Squats are a fantastic exercise to build muscle and endurance… if you do them properly.
I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to squats, and I know the right form when I see it. Ask any of my clients, and they will tell you I am a squat dictator. I am on top of them every time we do squats to ensure each little detail is correct.
Below are the major mistakes I see people making when they are squatting at the gym. Avoiding these will ensure you are getting an effective workout and staying clear of injuries.
Wearing the wrong shoes
It is ideal to squat in something flat with little to no cushion. You want to feel your foot on the ground. Many people actually prefer to squat barefoot. This bodybuilding.com forum makes a defense for squatting in converse. These work great because they are a very flat shoe and will allow your foot to stay flat on the ground. Whatever shoe you choose, make sure it has good ankle mobility (avoid the high tops). It should also keep your foot flat and not allow you to roll t to the side of your foot or push you onto your toes.
Squatting on machines
Squats should be done with dumbbells, a barbell, resistance bands or nothing at all. Squats are a complex movement and you want your whole body to be working. Machines will limit your range of motion and assist certain muscle groups that should be activated during a squat. Using a hack squat or smith machine will create bad habits. If you do use these machines, make sure you are practicing the same squat you would off of it.
Arching lower back
I’m not sure who started the rumor that having an arch in your lower back while your squatting is good… because it very much not. A lower back arch can hurt your spin, put pressure on your knees, and result in many injuries. If you have to arch your back to squat, you are lifting too heavy. This fantastic NASM article will give you tips on how to fix your lower back arch.
Knees cave in
Another form no-no, is allowing the knees to cave in. It is a sign of dysfunction within the muscles if your knees cave in during a squat. If this is happening to you, you likely have overactive inner thigh muscles and weak outer thigh and butt muscles. You can fix these things with corrective exercise. When this bad habit is not fixed, knee injuries result.
Weight in your toes
During a squat you should keep your weight in the back of your foot. As you lift from each squat you need to push through the heels to activate the correct muscles. Keeping your weight on your toes will again result in knee injuries caused by tight quads.
Not focusing on the right muscles
If you are feeling your quads and your knees on a squat, stop right now! Most of the time, you should feel squats in your hamstring and glute muscles. There are certain squat variations that will activate the quads, but if you are feeling your quads on a normal back squat… you have a problem. Use the form tips listed above: keep your knees apart, push through your heels and focus on the butt checks! Thinking about the muscles you are trying to work will help you engage them.
How low can you go?
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people on social media saying, “If it’s not below 90, it’s not a squat.” This statement aggravates me for several reasons. First, every body is built differently. If you have especially long quad muscles and shortened calves, getting lower than 90 degrees is actually much lower than most people squat. This statement is also annoying because some days, you will you’re your muscles more in a deep squat and some days you will feel them more on a shallower squat. You should stop the squat where you feel it the most. You don’t want to go too low to the point where you only feel your knees, but at the same time you need to go low enough to feel the muscles. Ignore everyone and squat to the point where you feel it the most.
Always practicing the same squat
Doing back squats over and over will build strength in that one range of motion. But you will see vast improvement in your overall strength and body shape if you do different squat variations. A couple of my favorites that I use in the MFit Membership and Peach Plan are 3/4 Squat, 1.5 Squat, Sumo Squat and Pause Squat. Switch it up!