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  • Squats

    Many people regard squats as the alpha and the omega of exercises, but I've mostly avoided them due to the fact that they intimidate me--I fear that I don't know how to do them properly (despite having watched a number of instructional videos) and when I "practice" them in front of the mirror (without any weight, just doing the motion), I cannot get low enough. Is this a plain lack of strength thing?

    When I do heavy compound lifts, I do deadlifts (and love them), but I feel that I'm missing out by omitting squats from my routine.

    What tips do you guys have for a beginning squatters? I used the Smith Machine at the gym today in order to get acquainted with them, but it seemed like a cheap substitute for the real thing.

  • #2

    Don't do the smith machine, for one!

    When I get under the bar, I make sure to set my shoulders and consciously tighten my torso. Think of your entire torso as a rigid plank; imagine you're squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades. That's how tight your back needs to be. It creates a shelf for the bar, and it ensures your back stays solid throughout the squat. It's kinda like how you tighten your entire body for the deadlift.

    Are you going high-bar or low-bar?

    For low-bar, think about sitting back. You can even put a box or a chair there to help teach you the movement. Thrust your knees forward on the way down. After you're past parallel, your knees should stay where they are. Don't let them stray forward on the way up.

    Think about your hips. Imagine a hand on your lower back, just above your ass, pushing you down. On your way up, imagine that same hand in the same spot and push against it. Keep that torso tight and push against that hand. You should feel it in your hams, glutes, and quads.

    Think about your heels. Drive through the floor with your heels; stay on them. If you end up on your toes, your knees could be toast.

    Keep your chest up; this will contribute to maintaining a tight torso.

    Make sure your feet are in the right position. The way I figured out my ideal stance was to close my eyes and take a step as if I was going to do a vertical jump. Right before you jump, stop and look down. That's your stance.

    I really recommend buying Rippetoe's Starting Strength. It's about $30 on Amazon, and the guy spends like fifty pages on the squat alone.

    But keeping those shoulder blades tight is key for me. It forces the rest of my body to follow suit.

    Start with the bar alone, get comfortable with the tight back and the shoulder position and really work on getting to below parallel. Film yourself.

    Hope it helped. I'm still learning myself.



    • #3

      hfox as you are a beginner I wouldn’t use any weight yet, maybe just a broomstick or light bar to get the feel of it and the progress, I also often squat with dumbbells in my hands instead, I like doing them like that if my shoulders are tight and also I find I actually feel a lot more stable, like the dumbells are guiding me down.

      Also where do you position your feet, I feel I can squat best just a bit over hip width apart and can get down really low (bum nearly on ground) but if they are any wider or narrower I have restrictive movement so play around with foot position and see what you like best.

      Have a look at this link, various squats are shown and also very amusing!


      • #4

        Thanks to you both for the detailed advice! I'll keep your tips in mind and continue to practice until it feels right.


        • #5

          If you're having trouble getting low enough without weight it might be a flexibility issue instead of strength.

          I had my kids do lunges to loosen them up for squat work.


          • #6

            I'd highly recommend this youtube video as far as squat form, it's a little long but the meat is in the first bit:


            As mentioned before, start out light, make sure your knees don't go past your toes (do some bodyweight squats sideways to a mirror to check), and don't "good morning". Otherwise, squats are easy and feel great! (I'd argue power clean's are pretty king though)

            Other nitpicky tips:

            1. Hold a huge breath - this helps increase intra-core pressure (some people think it will cause you to burst a blood vessel, in my experience that's never the case, and anyone that breaths during a hard squat is not going 100%).

            2. If your legs shake/bow inwards, the weight is too heavy (and yours quads can't take the weight).

            3. That said, shoulder width apart tends to be a little close. Find a happy medium between that and a wider stance - I find that as I widened out my stance my posterior chain (glutes/hams) are more engaged, which I like).

            4. Go deep, but do it safely.

            5. Don't squat in runners - vibram fivefingers, nike free's or chuck taylor converse allstars are great (Arnold squatted barefoot)


            • #7

              You actually need to put weight on the bar... if i tried to do it with just the bar, i'd fall over..


              • #8


                That sounds like a flexibility and/or balance issue. Barring any kind of physical impairment, one should be able to squat fully with or without weight.


                • #9

                  There is some really good advise above and I would only like to add a couple things I've found to work for people that have trouble with squats. I think the majority of the time its hard to do a correct squat because the flexibility is not there to get in the correct positions.

                  Follow the above techniques and start of with just body weight squats for a week or two until you have the technique down. You can use a box or chair at first in case you have the sensation that you are going to "drop." I would say a good workout for those 3-6 workouts would be a 12-15 min routine of BW squats with 30secs on and 20 secs off. Once your comfortable with the BW squats you can move up to dumbbell squats for a couple weeks and then on to barbell squats.


                  • #10

                    I was in the same boat a few years ago. Now I love squats (or hate them, 2/3rds of the way into a set, but it's a good hate!).

                    I know Crossfit has a program that introduces you to the squat, deadlift, and a few other of the big, big lifts. I think here in NYC it's like $300, so that can be prohibitive, but maybe worth checking into.

                    Even if you found a good trainer to pay like $50 for a single session where all you did was learn perfect squat form, it would be worth it- it's much easier to learn with someone watching you who knows how to do the movement. Key here is a GOOD trainer. They are few and far between.

                    anyway, my 2 cents!

                    ps. agree with the No Smith Machine idea- on any lift. They are not good devices for your form, for your body, or for your development, in my experience. Far better to use half the weight on a free lift than double it on the smith.


                    • #11

                      Try doing them with your arms extended out in front of you, one hand on top of the other. Helps get the form down. Remember to not let your knees come further forward than your toes.

                      I also found that it helps to look up. If you look down (to check yourself) that's when you form will fall apart. A good partner here is key.


                      • #12

                        If you live near a CrossFit gym, I'd recommend going. Squats are #1 there, and they'll give you personal instruction on how to do them amazingly well.

                        Check out the CrossFit site, too: - and you'll find free videos in the "Exercises and Demos" section that will take you a long way towards a great squat (all kinds - air, front, back, even low-bar back squats).