The squat is one of the most popular exercises at the gym, and with good reason. Squats are a compound exercise, which means that they make use of numerous muscles and structures throughout the body. It’s one of the most important exercises to learn and is essential to successful body strengthening – but it’s also one of the most dangerous exercises if not done correctly.
A lot of the blame lies with the widespread misinformation about how to squat properly. Because they’re so popular and effective, there’s also no shortage of advice that can easily be found online but a lot of it is dangerously incorrect, especially for beginners.
Don’t squat past 90 degrees
Perhaps the most common mistake people make is squatting too deeply. Squatting past 90 degrees in the knee puts excessive load on your lower back as well as dangerous amounts of pressure through your knee cartilage. In fact, for many of my clients, I don’t have them squatting past 70 degrees, as this still gives the vast majority of the benefits of squatting without any unnecessary risk.
Power lifters and some athletes will still want to squat past 90 degrees but most people aren’t power lifters or athletes. Unless your body is highly conditioned, squatting too deeply will do far more harm than good. Don’t copy an image found online: trust your body’s range of motion and don’t push yourself beyond what’s comfortable.
Let your glutes do the work
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body and capable of generating an incredible amount of force, which is why most people can lift far heavier weights while squatting than with any other exercise. While squats may activate many muscles throughout the body, it’s your glutes that should taking on most of the load, followed by your quads (the thigh muscles).
If you lean too far forward, the load will be transferred from your glutes and quads onto your lower back muscles, which are far weaker. This is why squatting related back injuries are so common. This forward lean is caused by trying to push your ankles and hamstrings further than they want to, which leads to more bending in the hips and lower back. Again, trust your body’s range of motion and don’t push yourself beyond what’s comfortable.
Knowing which muscles are activated can be difficult for a beginner, which is why it’s important to receive professional training when you’re starting out and use light weights to get a feel for how your body works. Machine exercises can also be useful to isolate and train individual muscle groups as they work on a single plane of movement, which is recommended for beginners.
Combine with other exercises
Because squats use so much of the body at once, this also means there is more potential for injury than most exercises. Squats will quickly highlight any stiffness or weakness in your back, your core and your ankle, knee and hip joints.
This why it’s essential to combine any heavy, compound strength training with core strengthening programmes such as pilates, gym balls, VIPR bars, cables and barre core classes, to name a few.
The core muscles are essential to general body strength but they turn off at high thresholds, meaning that normal strength training does little to strengthen them. Click here to read more about the core, what it does and how to train it.
It’s also important to improve the flexibility of your calves, hamstrings and Achilles tendons with machine exercises such as knee extensions and hamstring curls to avoid the leaning issue mentioned above. Balance training by standing on one foot or using a Bosu ball forces your body to make constant tiny adjustments to improve general conditioning.
Seek professional advice
Even the slightest imbalances or weaknesses in your body can make squats far more dangerous than they have to be. Most people are dominant on one side of their body without even realising it, throwing off the careful balance that needs to be achieved to squat successfully.
At WLP, we can thoroughly assess your current strengths, weaknesses and imbalances and put you on a programme that addresses them, as well as showing you how to squat successfully while taking your unique needs into account. Whether you’re a novice or want to push yourself even further, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 7939 1628 to book your appointment today.
If you have any questions about your running technique, feel free to get in touch by emailing email@example.com or calling 0207 937 1628.
Kam Sowman BSc (Physio) MCSP MHCP
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist
For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact me at West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email firstname.lastname@example.org