Make no mistake about it, squats are one of the greatest exercises. From your quads and hamstrings to your glutes and calves, the squat hits them all, even your abs. Squats should definitely be a part of your fitness routine no matter what your goals are. But if you are not squatting correctly, you are not getting the full benefit of this amazing exercise. Even worse, you could be risking serious injury. Too often, women perform squats by mistakenly bending over rather than bending down which can result in back and knee pain.
Setting Up Your Squat: When you are about to squat, your beginning stance is simple. Your feet should be a bit wider than your hips and facing forward. Your body is straight with your abs braced. Make sure the weight of your body is set back into your heels and not your toes.
Executing Your Squats: This is where confusion and wrong form comes into play. Never think of a squat as bending over, but rather bending down. From your beginning stance, slowly lower your body by bending your knees making sure your weight is in your heels and your butt is being pushed back the entire time. Come as low as you can without having your knees going too far past your toes. Truthfully, if you keep your weight in your heels, your knees will not be able to go past your toes. As always, keep your abs braced and your upper body tall. Make sure you are not bending your upper body as you want it fairly upright and not parallel to the floor.
Finishing Your Squat: Once you get as far down as you can with your squat, slowly raise your body back up to the start position making sure the weight continues to stay in your heels. Your upper body is not hunched over and your abs are tight. You also want to come up fully from the squat (unless you are doing a particular exercise that calls for half squats).
Squat Variations: Once you master the basic squat, you can start varying it a bit or adding on to it. For example, you can combine a squat with a shoulder press or bicep curls. You can perform squats and add an alternating knee lift or kick every time you come back up from the squat. For a more cardiovascular form of squatting, add a jump when you come up or take the jumps forward for a greater challenge.
If you are looking to gain strength, perform squats while holding weights or placing a barbell behind your back or in front of your body (better known as front squats). Looking for something super challenging? Overhead squats are one of the toughest squats you can do, but it requires precise form. Basically, you are performing a squat while holding a barbell straight over your head. However, do not be fooled by how easy it may sound. Even if you just raise and hold your arms above your head without any weights and squat, you will instantly feel how difficult this exercise is, so make sure you get the form correct before attempting to add weight to an overhead squat.
If remembering all of this is too much, here is a simple way to figure out if you are squatting correctly. Place a high step or chair behind you. As you squat down, your butt should hit the bench or chair. If it does not, you are not doing it right. If your butt does touch the chair, you are good to go. As with any exercise, proper form is the difference between effectiveness and injury. One wrong move and you may feel it, but not the way you intended. But once you master the squat, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can do with it and how it can make you a whole lot stronger!