Squats are arguably the best full-body exercise in existence. They engage an unprecedented number of muscles to work the thighs, calves, lower back, abs and arms. By it utilising over 250 muscles per rep, squatting manages to build more muscle and burn more fat than any other exercise. They also work the most important muscle of all: your heart, which improves overall fitness.
Squats offer numerous benefits, such as improved agility, stamina, posture, balance, cardiovascular health, and increased bone and joint strength.
Yet despite these benefits people can be hesitant to engage in this exercise because of concerns for lower back and knee issues. Fortunately, squats are perfectly safe for both the knees and the lower back if you use proper form, so let’s examine what ‘proper form’ entails.
Don’t go heavy on weights at the start, instead, use a small amount of weight or just the bar itself while mastering your form. You can build up the weight later.
The Traditional Back Squat
Step 1 – Using an overhand grip, face the bar and place it on your upper-back and shoulders by going under the bar.
Step 2 – Bring your feet directly under the bar then unrack the bar by standing upright. Take a step back away from the rack and feel how the bar rests on your shoulders. You will be using your arms to balance the bar in position. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and the toes slightly turned out. This position creates room for your belly to pass through your legs when you squat down.
Step 3 – Squat. Lower into the squat by pushing your knees forward and out following the line of your feet and at the same time move your hips back. Do not bend the lower back. Active your abs and core muscles while allowing your lower back to remain neutral.
Step 4 – Keep lowering until your hips are slightly past your knees. Past and parallel.
Step 5 – Now return to the standing position by pushing up through the heels engaging your thighs and glutes. Keep your knees out, your core tight and your chest up – until you lock your hips and knees at the top.
Step 6 – Repeat.
Key Things to Remember
Avoid rounding your back
The easiest way to keep your back straight is to keep your chest up, your hips back and your core active. Your spine will stay in alignment and allow you to focus on the muscles doing the work.
Keep the bar at shoulder level, do not let the bar extend onto your neck and exert pressure. You should feel light in the neck and be able to keep your head elevated and tall.
You have to plant those feet and always push out from the heels, never the toes. Standing on tiptoes is a sign your form and balance is off and your body is trying to compensate. Always push off from the heels.
Avoid letting your knees get close together when you squat. Your knees should move out in a 30-degree angle following the line of your feet. This position will give you more leverage to push up from your heels. Not doing this will put excess strain on hips and knees.
Make sure you follow the entire range of movement on each rep. Utilising all the muscles in the exercise will ensure they be built as a group. Your core needs to develop as much as your legs as you slowly increase your weight.
Make sure to breathe in as you squat into the lower position, and breathe out returning up to the standing position. Try to keep your breath slow and steady.
If you are concerned about lower back or knee issues while working out, Fairfield Physiotherapy and Sports Injuries Centre offers specialised treatment and instruction on proper form. Just call our friendly staff to arrange a consultation.