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How To Do a Proper Squat

woman doing a squat

Authored by Julia Drake – Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

The squat is a key component in any weight loss journey.  Given its importance, it can also be one of the most difficult components in any weight loss journey.  So if you are having trouble with your squat form, or it’s causing you pain, or maybe you just don’t know where to start – don’t worry, just keep reading for step by step guidelines on how to do a proper squat.  

Why Should I Squat? 

  • We need it for every-day life. We actually do squats every day.  Any time we get up from a chair, out of the car, off the toilet seat, we’re using our legs and glutes to do a squat.  We also sit every day, and for long periods too.  So, working the legs and glutes by squatting helps us keep these muscles strong to efficiently perform every-day life activities.  
  • It’s here to burn calories. The squat is a full-body movement so it requires multiple large muscles to work together in unison.  An exercise with larger and more muscles involved is more likely to burn a higher number of calories.  
  • You can do them anywhere. You don’t need a gym to do squats.  You can do them in your living room, in the backyard, in the breakroom at work – anywhere!  All you need is your body and a little bit of space and you can get your workout in. 

We’ve talked about all the great benefits of squatting – but how do we squat? 

How To Do a Proper Squat 

Proper squat technique
  • Start with feet right under the shoulders for a stable base.  If you experience any knee pain during your squat, a good trick is to create more space between your feet by both widening your stance and turning your toes out.   
  • Hips come way back first, THEN bend at the knees.  A common mistake is paying too much attention to bending at the knees, but the secret is all in the hips.  When we focus on the hips coming far back behind us (like we’re sitting in an imaginary chair), we prevent the knees from sliding forward over the toes, which could cause knee pain or injury.   
  • Keep the weight in your heels.  Similar to tip #2, keeping the weight in the heels keeps the heels glued to the floor.  A common mistake is lifting the heels off the floor, allowing the knees to again, slide forward over the toes.  This also helps keep the knees behind the toes to further prevent knee pain or injury.  
  • Keep knees in line with the toes.  Not only do you want to keep the knees behind the toes in tip #3, but you also want to knee the knees in-line with the toes.  While you’re squatting, imagine a straight line from your knee to your middle toe. This prevents the knees from buckling inward and injuring the tissues in the knee joints. 
  • Make sure your core is engaged!  Engaging the core acts as a protective shield for the spine, preventing low back pain during your squat.  At Hilton Head Health, we like to use imagery.  If you act as if you are coughing or blowing out birthday candles, you might feel a tightness in your tummy.  That tightness is your core muscles activating.  In order to engage those activated core muscles, hold that tightness.  Another way to engage these core muscles is actively sucking your belly button into your spine, and holding it there. 
  • Keep your shoulders back, and your chest and head high.  Even though the squat focuses on the lower body, it’s still important to ensure proper form in the upper body.  Everything is connected, so maintaining good posture in the entire body can help with balance while we squat.  Be aware of slouchy shoulders and keep your shoulders back, and your chest and head high.  
  • To finish your squat, push up through the heels to stand up tall. Then do it all over again! 

It Doesn’t Matter How Low You Go 

At Hilton Head Health, we have three levels for the squat.  So whether you may be experiencing physical limitations or you’re just new to fitness, you can practice the squat at your own fitness level.  Use the seven steps above with each level’s modifications to practice your squat. 

  • Level 1: This level is a great way to practice your squat form with the assistance of a chair.  Make sure the chair is sturdy and you have a non-slip surface underneath you.  Stand in front of your chair with feet right under the shoulders.  Take the hips way back then bend at the knees, sitting fully in your chair.  To come out of your squat, press up through the heels to stand up tall.   
  • Level 2: Once you have our form down, practice transitioning to an unassisted squat.  You will still need your chair.  Stand in front of your chair with feet right under the shoulders.  For Level 2 as you take your hips way back then bend at the knees, just tap the chair, then press up through the heels to stand up tall.  
  • Level 3: Once you are confident in your squat form, try an unassisted squat without the chair by following the seven steps on how to do a proper squat.  Once we’ve mastered this squat, try holding a dumbbell for an extra challenge!  

It does not matter what level we are squatting, as long as we focus on form over quantity.  It is better to do one good squat with proper form than one-hundred wrong squats!   

Julia Drake
Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

Click here for more information about the wellness and weight loss programs at Hilton Head Health, recently named the #1 Wellness Resort the Country by USA Today

Adams, Kent, et al. “Aging: Its Effects on Strength, Power, Flexibility, and Bone Density.” National Strength & Conditioning Journal, vol. 21, no. 2, Apr. 1999, pp. 65–77.