Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 12, 2010

How-To: Proper Squat Technique

By Mark Sisson
112 Comments

If you want to pick something up off the ground, you have two options: hinge at the hips or squat down. There’s no question that the full squat is an essential, Primal movement, and yet many folks in modern, industrialized society are unable to perform one. Kids have good squat form (just watch them at play), but their parents are stiff at the hips with rounded backs and tight knee joints. Many more have been taught – by health experts and personal trainers – that the full squat is dangerous, that it will destroy your knees with wear and tear and render you incapable of normal activity. They say a half-squat is perfectly adequate, or, better yet, get rid of the squat altogether and use the leg extension machine! Disregard these “experts.” You need to squat. You don’t need to use a ton of weight (or any!), but you do need to be mobile and flexible enough to reach a full squat below parallel.

Full squat – dangerous? Tell that to the elderly folks in Southeast Asia comfortably resting on their haunches with ease. Tell that to modern hunter-gatherers who use the full squat as their default resting position. Tell that to professional power-lifters squatting under heavy weight for dozens of years. The problem is not with the movement; it’s with our lack of flexibility and mobility. In order to be truly fit, it’s important that we relearn how to perform a proper, full squat.

How to Do the Basic Squat

  1. Stand with a comfortable stance. Most will prefer their feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with toes turned out at a slight angle.
  2. Lower yourself by reaching back with your butt while maintaining a strong lower back. Keep your knees aligned with your toes and your toes on the ground.
  3. Chest up, upper back tight, eyes looking forward and slightly down, head in a neutral position. Maintain a nice cohesive line along your spine.
  4. Go just below parallel, so that your butt drops below your knees.
  5. Come back up by pushing through the heel.

Things to Remember

  1. Don’t let your knees bow inward, or risk potential injury. Think of actively shoving your knees outward on the descent so that they track over your toes.
  2. To visualize driving through the heel, try lifting your toes off the ground the first few reps.
  3. Thirty seconds or so of the Grok squat stretch is a great way to prime the pump for your squat workout.

Watch this video on proper form and technique for the first 4 of 9 total squat movements in the PBF Lift Heavy Things bodyweight progression.

Find out where you should begin in the squat progression by taking the self-assessment test found in Primal Blueprint Fitness and then get started today!

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112 Comments on "How-To: Proper Squat Technique"

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Susan Campbell
6 years 1 month ago
I really love this – I am greatly affected by sitting in a chair all day at the computer and when your hips and hip flexers get tight, it definitely hinders your squat ability. One thing I would recommend is to do some foam rolling prior to trying to increase the depth of your squat. As you mentioned, mobility is key to a good, deep “Grok squat” and using the foam roller prior to stretching will release the fascia surrounding the muscles and really open things up. Using a hard ball the size of a tennis ball to work on… Read more »
Mike Wootini
6 years 1 month ago

I really like the recent video series. Nice work!

Do you have an opinion on keeping your arms above your head for alignment purposes? I have a tendency to lean forward and have found it sometimes helps.

Debra
Debra
6 years 1 month ago

Love your infectious enthusiasm Mark! All of these videos are great.

Primal Toad
6 years 1 month ago

Well you have now covered the lift heavy things regimen I have been doing for the past 2 months!!

Push-ups, pull-ups, squats and thats it!!

I can’t wait for your description on the other 2 movements as I will be doing the “program” starting next week with all 5 exercises. Keep it up Mark!

