The squat is a great compound movement for total body development.
On top of helping strengthen legs (mainly quads), the squat also hits the abs, back, and arms (if you are using added weight).
When performing a squat, always make sure to use proper form.
- Position your feet under your shoulders and point the toes straight(ish). It’s ok to point your toes outwards a little for comfort.
- Push your hips back while bending your knees. (like sitting onto a chair)
- Keep your chest out and your feet flat on the floor.
- When at the bottom, push through your heels in to the ground and stand up.
- Squeeze your butt at the top of the movement. Along with your core, you should remain in a tight position.
Ideally, you want your back upright as you squat. It is common for people to lean forward too much. Two reasons why this may happen are weak quads or a weak back (sometimes both)!
Having quads that are weak can make it much more difficult to properly engage them as you squat down. If you do not feel your quads when you squat this could be you. Here are a few techniques to increase your quad power during squats.
Single Leg Step-Up
Some of us will notice that one leg is stronger than the other. Often, when doing squats, you mask your weak spots because your whole body is involved. By doing some isolation work, you can get stronger exactly where you need it to improve your squat. Try a single leg step-up on a box or a bench. It’s a self-explanatory exercise, just stand facing the box or bench, and step up onto it with one foot, and switch. Let the leg that’s stepping up do all the work, and be mindful of what parts of the movement are giving you trouble. You may want to ask for assistance if you have trouble keeping your balance.
Box squats are great for learning to properly engage your quads on the lowering portion of a squat. Box squats are done by using a box or chair to limit how far you go down. This allows you to focus on improving your strength in a limited range of motion and gradually increase it over time. To start off go down only as low as you can to still feel your quads. As you improve, go lower.
Learning to engage you back is crucial. If you cannot learn to use your lats properly, it will severely decrease your ability to produce force during a lot of movements, squats are no exception.
Here are some exercises for increasing back strength:
TRX Wide Row
Hit your upper back with a few slow and controlled sets of TRX Wide Rows. Simply grab the straps, and lean back in a comfortable position, letting your arms extend fully. Using the muscles in your back and biceps, pull your chest to the strap handles. Your hands will naturally go outwards, which is great for feeling the burn in your upper back. It allows you to really contract those specific muscles as you reach the top of the motion.
TRX Low Row
Low rows are another classic move to learn how to engage your back. Grab the TRX handles, lean back, and pull your chest forward. Keep your hands close to your ribcage. Your palms end up facing each other at the top of the motion. Try not to cheat on this one. Since your hands stay closer to your body, you may be tempted to let your arms do all the pulling. You want to feel this in your mid-back muscles.
**Special Note on Isolation Movements**
People tend to load up the weight because we relate moving heavy weight with progress. This is not always the right approach. When working on isolation movements with weights, focus should be more on the muscle being worked over how much weight you are using. Learning to properly engage your muscles will help you lift more in the long run. Put your ego aside and focus on improving your ability to engage the right muscles. Go slow and steady. You can prevent injuries by paying attention to how your body responds to these isolation movements.