The squats is considered one of the best lower body exercises that one can perform. However, limiting the squat to a simple ‘lower body exercise’ does not do the movement justice. Nearly every muscle in the body must be engaged to perform the exercise as efficiently, effectively, and safely as possible.
Step 1 - Unracking the Weight
Position yourself underneath the bar with the weight firmly placed on your traps or upper back. Retract your shoulder blades to create a shelf for the barbell. To help facilitate this, have your grip as narrow as you are comfortable with. Breath into your belly so that it is fully extended and do not exhale. Make sure your abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors are contracted in this position and if so, unrack the weight.
*Important Point: Drawing your core in instead of pushing your core out, as described, will make it far easier to have the weight force you to hunch over and round your back. Back pain may result, as the vertebrae are being forced out of alignment in this position.
Step 2 - Just Before the Descent
Have your feet shoulder-width apart or just outside with your toes pointed outward. Squeeze the barbell hard. Make sure your wrists are not pushed backward by the resistance. Point your elbows straight down at the floor, and not backward.
*Important Point: Pointing your elbows downward will help keep your chest up and torso as vertical as possible. This will assist in protecting your spine.
Step 3 - The Descent
Initiate the descent by drawing your hips backward as if you are about to sit in a chair. Afterward, bend at the knee to lower yourself. ‘Spread the floor’ throughout the entire movement to assure that your knees do not buckle inward. Only end the descent once your hip joint is lower than your knee joint.
*Important Point: If your knees collapse together and do not stay in line with your feet, the ligaments in your knee joint will be put in a precarious position. This may lead to pain and injury down the road.
Step 4 - The Ascent
Drive from the middle of the foot and heel to lift yourself back up. Finish the repetition by contracting the glutes to lock out the weight.
*Important Point: Focusing your weight on the front of your foot will eliminate the involvement of your hamstrings and glutes. Instead, your quadriceps will receive the majority of stimulation, leading to a muscular imbalance. Over time, this may cause chronic knee pain and serious injury.