Kris
Kris
6 years 1 month ago
8 Stupid Myths about Squatting. It’s time to finally put an end to these fallacies about this great exercise by Charles Poliquin We’ve all seen it. Massive iron plates loaded to the max on the 45-degree leg press – sometimes augmented with the weight of a dedicated training partner riding the sled like a cowboy at a rodeo. This obsession with monster leg presses inspired one equipment manufacturer to develop a machine that could handle 6,000 pounds of plates! But equally as impressive as the weights used are the elaborate rituals that are often associated with this exercise: knee wraps… Read more »
Ketch Rudder
6 years 24 days ago
Charles Poliquin gives us a rather lengthy defense of the squat. However, he does so from the perspective of the bodybuilder. Bodybuilders are into LOOKS and not fitness. The basis of bodybuilding is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which sees to increase the fluid holdind capacity of non-contractile elements within the muscles. The basis of fitness is real muscle growth — myofibrillar hypertrophy, which trains muscles through load-bearing exercises and grows muscles through nutrition to increase the myofibrils, the actual contractile protein muscle fibers responsible for generating the tension or force that allows us to move. Bodybuilders seek temporary, pumped up appearances. Those… Read more »
Griffin
Griffin
6 years 1 month ago
This entire PB Fitness idea is great. I think a lot of people need this balance of guidance and primal freedom to gain the confidence to really invest in their fitness, primal style. I’m glad that you put a lot of stress on joint mobility, as that is the KEY to effective movement and a long-lasting muscular/skeletal system (in my opinion). If anyone is seriously interested in improving joint mobility, I recommend looking up Scott Sonnon and his various programs like Intu-Flow, Circular Strength Training, Prasara Yoga, and TACFIT. Keep up the awesome work, Mark! I hope you know how… Read more »
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Aaron
6 years 1 month ago

At our gym we have found the squat to be the most effective exercise in all of its forms for almost all athletes. Unweighted squats, heavy back squat, front squat, overhead squat, one legged squats, high reps, low reps, and so many more. As one of our coaches often says, “the squat is the window to your soul.”

If it is hard when you start, don’t worry. After I introduce the squat to clients I congratulate them on the beginning of a years long journey to develop and perfect this simple movement.

Justin
Justin
6 years 1 month ago

I would suggest to those that are worried about their knees that they concentrate and sitting back into the squat so that their lower legs stay vertical and their knees stay over their ankles.

dr
dr
6 years 1 month ago
I have a love/hate relationship with the squat. Learned proper form as a lad playing football (that and the power clean) and they continue to serve me well. However I’ve endured several knee injuries (…two ACL recon’s on my left, ACL/MCL/patellar tendon recon on my right…. but who’s counting) Keeping my knees over the balls of my feet is critical. And so it’s worth noting that I personally find it easier to drive be knees outward by pointing my toes straight ahead, and even thinking about pigeon-toeing them slightly. My knee caps naturally stay aligned with my feet. On the… Read more »
LB
LB
4 months 26 days ago

Research is showing that hip strength is the biggest prevention to ACL knee injuries. When you turn your toes inward you activate the outside of your feet which uses more hip strength.

Farley
Farley
6 years 1 month ago

The goblet squat from Dan John is also nice. Gets you deep, opens up your hips and feels great.

Perfect, I’ve found, for feeling the stretch and gaining the balance to keep your feet flat and maintain a Grok Squat.

Marek London
6 years 1 month ago

Goblet squats are highly under-rated and a great way to get new trainees used to moving in the new way (most need to reset their motor unit patterns, as they are used to bending the back when bending).

Holding the dumbell in front forces the upper body to remain partially upright, providing a cue to maintain an arch in the back (lordosis) during the movement. I use them with most clients who are struggling to get the position right.

Beth
Beth
6 years 1 month ago

I always envision a toddler in a diaper squatting down to pick a Cheerio up off the ground – they have the most natural squat that makes sense to me. I then employ the same simple movement, although I don’t tend to pick up and eat food from the floor. 🙂

Thanks Mark for another great post!

Mike
Mike
6 years 1 month ago
When I was in college, I was a division-I thrower (shotput, discus, and hammer). Squats were a critical part of our workout. We primarily stayed around 225lbs, but we did DEEP squats…try to get our butts to the floor. We had to go through many days of reps with no weight to prove to our coach that our form was clean. We did the same approach with olympic lifts, which were critical to our need to be explosive. The world record holder in the hammer through never did a squat workout over 225lbs in his career…and his WR throw is… Read more »
Dusty
6 years 1 month ago

People always say I don’t know squat…Now I do! Thanks Mark!

