If you take a look at the squat racks in your local gym, you’re likely to see at least a couple of aspiring lifters performing a squat. Chances are that these lifters actually have very different stances and forms for the exact same exercise, yet they both may look like they are doing perfect lifts. Why is that?
Everyone’s squat form will be different. Regardless, here are a few things that everyone should do to improve their squat:
- Keep Control of Your Neck Position
- Learn How to Breathe
- Engage Your Core
- Control the Angle of Your Squat
- Use Proper Stance and Foot Placement
- Distribute the Weight Properly
- Keep a Healthy
If you google “how to squat with good form”, you’ll come across many significantly different approaches to foot placement. The reason for this is that each approach is tailored to the person who created it, simply because that is what works best for them. Great!
That could be the right approach for you, or it could cause you to seriously injure yourself and never squat again. My point is that you need to figure out your own stance, the one that’s best for you. I’m going to do my best to help you do that in this article.
Control Your Head Position
When people are trying to improve their squats, one of the easiest and most important things you can do is to improve your form. It not only helps you lift more but helps you prevent injury as well.
When it comes to your neck, you want to keep your head positioned so that your neck matches the angle of your spine.
Basically, this means that your neck and back should make a straight line with each other. Keep your head up, and don’t stick your neck too far forward or backward.
This is primarily to keep the airway open. By having an open airway, breathing becomes easier and you can avoid passing out. It also helps to keep unnecessary stress off your neck and back.
When you’re able to breathe better, it’s easier for oxygen to get to your muscles. It gives you a lower risk of passing out and helps protect your neck and back, which are always susceptible to injury, especially during squats.
Back injuries are common for squats and deadlifts, and they’re definitely something you want to avoid. If you use the wrong form or lift too much weight, it can be surprisingly easy to hurt yourself.
Because of this, you should take every precaution you can to avoid injury. Doing so will make sure that you stay healthy, and able to lift.
Learn How to Breathe During Lifts
Something I see often, even in myself, is forgetting to breathe while you’re lifting. While this might not seem like a big deal, forgetting to breathe can absolutely kill your performance and even get you hurt.
For example, If you aren’t breathing enough, you put yourself at risk of passing out. If you’re interested in other reasons why lifters pass out, check out the article I wrote on that topic.
This is pretty straightforward, just make sure that you breathe at some point! The most common issue with breathing is the gym, is forgetting to do it. As long as you’re actually breathing, you’re better off than a lot of people.
This being said, there are optimal ways to breathe when you’re doing squats, deadlifts, or any other lift. I don’t have a whole lot of space to talk about it here, so check out this article from Livestrong. If you want to learn more.
Breathing is also very important if you wear a weightlifting belt while you squat. I wrote an article about why breathing and belts are so important, so check that one out next!
If you want to improve your squat, you have to breathe. That one simple change can improve all of your lifts, and make everything easier on your body.
Engage Your Core During Squats
Engaging your core is another one of the most important things you can do, especially during squats and deadlifts.
Doing so will help keep your body stable, support your spine, and help more blood/oxygen get to your muscles. Sound confusing? I’ll explain.
First off, engaging your core keeps your body stable. If your core muscles aren’t being activated, or flexed, that means they’re not tight. When your core isn’t tight, it’s easier for you to lose your balance, and not be able to finish your lift. Basically, an engaged core holds your lift together.
Next, activating your core muscles helps protect your spine. When you engage your core, it forms a wall of support for your backbones and muscles. This is really important for squats and deadlifts, which emphasize your back during the lifts themselves.
Engaging your core will also help enhance the Valsalva Maneuver, which helps bring more oxygen to your muscles, letting you lift more weight. The Valsalva Man
Again, the Valsalva Maneuver is too complicated for me to explain here. I recommend you check out this article on how to do it. Trust me, you won’t regret learning this.
Perfect The Angle of Your Squat
Make the bottom of your squat have an angle of at most 90 degrees between your calf and your hamstring, if not deeper.
This is simply to make sure that you make the most out of each rep. Good depth is essential to squat form, and all you need to do is get to that 90
Take a look at the squat being performed in the figure above. We can see that the toes are pointed out, the depth looks great, and the upper body is positioned so that the core is tight and the airway is clear.
The depth of a squat is especially important, as it determines how effectively the glutes are trained. If you find yourself struggling to reach an adequate depth, try altering your foot stance or increasing your flexibility. A nice jog or some light stretching can do wonders for your squats.
If you don’t practice the angle and depth of your squat, you risk injury as well as suboptimal lifts. That means that you won’t be lifting as much as you can and should be lifting.
While you’re doing squats, just try to keep things like these in mind. They’ll help you stay healthy, as well as lift even more weight. Maybe you’ll even hit a new PR!
Squat Stance and Foot Placement
Now, let’s talk about stance. The only factor that should determine your foot position is weight distribution.
This means that a good foot position will transfer the weight of both your body and the bar or kettlebell smoothly through your legs and into the ground. When it comes to each leg, I think about having the entire muscle contraction take place in one horizontal plane.
The point of this is to take any unnecessary stress off of your knees. The human knee is a hinge joint, meaning that it can move forward and back but not side to side. The optimal squat form for you is one in which your knee does not move to any side throughout the lift.
The best way to find your perfect squat form is to try different foot positions until you can find one where your knees go out over your toes and your knees follow the same path on the way down and the way up. If your knees move side to side, you need to check your foot positioning or your form. This is informally known as “knee caving”.
