Back for her second installment, fitness trainer and route setter, Jess, is here to teach you how and why to squat.
(spoiler alert: squats aren’t just for making you insta-famous.)
Squat Baby, Squat
Primary muscle groups: Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, abs, spinal erectors.
The squat is one of the most important and underrated movement patterns we as humans do every single day. It uses several major muscle groups, improves balance and coordination, and is paramount in building strength, power and joint mobility.
There are several variations of the squat, all with virtually the same requirements for proper execution.
1. Starting position
You’ll quickly realize that starting position depends largely on the type of squat to be performed. Generally, feet are just beyond shoulder width, with toes pointing slightly out.
(Not sure what’s comfortable? Do three vertical jumps in a row – where your feet land is where you are most comfortable!)
Hands may be on hips, carrying weight, at chest, overhead or reaching in front of you. Gaze is forward, shoulders are down, glutes engaged, lumber spine is neutral (no arch).
2. Core engagement
Belly button and ribs draw inward throughout the movement to maintain spine and hip position.
3. Knees and toes
While bending knees should track over the toes – meaning they move inward or bow out excessively. It’s okay if they extend beyond the toes depending on squat depth, as long as hips are behind the heels. The depth and angle of hip abduction (widening) will depend on mobility and hip anatomy. For example, some one with a wider pelvis may require toes to point out more than someone with a narrow pelvis in order to maintain proper form.
4. Hips and chest
Hips should remain behind the heels. Send them back like you’re looking for a chair and don’t be afraid to get low! If you’re able, either lower the hips so that thighs are parallel to the ground or you can even squat to full-depth by ending with hamstrings touching calves. You’ll know how far you’re able to go if you’re able to maintain neutral spine and keep your chest up. If you notice your chest tilting forward, stop the squat there. Placing a weight plate or pad under the heels may help. If that’s the case, you may need to address ankle mobility. Consult a coach or trainer if you’re unsure!
5. Ankles and heels
As stated above, ankle mobility plays a huge role in the quality and depth of your squat. Heels must remain on the ground throughout. If your heels are raising, either send your hips back further or place a weight plate or pad under the heels to allow greater depth while maintaining a heels down position.
There are countless variations of the squat, with and without weight. Here are some of my favorites!
Body weight squat – all levels
Feet can be narrow with toes forward or wide with toes out – experiment to find the best fit for you.
Plié squat – all levels
Feet are wide and toes are out. This places more focus on the inner thigh muscles (adductors). It can be done with bodyweight, barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell. There is slightly more pressure placed on the knees, so make sure you are able to safely and effectively perform a body weight squat (above) first.
Goblet squat – all levels
Goblet squats are a great option for all levels, require slightly more core engagement and allows for deeper range. My favorite version is with a kettlebell. You’ll follow the same positioning as the full-depth body weight squat, holding a weight close to your chest and elbows pointing down. End with elbows brushing the inside of your knees.
Racked squat – advanced
Rest two dumbbells on your shoulders, elbows elevated. Maintain an upright position without arching the lower back while keeping the chest elevated.
If elbows drop, you may be leaning forward.
Pistol squat – advanced
This is my absolute favorite because it requires the most coordination, core control and ankle mobility. Plus it looks cool.
Pistol squats (or single-leg squats) can be done with or without weight. Starting with feet together, extend a straight leg in front of you and hover your foot above the floor. Extend arms in front of you to maintain balance and center of gravity. Slowly send your hips back and squat to full depth while keeping leg extended and straight. You may opt to hold the foot with your hand. Try alternating to challenge your balance even further!
Pistol squat – advanced
This is my absolute favorite because it requires the most coordination, core control and ankle mobility.
Plus it looks cool.
Pistol squats (or single-leg squats) can be done with or without weight. Starting with feet together, extend a straight leg in front of you and hover your foot above the floor. Extend arms in front of you to maintain balance and center of gravity. Slowly send your hips back and squat to full depth while keeping leg extended and straight. You may opt to hold the foot with your hand.
Try alternating hands to challenge your balance even more!
Here is a sample workout with two squat variations.
You should aim to squat at least twice per week!
(hint: a great warm up for the squat is a hip bridge – see previous post!)
KB Goblet squat
Bent over row
Sit up with reach