Kindke
Kindke
6 years 1 month ago

Just remember the 2 most important things when squatting are to keep your toes and legs angled out from the facing direction of your body by about 40 degrees ( this shifts the line of action directly through your pelvis ) and to keep your lower back concave.

Evan
Evan
6 years 1 month ago

Mark – Any recommendations for those with flat-feet AKA overpronation?

(Overpronation, as you advise against, brings the knees inward during the squat movement)

Wyatt
Wyatt
6 years 1 month ago

Use a strap or band (something elastic is preferable) to put around your legs, just below your knees. While you descend, you’ll naturally want to push outward, be more squared up, and may get a few inches lower.

Lojasmo
Lojasmo
6 years 1 month ago

Actively engaging the flutes and vast us lateralis will naturally prevent overpronation. Keeping back on the heels helps this as well.

Lojasmo
Lojasmo
6 years 1 month ago

Glutes. Stupid device.

Geoff
6 years 1 month ago

I disagree. From what I generally see, overloading the V/L will only serve to worsen over-pronation. I very much agree that posterior chain activation is paramount, as those that over-pronate also tend to load their Quads a great deal on the concentric portion of the squat.

Wyatt
Wyatt
6 years 1 month ago

My understanding of a wall squat is when one actually faces a wall for the decent. I suppose we can call it whatever we want, but a face-the-wall squat is technically much more rewarding and difficult. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHzaHZDBsag

Darrin
6 years 1 month ago

Glad to see the squat getting some love!

It seems like for guys, the only exercises that really matter are bench presses, bicep curls, and crunches.

The squat is one of the movements our bodies were specifically designed to do and for ANYONE to neglect it is a big problem.

Lojasmo
Lojasmo
6 years 1 month ago

Can one a tually build mass with bodyweight workouts? It seems that eith the number of reps possible, this would be primarily aerobic.

Jonathan
6 years 1 month ago

The past few posts have been outstanding.

Its really great that your teaching the proper technique as a series of progressions, allowing people of varying fitness levels to start with whats best for them right now.

Always grateful for the hard work you and your team put in with this site.

curiousalexa
6 years 1 month ago

I did the whole LHT workout yesterday, following your videos. I am very glad you included so many starting levels!

Following your instructions, my knees still crunched a lot during squats, but none of the usual pain. But my thighs swear they are never going to forgive me! How long until I can sit down on the toilet again, let alone do another round of LHT?! [wry grin]

dr
dr
6 years 1 month ago

Funny how that happens. I squat once a week and I still find that moderate soreness creeps up on me a couple days following the workout.
Just get good & warm and then stretch out for about 15 minutes, it’s the icing on the cake 🙂

Keith Pangburn
Keith Pangburn
6 years 1 month ago

Mark, what about carrying things? I mean generally. When I go for long, moderate-paced walks with my girlfriend, I am going to try carrying a medicine ball with me. This seems logical, as often times Grok had to carry weapons, provisions, or found game with him. I am going to do this for a few weeks and see if there’s any benefit. Intuitively, I assume this will help my core tighten. Especially if i keep moving the medicine ball around.

Geoff
6 years 1 month ago
Mark, I love the site, and all the work you do for the primal world. My concern with the video above is this: knee position. While many can and do squat in the manner which is most comfortable, these people are generally already suffering from one or more muscle imbalance. I personally squat with a power-lifting style (wide stance, toes angled out), but I have taken steps to even out Quad development outside of my squat. My worry would be that those doing squats with their toes out constantly would overload their Vastus Lateralis, potentially leading to issues with the… Read more »
Mary
Mary
6 years 1 month ago

Amen! As a mom, pregnant with my second child, I have come to appreciate how vitally important full squats are, at least for women. I was fortunate to be in a Prenatal Yoga program during my first pregnancy in which we did 10-15 full squats in every class. For us preggos, with all that relaxin circulating in our bodies, the full squat opens the pelvis and takes advantage of gravity to move that baby down, head first, as nature intended. And talk about a powerful move during labor!

I think I’ll do a few now. They just plain feel good!

amy
amy
6 years 1 month ago

I stood/squatted to give birth to my latest two babies(separate pregnancies). Took only a couple hours from labor til they emerged and only about 20 mins of pushing. I was hardly in bed at all. Squats are an awesome way to give birth and get down to play with the kids and then to pick up their toys afterward.

