Secrets to Mastering the Squat: Part 1

By Molly Galbraith
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There are many good reasons why squats are considered “The King of Exercises.”

Few other exercises have the potential to increase strength, change your body composition, and make you feel like the ultimate bad-ass in the gym quite like the squat. The problem is that most people don’t perform squats correctly, and that’s totally understandable. The squat looks simple, but it's actually a very complex exercise. There are a lot of moving parts and things to remember.

Below you'll learn seven secrets to help you start mastering the squat now. And don't worry — at the bottom of the page, you'll find two videos explaining and demonstrating exactly what I'm outlining in the text. Enjoy!

1. Check your stance.

Women who aren’t powerlifters wearing gear, don’t need to be squatting much wider than just beyond shoulder width, with their toes pointed out between 15 and 30 degrees. Squatting very wide is harder on the hips, and once you get extremely wide, it can be even harder to drive your knees out, which, as you’ll see below, is very important.

2. Brace your core.

Again, most women don’t brace the core effectively. Even if you think your abs are strong, you might not be bracing correctly. You actually have to learn how to create pressure in your low back when you squat, not just in your anterior core (i.e., abs).  Here is a fantastic video that teaches you how to breathe and create pressure in your core.

3. Keep your head in a neutral position.

kid-squatting-350x375It’s really popular in the powerlifting world to throw your head back when you squat. This is completely understandable as it can help you “drive out of the hole” (stand up from the bottom of a squat), and it’s common knowledge in the training world that the body will go where the eyes go.

That can be fine for competitive powerlifters, but since most women are lifting simply because they want to look good and feel good, they need to keep their head in a neutral position. Throwing your head back causes you to go into lumbar hyperextension, effectively putting all of the pressure on your lower back, and not allowing you to use your entire core, or your glutes, as effectively as you could. Think neutral head, eyes up. The little cutie in this photo has the right idea when it comes to keeping her head neutral!

4. Use your hips.

As you’ll see in the video, it’s very common for women to use their spine to “catapult” themselves up, instead of using their hips and their entire core. Once you learn how to effectively brace your core, you will allow your hips and your entire core to start taking the load, and you’ll get much stronger, and stay much safer.

5. Drive your knees out.

Using your glutes to drive your knees out, allows you to open up your hips so you can sink down into the proper squat position. If you don’t drive your knees out, you’ll not only run into your hips, but you won’t have a comfortable (or safe) hip, knee, and ankle angle. This also ties into tip number 1. alli-squat-blue-tank-350x375If your stance is too wide, you often won’t be able to drive your knees out effectively, so bring your stance in, and think about driving your knees OUT to open up your hips. Using a light mini-band right below the knees here as a reminder to drive them out, can be very helpful.

6. Sit back.

Women tend to be very quad dominant, and we typically either want to shoot our knees forward on a squat, or almost “plié” down into the squat. Neither of these are correct when you’re trying to do a true squat. This is why I recommend learning how to squat onto a box first. It teaches you to sit back into your hips safely, and allows you to learn this pattern without feeling like you are going to fall backward.

7. Use an appropriate range of motion.

When first learning to squat, many women won’t be able to hit depth, which is typically defined as parallel or slightly below parallel. If they can hit depth, they often can’t control their pelvis in that position, and they will experience “butt wink” where their butt tucks under at the bottom. Only squat as low as you can maintain good form, and over time, with practice and the correct mobility and stability work, you should be able to squat to depth.

If you are squatting onto a bench or box (which as just mentioned, we recommend learning first), and can’t control your squat, throw a plate or two onto the box until you get strong in that range of motion, and then slowly increase your range of motion by removing plates, until you can squat at your desired depth.

 

Master these seven things, and you're on your way to mastering the squat. When you're ready to move on, check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

Want to know how to incorporate squats into your training program safely and effectively? Let us help.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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