What is a squat?
Squats are compound, full-body exercises that work your lower body and core. They are the foundation for many fitness movements, including Olympic weight lifting moves, and help build muscle strength, endurance, and bone density.
Squats have been a part of human movement for as long as we have existed. It is only in more modern times that we have lost the art of squatting in favor of using chairs, which in turn has started to limit our mobility and strength. Although doing a proper squat may seem like a challenge at first, it is actually reclaiming a completely natural movement that our bodies were built to do daily.
How do I squat?
Squat technique is very important to prevent injury and maximize gains. For Air Squats, you should always make sure that you are starting in a strong standing position.
Strong Standing Position
- FEET - Your feet should be shoulder-width apart at the heels, your toes should be straight or turned out at about a 15 degree angle.
- KNEES - Your knees should be right above your feet and trace out over your toes as you perform your squat.
- HIPS/BUTT - This should start right above your knees and feet. This is the first part of your body to move.
- CHEST - Think Superman or Wonder Woman! Keep your chest up with shoulders back.
- ARMS - Start off straight at your sides, then move out in front of you to act as a counterbalance as you squat down, and move back down to your sides as you return to a standing position.
- HEAD - Should be in a neutral position, in line with the natural curve of your spine. Don't look up or down at your feet.
Check out this video from Craic Media:
Notice the order of the movements:
1) He starts at a strong standing position (see the check list above!!) so that his body is ready to work.
2) His weight stays on his heels throughout the whole movement! The heels are the foundation with the outside edge of his feet and his big toe being fixed to the ground for extra balance support.
3) THE HIPS AND BUTT ARE THE FIRST THINGS THAT MOVE! It's almost like he is about to sit on an invisible chair. His hips and butts move back and down and the knees only bend as a natural progression once his butt can't get any farther by itself. (This is super obvious in this video around :16)
4) The knees should always be over the feet. They trace out directly over the toes as you go into the squat, both on the way down and as you return to the standing position. One of the most common flaws is allowing the knees to collapse in as you are moving. The image below shows incorrect knee form (left) and correct knee form (right).
5) His butt drops down below the height of his knees, aka drop below being parallel with the floor. Be careful though, you don't want to "bottom out" by having your butt hit the back of your ankles since this can cause back strain. A general guideline is to have the crease of your hips (where your legs attach to your torso, aka where your tighty whities end) drop below the level of your knee crease when you are at the bottom of your squat.
6) To return to your starting position, he thrusts his hips up and forward as he straightens his knees. Be sure to keep your knees over your feet (see #3) and to keep your weight on your heels.
7) He completely returns to the strong standing position with legs and hips straight, chest up, butt flexed, and ready to go again.
Why is it so hard?
Squats are especially challenging for those of us with careers that require a lot of sitting. Our lack of flexibility and strength may not allow us to do squats properly. If you find yourself coming up on your toes, are struggling to keep your knees over your feet, can't drop below parallel, or are struggling to keep your chest up, talk to your coach. They can give you a modified version of a squat to do until you build up your strength and mobility! Don't give up!!
Squats are bad for you knees.
Doing squats INCORRECTLY is bad for your knees, which is why proper technique and training is so important. Correct squats distribute the work to your hips, core, and all parts of the legs, but incorrect squats often increase the stress and pressure by putting most of the work on the knees. This is why FORM is the most important part of working out! If something hurts, talk to your coach.
Squats make your hips wider.
Hip width is mostly genetic. People are born with wide hips or they aren't, and no amount of squats will change the fundamental bone structure of a person. Squats will make the hips and butt that you were born with look FABULOUS, but won't do anything more than tone what nature already gave you.
Squats make your butt huge.
Again, squats only tighten and improve on what nature gave you. If you have an ample butt, squats will make it toned and fit when combined with a healthy diet. If you have a gluteus minimus (small butt), squats will give your butt more curve and shape, but they aren't going to turn into Kim Kardashian.
Power to the Squats!!
Squats help with flexibility, stability, strength, and they help improve all the problem areas that so many of us are trying to tone. They are the foundation of many more advanced movements, so take your time in perfecting your technique and reap the benefits in the future!