The squat is one of the single best exercises for improving your strength, power, and size, yet it is poorly understood and often executed incorrectly.
While the sheer number of muscles involved do make it hard to master, they are also the reason there is such a great pay-off; a properly executed squat will work your glutes, quads, adductors, groin muscles, lower and upper back, abdominal, costal, and lateral trunk muscles. It is a fantastic core exercise, and when performed correctly, also the safest exercise for developing lower body strength.
#1 Achieve Proper Squat Depth
A proper squat should result in your hips lowering below the top of your knees. Anything less than this is a partial squat, and consequently fails to draw upon the strength of your glutes, adductors, and hamstrings.
Further, stopping the squat and reversing your downward momentum at anything less than a correct deep position will stress your knees and lead to injury. You need to drop to the point where you hamstrings and adductors are taut, and produce a slight ‘bounce’ which helps you straighten up.
#2 Open Your Knees
A properly executed squat requires that you not only achieve the correct depth, but also have your feet and knees correctly positioned to maximize your ability to control and lift the weight.
Without the bar, drop down into the bottom of your squat, feet at hip width and toes pointed slightly out. Then place your elbows on the inside of your knees and push them out wide. This is your target knee width. The reason you want this width is because it allows for easier depth and it harnesses the power of your adductors.
If you can’t keep your knees out during a squat, you probably have weak adductors.
#3 Lift With Your Hips
Once you have achieved proper depth, you need to rise up. It is important that you visualize this properly so that you don’t focus on the wrong part of your body.
What drives the squat back up are your glutes and hamstrings, and so it is essentially your hips that do the lifting. Don’t try to straighten your knees, or push down on the ground with your feet, or straighten your back. Instead, imagine a rope tied to your pelvic cradle that is drawing it straight up.
Simply lift your hips, and you will optimize your muscle usage as you finish your squat.
If you focus on these three key elements, the rest of your squat should fall into place. However, there is no substitute for a good training coach when you’re getting started, and if you can find somebody to spot you as you learn, you will avoid developing bad habits that could plague you down the line.
Perfect form is essential when executing a complex compound exercise, and should allow you lift heavier weights with better results if you focus on getting your form right from the get-go.