just starting out, an exercise can become incredibly difficult if you focus on too many technique points at a time. Just start with one point at a time, until that technique cue becomes automatic.
We highly recommend watching yourself in a mirror when practising your squat, as this live feedback can accelerate your technique improvement.
The technique points for the squat, in order of importance, are:
When squatting, ensure that your whole foot or shoe remains in full contact with the ground at all times.
Do not let your heels or the outside of your feet lose pressure through the floor, instead, keep an even pressure between your big toe, little toe, and heel.
Descend into the squat, keeping your spine in a ‘neutral-S’ position, with your shoulder blades pinned back, as if you are trying to pop or hold a balloon between them.
Symmetry / Stacked
As you lower yourself down in a squat, keep your knees tracking in line with your toes, ensuring that they do not fall in towards each other.
Also take note of the level of your hips relative to one another, ensuring that one isn’t higher than the other.
Your body should move symmetrically on both the left and right sides.
What are the benefits of squats?
Squats use many muscles and joints
When performing the squat, we use the muscles that control the hips, knees, and ankles at the same time. Squatting also requires contributions from our core and postural muscles.
Our calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, abdominals, lower and upper back muscles are all used when we squat.
In contrast, an exercise such as a bicep curl is only using one joint and a small number of muscles at any time, limiting the benefits we are getting in terms of calories burnt and the amount of functional strength we can build.
Squats burn lots of calories, especially when you add load over time
Muscles require energy to move, meaning that when we use lots of muscles we require more calories to perform the movement. If you continue to load your squat progressively over time using greater resistance and challenge, you will start to add lean muscle to your body.
More lean muscle continues to increase the number of calories your body is able to burn both during your workout. It will also increase your metabolism in general, meaning your body will burn more energy throughout the day, including at rest.
Squats help build lower body strength and tone
Squats help to build muscular strength and tone, particularly in the thighs and glutes. The muscles of our lower body are some of the biggest and strongest in our entire body. Therefore, the squat movement is one movement where we can really start to add resistance and challenge ourselves.
In fact, apart from the deadlift, most people find that the squat is the second strongest movement their body can perform. You can add a bar to your back or hold some weights in front of you to build further strength and lean muscle.
Not only does lean muscle burn calories, but it also makes us look great! Remember, adding muscle to our body doesn’t make us look bulky, it can only make us look better, increasing tone and decreasing fat mass.
Squats are a highly functional exercise
Squatting is a highly functional exercise – this means it forms the basis of many activities of daily living such as sitting down on a chair, rising from the couch and jumping. Other activities such as kneeling down to tie your shoes, climbing a flight of stairs, or stepping down to reach for something are also derived from the squatting pattern.
Functional movements are like the foundation of a house – they’re strong, reliable, and help everything atop stay in good health. They ensure that we have an even balance of muscular strength throughout our entire body.
How do I make the squat easier?
If you are struggling with the body-weight version of the squat, here’s how you can make the squat easier. This is also known as a regression:
Body-weight with arms extended
Arms extended out in front of you can help with balance and will often enable you to get into a deeper position.
Squat to a box
Aiming for something, such as a box or chair, is also another regression to help you get started. Squat down until your hips touch the chair, relaxing your muscles momentarily before ascending back up. Over time, decrease the height of the surface in order to improve your squatting range.
How do I make the squat harder?
If you are able to squat to adequate depth (femur at least to parallel with the floor), while keeping good technique, it’s time to make the squat harder, also known as a progression. Here are three ways you can progress the squat:
Add sets and reps
Once you have mastered 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, it’s time to increase the volume. Work your way up to 4 sets of 20-25 reps. After this, it’s time to make the exercise more difficult – see below.
A goblet squat requires you to load the squat at the front, holding something of weight, such as a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate under your chin. If you are performing this exercise from home, try using something around the house that is small and heavy, such as an old milk carton filled with water, a brick, or cans of soup.
This added weight will make it more difficult to keep your shoulder blades pinned back and will add some extra load to the muscles of your legs and hips.
Add some pulses at the bottom
When you get down to the bottom of the squat, quickly pulse back up and down 10-15cm, followed by returning to the starting position. Adding pulses over time will add an extra burn to your squat.
What are some similar exercises?
Here are some other squatting variations to try, which adopt a similar movement pattern.
Lunges use similar muscles to the squat but place a greater strain on balance and core stability due to their single-leg nature. They can be performed in various ways – start off with a forward lunge.
Step-ups are another squat variation that utilises similar muscles. They require limited equipment – you’ll only need a box or chair to perform them.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
How deep should I squat?
Not all squats are made equal.
Every person is built differently and therefore, every individual’s squat will be unique. In saying this, most people should at least be able to get their upper leg (femur) to parallel with the ground.
If you are struggling to do so, you may need to work on your mobility, including that of your ankles and hips.
Is it okay if I let my knees go over my toes?
YES, as long as you keep your stable base, with an even spread of pressure on your entire foot. Most people will need to allow their knees to go over their toes in order to balance out their hips going backwards.
If you consistently squat, you will improve quickly.
After a month of performing the squat from home, it’s time to consider joining a gym so that you can continue to progress the exercise and challenge yourself adequately.
Gym variations of the squat might include adding extra weight to the movement such as barbells and kettlebells or performing different variations such as back squats, front squats, the leg press, or hack squats.
We hope this manual has taught you how to do squats effectively and safely and got you one step closer to becoming a confident gym goer.