MamaGrok
6 years 1 month ago

Ah, yes – I learned the Grok Squat in my Bradley class. Gave birth four times squatting on a hospital bed, ranging from 6 to 10 pound babies. Squatting opens the pelvic outlet by some 60% and should be no surprise – we were made to squat!

taihuibabe
6 years 1 month ago

Squats help with menstrual cramps, too. A proper martial arts horse stance with the lower back flattened and the hips tucked under will have the same effect as kegels, plus tone the butt and thighs. Wins all around.

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[…] Stick to the basics. Master the core bodyweight movements, things like squats, pushups and pullups. I have linked to Mark’s Daily Apple who put in a great tutorial for all […]

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[…] Stick to the basics. Master the core bodyweight movements, things like squats, pushups and pullups. I have linked to Mark’s Daily Apple who put in a great tutorial for all […]

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[…] Squat […]

Javier
Javier
6 years 1 month ago

cool article…i just squatted today…360lbs for 5 reps.

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[…] How-To: Proper Squat Technique […]

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[…] Daily Apple has a great video showing four types of squats (including my fave — the wall squat) and proper form for each. […]

Bobby Fernandez
5 years 7 months ago

Mark, I have not yet delved in to this but it seems that, for better or worse, we have evolved beyond deep squatting for rest. From the little research I’ve done, it seems that the articular surface between the talus and tibia is different in the skeletons of squatting people. http://books.google.com/books?id=N2-1VHk2nKUC&pg=RA1-PA119&lpg=RA1-PA119&dq=squatting+and+the+ankle+bones&source=bl&ots=Be7bzjMFr7&sig=fj3M_05uSoQpP_9fITEWgE6od6k&hl=en#v=onepage&q=squatting%20and%20the%20ankle%20bones&f=false

Robbie Justice
Robbie Justice
5 years 7 months ago

Hello,

I’ve been doing squats for a while following these tips but I noticed while looking in a mirror that as I start to reach parallel my back starts to round and I can’t find a way to stop it. It looks like as I get to about parallel my glutes/hamstrings rounds my back. I’ve been doing dead lifts and hamstring/glute stretches to help alleviate this but to no avail. Anyone else had this problem? And any suggestions on how to fix it?

Bobby Fernandez
5 years 7 months ago
Hi Robbie. The easiest way to maintain good spine position as you go past 90 is to widen your stance so that your pelvis can tilt forward as your hip flexes. Of course tight hammies will stop the pelvis from allowing full flexion at the hip however if your stance is too narrow (shoulder width is too narrow for a full deep squat) your femur itself with lock the pelvis at a certain angle and not allow full hip flexion. Also, some PNF type stretches for the hip flexors might help as well. I would also suggest the chair pose.… Read more »
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[…] 1 Pullup/Chinup 2 Pushups 3 Full Squats […]

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[…] your glutes. Now, I know you Primal folks probably keep in touch with your glutes via plenty of squats, deadlifts, sprints, and over-the-shoulder admiring glances at the mirror, but if you’re […]

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Michelle Fire Eater
Michelle Fire Eater
5 years 5 months ago

It disturbs me how difficult/impossible it is for me to do what should be a totally natural, human resting position. It doesn’t surprise me, however, that Western medicine would suggest that if you are going to poop a watermelon (have a baby) that you should lay down to do it. That is insane. Hurray to ladies who bucked the CV and copped a squat to poop their watermelons. 🙂 My ancenstors dug a big hole, filled it with soft moss and then squatted to have their babies. Lay down? Who’s sick joke was that?

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[…] because, ultimately, the resumption of weight bearing activities (which could be anything from body weight squats to weighted squats to simply walking) will send the necessary signals to your joints to begin […]

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[…] If my knees were in better shape, I would definitely incorporate squats into this, probably in place of the leg […]

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[…] 30 second Grok Squat, ten air squats, and lateral, forward, and backward leg swings (10 each […]

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