They call the squat the “King of exercises” and in many ways it is, it works multiple muscles with particular emphasis on the Glutes and Quadriceps.
Pretty much everyone squats, with the possible exception of Old School Bros (the modern Bro knows that squatting is important and makes a big fuss about it now).
But the problem is that there are a lot of mistakes being made with squats, possibly due to laziness, or poor mobility (though this is usually a pretty weak excuse for most under 25s), or just plain ignorance of how to squat properly.
If you are reading this article you are most likely looking to make sure you're squatting right, and hopefully you will keep an open mind throughout.
Sometimes people who have been squatting for years make the most common mistakes because they never listened to any advice, make sure this isn't you. Because bad squatting can lead to injury or worse …. a lack of gains!
Mistake Number One: Squatting with too light a weight
Not to generalise too much but this mistake is normally made by women or brand-new gym goers.
Obviously there are plenty of women who squat the right amount (and many who squat too much). But it would be fair to say there is a stigma about women lifting heavy weights, and a stigma of men lifting too light a weight.
The problem with lifting too light a weight is that you need to overload the muscles to produce growth, if you're not doing this your results will be slow – and may not come at all.
Fat loss will not occur, and you will not get the hormonal response you are looking for.
Mistake Number Two: Squatting with too heavy a weight
This may sound like a contradiction to the last point, but squatting with too heavy a weight is probably the worst thing you do.
It will inhibit movement (leading to some of the mistakes that we will cover next), potentially cause injury, and basically waste time and resources.
The problem with using a weight that you cannot manage is that your body will immediately attempt to make the movement easier for you.
Most people won't even realise that they are doing it but suddenly their squats aren't going as low, they start using their lower back more, and they are rushing through the reps when they should be concentrating on slowly lowering themselves down.
You want to be lifting a challenging weight, but not one that prevents you from being fully in control at all times. Nor do you want to be using a weight that forces you to alter your technique.
Mistake Number Three: Not Squatting deep enough
The squat is supposed to resemble you sitting down onto a chair that is just a little bit lower than you are comfortable with. It is not a knee-bend, which is what people call squats where you barely move your glutes at all.
If you find it difficult to bring your thighs down to parallel then start with some box squats, grab a box or bench that is slightly lower than knee height and then squat down until you are sitting on it.
For a lot of people this will really help you practice the movement.
Mistake Number Four: Squatting too deep
If you are performing a bodyweight squat (possibly as a warm up) then feel free to squat as low as possible. But when squatting with a barbell on your back you need to ensure that you aren't performing what's known as a butt-wink. This is where your hips start to tilt forward after you squat lower than parallel.
This doesn't happen to everyone, but it happens to enough people for it to matter. Next time you are barbell squatting get someone to check your form (or better still film it) and assess at what point your hips begin to tilt forward. From now on you should squat until just before this point.
You'll still be squatting to at least parallel, and for most people you should be able to squat a little lower than that. But ass-to-the-grass squats are not a great idea for most people.
Mistake Number Five: Your heels come off the floor
This usually happens to first-time squatters, or people who wear running shoes. As you squat down you're supposed to keep your feet completely flat on the floor, however some people may notice that the heel of their foot is rising off the ground.
There are a few ways to fix this, you could buy squat shoes (which are designed to prevent this). Or you could perform goblet squats which will prevent you from leaning forward too much – as the dumbbell would topple over if you did.
This would keep you more upright and prevent your heels from raising off the floor.
Box squats would also work, but then it would be a good idea to progress to goblet squats as they are much closer to barbell squats in technique. Another cause of heels rising off the floor is lifting too heavy a weight, so watch out for that too!
Mistake Number Six: Overcomplicating things
You don't need to front squat if you can't do it properly, nor do you need to overhead squat. You are allowed to perform hack squats (don't listen to fitness snobs who tell you they suck).
There is no benefit to squatting on Bosu Balls or Swiss Balls, and weighted squat jumps are an accident waiting to happen.
Just squat normally with a challenging weight, and perform the exercise regularly. Analyse your technique and make adjustments if necessary. Wear the right shoes, and a belt if necessary. That's all you need to do to squat properly.