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Most lifters would agree that the squat is the most important exercise in working out (it’s considered the King of Exercises). Squats are very productive because it works out almost every muscle group in the body, despite the common perception that it is just a leg workout. It is the most functional exercise you can do because whether you realize it or not, the squatting motion is very common in our everyday lives. It lends itself well to football strength and conditioning as well as explosive jumping. Because squatting builds a solid base in the form of your lower extremities, your body feels much stronger and you tire out less after committing to the exercise for as little as two weeks.
Despite squatting being a quintessential lift, many people starting out only sees the motion and don’t pick up on the little nuances. When they attempt a squat themselves, they make little mistakes that can grow into big ones the more weight they add. Here are the steps to the full squat motion as well as mistakes to avoid.
If there is one thing to keep in mind before squatting, it is to keep your back straight! Rounding your back puts unnecessary pressure on the intervertebral discs. Improper form will sprain your back which heavily immobilizes you, and too much pressure will cause a herniated disc which may require surgery. Keep your lower back straight and slightly arched as you squat.
Other body parts to keep in mind are your head, shoulders, and chest. The former two should be straightened and slightly pulled back while the chest should be raised. This is the form you should assume before unracking the barbell.
As you lift the bar off the rack, make sure to keep your entire body tight. Pay special attention to your core as you squat down because this will give you stability during the entire motion. Your feet should typically be around shoulder width apart and set at a 45-degree angle, but this will vary by the individual so find a stance that is most comfortable to you and stick with it.
Descend after tightening your core. The motion should feel like sitting down on a chair (not dropping straight down) so imagine you are doing that as you squat. Break at the hip and push your butt back. The hips should take the brunt of the weight on your shoulders. Always look forward during the entire squat motion. Make sure your knees do not bow in or out too far past the toes. To get the full range of motion, descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
At this point you begin your ascension, reversing the same motion you did going down. Remember to keep your head and shoulders pulled back, your chest puffed out, and most importantly your back straight when you return to the standing position.
One other thing to keep in mind is your breathing. Squatting is a challenging exercise and poor breathing rhythm can make you light headed, nauseous, or black out. Take a deep breath before or during descending, keeping your core tight. As you are driving up, exhale forcefully. You may need to take a few more breaths towards your last few reps.
The benefits of squatting outweigh the work you need to put in. It improves your quality of life by making you feel stronger, keep good form inside and outside of your workout, and build character and discipline. For more into squats and deadlifts, you can purchase the Westside Barbell Squat and Deadlift Manual from the strongest gym in the world.