Four key components to the perfect squat

The squat is a simple, functional exercise that, when done properly, can strengthen your low back, glutes and quads. So what are the key components of a perfect squat?

The squat is a key movement that forms the foundation of normal human movement and athletic development. It is also essential for most high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions as so many exercises require that we squat in one way or another. Squats might be body weight, barbell-weighted, single leg, plyometric or on an uneven surface, but getting your technique right is the first step towards getting through the session without injury and maximising the results that you get.

The squat is how children go from crawling to walking and how parents bend down to scoop up that same toddler before they run into trouble. It is also how a grandparent will get in and out of a seated position safely. It is an innate movement pattern, and one that should be carried out regularly. For this reason, learning to squat correctly is an investment that will pay long term dividends.

1. Start with your hips

The first movement of a squat should always be pushing your hips back behind you. From a tall starting position (feet hip to shoulder width apart, 80% of your weight on your heels), slide you butt backwards as though you were sitting down on a low chair.

Don’t be afraid to let your trunk angle forward (see photo).

2. Knees over ankles

In a perfect squat, your shins should stay near vertical and ankles should move very little. Picture an imaginary line going from your toes vertically upwards. Your knees should not cross this line. If they do, they are likely to undergo unnecessary stress and result in injury.

Rather, try to achieve more depth by pushing your butt and hips further backwards.

An poor squat by Dave Dawes

3. Keep your low back neutral

This is really important! Even more important if you are carrying weight. Your low back should remain neutral the whole way through your squat (ie with a very light curve in it).

As you lower down, maintain that neutral curve and if you (or your trainer) notice that your low back starts to slump towards the bottom of the movement, then come back up.

When you first start squatting, you might only be able to get a quarter or half way down into a squat before losing control of the low back. This is absolutely fine and it will definitely improve with more careful training, but don’t push it too far in the early days.

The perfect squat by Dave Dawes

4. Maintain width between your knees

Ideally, your knees should remain in line with your second and third toes as you lower down into the squat position. If your knees start to roll into the middle you can suffer from excessive stress on the inside of the knee caps (otherwise known as patellofemoral joint syndrome) a painful condition which can become very limiting. If you catch yourself doing this on one (or both) sides, try to gently push the outside your knees towards the wall on either side.

Again, if you can’t control your knees the whole way through a squat, you are better off just doing a partial range version of the movement. Depth is not everything! You are far better off performing a good, well-controlled half or three-quarter squat than a poorly controlled deep squat. Following these basic principles should keep your low back, hips and knees in good health as you chase down those fitness goals.

Best of luck with your training!

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