Back in the day, I used to dread back squatting. When I was playing competitive rugby, squats was one of the first power lifts that I had to learn, along with bench press and powercleans. I had no problem with the latter exercises, but how to do a squat correctly was something I just could not wrap my head around.
Putting the barbell on my traps felt like a massive, uncomfortable weight. It was hard to stand with the weight, let alone properly squatting down while pushing my bum back and keeping my chest upright.
I avoided squatting for almost two years, before I finally had to face facts – the squat is one of the most effective, powerful, and functional exercises that you can do. And I wanted to be able to master it.
If you’re also avoiding squatting because of similar reasons, then this article is perfect for you. Perhaps your form needs some correcting, or you just feel uncomfortable with that barbell on your back.
To help you get past these issues, here are my top 5 tips on how to do a squat correctly.
Check Your Ego at the Door – Don’t Start Heavy
Form is EVERYTHING. If you’ve been squatting for 1 week and are already throwing plates on each side – think again. Who cares that the chick beside you is pumping out 200 lb squats – she’s probably been doing it for ages. When I first started again, I put 10 lbs on each side, and slowly worked my way up from there. If you start too heavy too soon, you will fail to get low enough, you will not engage the correct muscles, and likely injure your back or knees eventually.
Isolate and Strengthen the Glutes and Hamstrings
To be able to build up strength in your squat, you will want to incorporate some isolation exercises on the muscles that help drive the squat. Specifically, your glutes and hamstrings. To really activate your glutes and start building muscle in your posterior chain, focus on simple body weight exercises. At the beginning of each leg workout, I would start with 3 sets of 15 reps of: glute bridges, single leg glute bridges, Swiss ball curls and reverse lunges. These exercises are the building blocks to squatting correctly.
Focus on Pushing Hips Back (Like Sitting Down on a Chair)
Another key point that I always think about is pushing my hips back as farrrr as possible. Almost as though i’m reaching for a chair that is lingering about half a foot back from my heels. Don’t just think about bending at your hips and knees, but also moving your hips back at the same time. If this is a difficult movement for you to learn, practice box squatting. Place a 12-24″ box behind you (depending on your height) and lift only the barbell with no weight. Squat down, leading with your hips and sit back onto the box rather than squatting straight down. To stand back up, engage your glutes and hips, and keep your chest and head upright.
Drive Through the Heels and Not The Balls of Your Feet
When you squat, you always want the weight to be on the heels, not the balls of your feet. As I descend into the squat, I imagine myself at the point of almost falling backwards. Throughout the entire movement, my toes are barely even touching the ground. Again – this will focus on using the glutes to drive yourself through the extension (the upwards movement of the squat), rather than your quads. If your glute muscles are weak, this will force your torso forward and you will end up on the balls of your feet. This goes back to my first point: start with a low weight so that you correct any form issues early on.
Keep Knees in Line with Toes Always
One of the biggest indicators of weak glute muscles are the knees caving in as you squat down. Never allow your knees to buckle in on the way down, OR the way up. Your feet and knees should be pointing in the same direction the entire time. Failing to do this will result in knee and back injuries (especially as you start to lift heavier). One way to work on this to use a mini-resistance band just below your knees. Use light or no weight at all. Start with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, and squat down, watching that your knees and toes are pointing in the same direction. I take this band with me every single time I do a leg workout.
If you incorporate these into your workouts, you will notice a BIG difference in the way you squat AND in your confidence when approaching the rack. If you’re still not sure, and want to try some other leg workouts to build strength, check out my Three Super Effective Leg Exercises without a Barbell. Or if you prefer to stick with the HIIT workouts, this Powerful Lowerbody Workout will be sure to make you sweat.
What About You?!
- Do you incorporate squats into your workout routine?
- What is your top tip for squatting?
- Were you ever scared/nervous to start squatting at the gym?