The same reasoning applies to your ankles. You want the weight to be distributed smoothly over the joint so that there isn’t any uncomfortable pressure placed on them.
A good way to test your squat form is to do some squat jumps and feel where the pressure goes. If you feel any pain in your knees or ankles, you are likely putting unnecessary stress on your joints.
With this in mind, you should be able to find the right squat form for you. In general, lifters with wider frames tend to have wider stances, and vice
The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you feel any pain in your knees, something is wrong. Go into your squats with a skeptical mindset, and don’t accept any
Squat Form Varies Person to Person
Here’s the tricky part about this. Without trying to sound too PC, everybody’s bodies are different.
Unfortunately, this means that there’s no perfect way for me to tell you how to fix your squat form. Lots of things will vary between each individual person.
Here are a few things that can vary from person to person:
- Breathing patterns
- Weight placement
- Mental Setup
Because everybody’s bodies are different, this means that the best way to breathe will be personal for you. The best thing I can tell you is to start breathing and do what feels best for you. As I said before, just breathe, and you’ll be fine.
Everyone’s height, weight, and body weight distribution will be different. Because of this, the way that you should do weight placement while squatting will differ from everybody else.
This is a little more advanced, so If you don’t know what you’re doing, I’d recommend a good personal trainer to help you have the best weight placement for your squats.
This one will vary the most. Everybody has had different experiences, and no two person’s minds think in the same way. For this, you need to keep a good mindset and think optimistically.
It’s been said that your mindset can
As far as breathing goes, the bare minimum is that it has to happen. If you are doing a set with good time and reps, you will need to breathe!
Generally, you should inhale and exhale across the time you are performing the lift. I tend to exhale on the upward movement of the squat and inhale while going down.
I do this because I find it easier to breathe when my core isn’t as tight. However, some lifters prefer to inhale on the up because it gives a sort of mental forward motion.
A good way to find the best breathing strategy for you is trial and error. Try out different things, and if you find yourself getting gassed out, try something else.
If you don’t know, getting gassed out is when you run out of oxygen, and your muscles basically stop working. We have an article on that too, so check that one out in the link above next!
When you find something that works, run with it, and find ways to improve your breathing even more.
There are numerous perspectives on this, and you can do whatever is best for you. In general, you should not hold your breath because it can cause blood pressure changes and may even cause you to pass out (we wrote an article on that).
There are two schools of thought when it comes to squat weight placement; frontloading and backloading.
As the names suggest, frontloading squats are where you hold the weight in front of your body. For backloading squats, the traditional way, you hold the weight behind you.
I’ll go over both of these types of squats here:
Back squats are the more traditional way to do them, and what most people think of when they hear the word “squat”. There’s nothing wrong with them, and they’re a great option for the majority of people.
Backloading gives a bit more stability and openness, so it is ideal for beginner lifters. However, both ways will work and you should go with whatever is more comfortable for you.
Front squats are less common, but they’ve become more widespread in recent years.
Weight placement for squats deals with front or backloading the weight. Front load squats are ideal for lifters with back problems because it distributes the weight through the arms and front of the torso so as to bypass the back.
Consult a doctor first, and I’m not one, but if you have problems with your back, I’d try front loading your squats. You might find them to be much more comfortable.
In the end, they’re both great options. Try them both out, and stick with whatever works best for you.
Mental setup is a huge part of lifting and can drastically impact the success or failure of your set and/or reps. There are a number of different mental setups, and I will cover a few strategies I find helpful.
The first and most commonly used strategy is the fight or flight mindset. This actually creates an endocrine response with the hormone norepinephrine and can be extremely effective because it pushes the body beyond its standard physical capability.
It stems essentially from fear. Oftentimes this comes easy to beginner lifters, but as they become more advanced, the newness wears off and it is more difficult to get the desired response.
Some lifters breathe rapidly, pinch or slap themselves, and shout or clap their hands to try and get this kind of reaction.
On the other hand, some lifters prefer a feeling of confidence and ability to complete the lift soundly. Telling yourself it’s going to be easy or doing some air squats to solidify form can be great.
In the end, make sure your squat form works for you. Do what you have to do to make it successful, but make sure you are being safe. When you’re holding hundreds of pounds above you, it’s very important to keep safety in mind.
The Bottom Line
Squats can be difficult, and leave you sore for a few days after your workout. This being said, they’re many people’s favorite lifts and can be very rewarding.
In the end, there are a few key takeaways, that I’ll go over quickly below.
When you’re squatting, it’s important to keep your head and back straight. This helps your body move more efficiently, as well as removing a lot of the risk for a back injury.
You also have to engage your core. This means flexing and tightening your ab muscles, which helps create stability in your lifts, and further avoid injury. This is one of the most important steps!
Another important step for improving your squat is breathing. As a bottom line, you have to breathe during your lifts. Otherwise, your muscles will run out of oxygen, you won’t be able to lift much, and you might even pass out. Trust me, breathe during your squats.
You also need the right mindset for success. It sounds cheesy I know, but it’s important to actually get anything done, and lift a lot of weight. You have to stay positive and stay confident, and you’ll be just fine.
Overall, you have to use common sense to avoid injury, stay confident, breath, and do what works best for you. If you do all of these things, your squats will keep getting better and better.