The squat is one of the most effective exercises you can do because it works nearly every muscle in your body and burns tons of calories, but many people perform it incorrectly. Doing a proper squat means taking care with your knees and putting all your weight on where it should be to get the full benefit of strengthening not just your quadriceps but also the weaker hip and glutes.
There are a few things that are important to remember while doing the squat or any exercise. The first rule is if it hurts immediately, stop and see a doctor, and the second is to take it slowly.
Typically, I suggest with starting with a chair. The chair squat is a great way to learn proper form while having some support. The chair forces you to keep your knees behind your toes. Begin with your feet at a comfortable stance, which will usually be shoulder width or slightly wider and with toes pointed outward at a slight angle.
Squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. If you can’t go down that far, just keep working on this exercise until you can. When you go down this far, you’ll feel it in every muscle in your leg. This will give you a really strong core along with strong legs and a strong back. Focus on keeping your chest and chin high, and first bend at the hips before the knee, pushing your glutes out, which will put more weight on your hips — which is where you want the weight, instead of having it in the knees.
Try not to extend your knees past your toes. If you’re doing the squats correctly, you should be sitting back with your rear end out and your back straight.
Don’t arch your back. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to keep your head up when you squat, and keep your abs tight throughout the whole exercise.
Control is important for avoiding injuries, as well as making sure your knees are going in the same direction as your toes are pointed. With the chair, control the movement until you touch the chair seat with your butt. Focus on pushing through your heels, not your toes, which is important for keeping a good posture and the weight off your knees. Keep your back in a neutral position and your abdominals tight to assist with balance. After you feel comfortable enough to control on the way down and up you can remove the chair and dip just below parallel.
Keeping your hips and knees in dive-ready condition while decreasing your chances of an injury that could keep you from diving by standing and sitting is a no-brainer! Beginners should repeat the squat 10 to 12 times.
To view a video on performing the perfect squat, visit the Mayo Clinic’s web site.
Chadd Lin is a certified personal trainer with a B.S. in exercise science. He makes his home in Tennessee.