A squat is a full body movement that works just every muscle group in the body. It mimics a lot of natural movement patterns in everyday life. We’ve been squatting since we were babies, as we get older and learn to sit in different position during the course of a day and repetitively our ability to squat naturally disappears.
Squats are a compound movement – which means it’s a movement that uses more than one joint (your hip and knee joints) to complete.
A simple bodyweight squat uses almost every muscle group in the body. during a squat you use your “legs,” and as such you need your hips, your back and core, your shoulders and arms.
Squats will help strengthen your entire body, both your bones and your muscles (and your knees!), and increase flexibility.
Increasing the strength in your knees and hips reduces your chance of injury while doing both athletic movements and everyday life things (such as gardening or standing up and sitting down).
- Balance stability and mobility – The prime movers in the squat are the muscles around the hips and knees, but all joints below the belly button (hip, knee, ankle, foot) and most of the spine need both stability and mobility to squat properly.
If any of these areas are unstable or immobile, this can cause squat problems.
- Keep hips mobile – Muscles around the hips help stabilize the pelvis and knees during squats. If you lack hip mobility, you will often lean forward too much when squatting (stressing the spine). You hear the trainers say chest up, look up
- Knees follow toes – When squatting, keep knees stable, in line with the hips and feet. When the knees flare out or cave in tendons and ligaments become vulnerable and work extra hard to resist awkward forces.
The “squats hurt knees” myth – Back in the day as trainers we were told many trainers used to recommend against full-depth squats, it was claimed that it caused knee injury, however, it’s now been shown that while forces on connective tissues of the knee increase during a squat, this does not lead to injury.
Squatting to full depth — where hamstrings touch calves, or slightly above — does not make knees looser or strain ligaments. In fact, full-depth squatting probably increases knee joint ligament stability. It’s how we once squatted, back in the day. Therefore, we progress you from squat to bench to squat to box then change the size of the box. Research has shown that there are low rates of knee injuries in competitive weightlifters who often perform deep squats for countless reps each week.
- Keep ankles mobile and feet planted firmly – Ankles help with support and power generation during squats. Limited ankle mobility can lead to the heels coming off the floor, foot pronation (outside of the foot elevating) and the knees caving in. You will have heard your trainer say “push through your heels.
- Keep spine neutral and chest “proud” – For a good squat, you need lower back stability and upper back mobility.
The angle of the torso should remain relatively constant during a squat (as upright as possible, limiting forward lean). This doesn’t mean straight up-and-down, but rather keeping a natural arch in the spine, folding from the hips (rather than rounding or hunching), and keeping the chest “proud”. As hips go back during the descent, torso will naturally lean forward slightly to compensate. With an unweighted squat, it’s all right if the lower back slightly rounds in the bottom position. When you add resistance, especially with a barbell (which pushes the thoracic spine more into extension), you’ll naturally straighten out a little bit. Simply focus on keeping the spine neutral (i.e. a natural S-curve) with minimal rounding. The lower back is often the weak link for weighted squats, especially in someone with longer legs and a shorter torso.