From the day we started to walk, the famed squat was in our lives. You may wonder about how much you squat in your everyday life. Think about how many times you go to the bathroom; get up and down from a chair; gardening; picking up items from the floor? So it comes to no surprise that I include a variation of the squat in all my exercise sessions.
A Squat is a compound exercise, meaning it uses more than 1 major muscle group as opposed to an isolated exercise like the bicep curl where only one muscle is being activated. The beauty of the squat is that it is functional however we do need to ensure that it’s performed correctly as not to cause injury and aim to protect our muscles and joints at all times.
The main muscles that are being strengthened, toned and activated are the gluteals, hamstrings, calf, quadriceps, hip adductors and abductors links. The trunk, or core, muscles are also switched on as to protect the back and stabilise the body for the downward and upward movements of the legs and hips.
How to do the perfect squat
Standing: feet are positioned just outside the hips and toes turned outward about 5-10 degree, knees are soft (not bent nor locked), shoulders are relaxed away from the ears in the neutral spine position and you have an even weight in your feet
For balance you may like to have your arms by your side and raise them to shoulder height as you drop into the squat or you have your arms raised from the standing position.
Move the hips backward and down, just like you would when taking a seat on a chair and pulling that chair under the table. It is important to set the hips backward as going forward puts unnecessary pressure on the knee joints and can cause injury.
The knees will bend as the hips lower putting the weight into the heels however maintain an even weight in the feet for balance and stability.
Your upper body may tilt forward slightly although the aim is to continue to have your shoulders aligned with the knees as they bend while keeping a natural arch in the back and neutral spine. Do not move the chest/shoulders towards the ground – this puts pressure on the lower back especially if you are doing a weighted squat therefore engaging the abdominals at this crucial point is most important.
While standing your eye gaze is straight ahead. As you lower the hips your eye graze will float down with you keeping the neck and spine aligned.
As you lower and since your feet are angled out slightly, your knees head in the direction of your toes. For a natural movement, the knees may bend slightly in front of the toes however if the hips are heading back, there should not be much forward movement in the knees.
Keeping the even weight in your feet, squeeze the glute muscles and drive through the heels back up to standing position, releasing the intensity of the glutes at the top. Ensure you do not lock the knees and/or thrust your hips forward when you reach standing position. The hips stop in the neutral spine position under the shoulders. Remember: protect your joints by not putting them in positions that are unnatural.
Breathing: as you lower inhale; as you rise/exert exhale
You get more bang for your buck the deeper you go – without compromising on technique and depending on our flexibility.
If you are a beginner, start with a chair and lower your hips to gently tap the chair before rising back up.
If you are more advance and have the flexibility to do so, you can drop deeper into the squat and move the hips lower than your knees. More muscle recruitment is required in the quads and glutes particularly to elevate yourself into standing position.
Although the squat focuses on the lower body and legs, depending on the width of your stance you are able to focus more on specific muscles.
Feet just outside the hips = quadriceps and gluteus maximus
Feet wider than the hips = all gluteal muscles (maximus, medius and minimus)
If you are doing sets, you can alternate your stance to get the best out of your squats – and your legs!
To ensure you have the correct technique like we did as a child, stand in front of a mirror or buddy up and practice. Set the hips back, feet evenly weighted and chest up – these are the key 3 steps to remember then everything else should fall into place.
Have a safe Easter and stay Active in the Season you are in