How to Squat Properly: A Quick Primer on Perfecting Your Form

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

If you want big legs you have to squat.

For the first few years of your training you should squat, squat and squat some more.

A good goal is to squat double bodyweight.

I’m talking about real, full squats, at least to parallel.

Read on and you’ll learn exactly how to squat properly.

Before we get into technique I have to tell that the one thing I recommend to 99% of people out there is a good pair of high quality squat shoes.

These will make a TREMENDOUS difference in your form and keep you safer. Guys usually benefit more from these than females do but anyone with a minor tuck can usually eliminate it instantly with a pair of these.

On with the squatting lesson…

The Set Up

Grab the bar with an even grip, wider than shoulder width and be sure to squeeze it as hard as you can. You should be making white knuckled fists and the tension should radiate from your forearms to your upper arms and all across your back.

Everything must be drum tight.

Duck under the bar and jam your shoulder blades as far back as you can. This should be uncomfortable.

The bar should sit on your traps, not the top of your spine or your neck.

By keeping your hands in a little closer you can create a bigger shelf for the bar to sit on.

By close I mean 6-10 inches wider than shoulder width. If you have shoulder problems, this is not an option and you will need to grab the bar wider.

Never grab the bar with an extremely close grip or extremely wide grip if you can help it. Moderate grip width is best. Try to get your elbows under the bar as much as possible. This will help keep you in a more upright position and prevent the lift from turning into a good morning. How far under the bar you can get your elbows will be determined by your shoulder mobility. Do the best you can without putting any excess stress on your shoulders.

Now, to engage your lats, pull down on the bar just a bit. You should feel your lats flare out to the side.

With your head straight, chest up and back arched, take a deep breath and hold it then unrack the weight and take two steps back.

Your feet should be a bit wider than shoulder width apart and rotated out about thirty degrees. Think of an athletic stance.

For example- the stance you would play linebacker in, or wait for a serve in beach volleyball or guard someone in basketball. That’s usually about the exact width you want your stance to be.

The Descent

Before beginning your descent take a huge breath and fill your belly with air.

Hold the air in your abdomen, not your chest. Basically you want to push your abs out as far as you can while also bracing them like you’re going to take a punch.

If you wear a belt simply drive your abs out into the belt.

With your chest up and back arched, you are now going to push out on the sides of your feet like you are trying to spread the floor. This doesn’t have to be dramatic; just enough to engage the hips and glutes.

To begin your descent, break at the hips by pushing your glutes back and then squatting down as low as you can go without allowing your lower back to round or butt to tuck under.

If your butt tucks under and you go into spinal flexion the injury risk increases dramatically and you lose a lot of strength. You need to maintain a neutral spine throughout.

If you can’t you need to seriously work on your flexibility and mobility.

The goal is to be able to break parallel while maintaining a neutral spine.

One thing you need to remember is to keep your knees tracking your toes.

So on the way down you need to consciously drive your knees out. Probably the best coaching cue I have heard that makes this easy to remember and grasp is that squatting takes place BETWEEN the legs, not above them. So really open up the knees as much as you can. Doing this makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine in the bottom.

Getting Out of the Hole

When you can get to parallel without spinal flexion the fun is just beginning. Now you have to get back up.

When coming out of the hole be sure to lead with your head, driving backward into the bar but NOT looking up.

In other words you drive straight back into the bar but keep staring straight ahead. Don’t cock your neck back.

This will make you weaker and throw off your form.

The chest should be high and you should drive your elbows forward and under the bar and push your hips forward while consciously engaging the glutes.

On the way up you need to keep that deep breath held until you are at least half way up. At that point you can start hissing the air out as if you’re blowing it through a straw.

Never let your air out before that or let all of it out before reaching the top position.

Pause at the top, let all your air out, gather yourself, go through the checklist, take another huge breath and do your next rep.

Do not do piston style pump reps when squatting unless you’re very experienced and are doing a light, higher rep back-off set.

Now you know how to squat properly.

Good luck.

Squat big.

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