How to Squat: The Definitive Guide
It’s been six months since my son Vince has started walking, and I have noticed that he squats more than I do.
He is still too young for me to let him enter the weight room (I recently built a home gym) when I am working out, and as far as I know, he has not seen a squat video, but he knows how to perform a PERFECT FULL SQUAT. Why? Because it’s a completely natural and safe movement, which is why the body performs it intuitively.
When I was watching my son doing a perfect squat, I also remembered that my parents used Indian toilets. In her book, Charming Bowels, which has topped the German paperback charts and sold a million copies, Giulia Enders argues that sitting actually prolongs the evacuation process.
“Over 1.2 billion people who squat have almost no incidence of diverticulitis and fewer problems with piles,” she explained in a recent interview in “The Guardian.”
When visiting my village in Haryana, India a few times a year, I notice that the villagers there sit in a low squat position most of the time. My dad calls this position “Ukudu,” meaning a low squat. When females clean the house with a broom, they do this low squat as well.
Without squat or parallel grip deadlifts, my workouts are not complete. They are the linchpin of the FBX workouts and have allowed me to gain tremendous lean mass over the past few years or so.
I am embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t even lift my bodyweight in squat a few years back. I discounted this exercise and performed leg press, leg extension, or even Smith machine squat as alternatives. I was foolish to think like that.
Squat needs to be done with a barbell and the help of a squat stand or, better, a power rack. If you use a power rack, you will not need a spotter.
This article is a long one, so sit tight, and keep reading. It should take you no more than 10-15 minutes to fully grasp, but I promise that once you realize the benefits of squats, you will be a believer, and once you start practicing it regularly, you will start getting fabulous results and you will love squats.
Soon, you will love it even more, and then you will tell your friends about it, and then you will fall in love again and over and over again. It has happened with me; it seems like every time I squat, I enjoy it even more and tell myself it’s my responsibility to educate and empower millions of people out there who don’t squat and tell them all the good about it. (There is nothing bad about squat unless you perform it with incorrect technique.
History of Barbell Squats
Henry Steinborn started the squat movement. He started the flat foot squat and eventually went on to win the German heavyweight lifting championship in 1920. He immigrated to the United States the next year. Until the early 1920s, Americans did squat up on their toes, which was only possible with light weights. ( Source: Super Squats, by Randall J. Strossen )
Mark Berry saw the real benefits of squat and adopted the practice, gaining over fifty pounds of muscular weight with this exercise.
One Berry-inspired trainee, Joseph Curtis Hise, was 180 pounds at 5′ 8” but was dissatisfied with the results he was getting from other training systems. He tried heavy squat with heavy breathing and gained 29 pounds in a month, ultimately reaching a bodyweight of 300 pounds.
Eventually squat started to be recognized as the “master exercise,” and after Mark Berry, two new proponents of squat emerged, Peary Radar and John McCallum.
Peary Radar was the founder of Iron Man magazine, and after struggling for 12 years on other systems of training, he gained ten pounds in the first month and over 100 pounds in the next year or so. (Source: Brawn, by Stuart Mc Roberts)
In his book Keys to Progress, John McCallum states, “You can solve most of your gaining problems with squats alone. You can make gains you never dreamed of before. You can build up unbelievable bulk and power. You can build up power where you have to be careful with it.”
In the past few years, I have devoted more time to squat and parallel grip deadlifts than any other exercises, and as a result have gained not only strength but more than 20 pounds of rock hard muscles.
So there you have it. Squat, the king of exercises, has a rich history of taking weaklings and making them into the strongest men known to history by building amazing amounts of muscles in the fastest time possible.
Another benefit of squat is that it helps boost your metabolism, which helps you burn more fat. For every pound of muscle you gain, your body will burn an additional 50 to 70 calories per day! Ladies, squats can help you tone your butt and legs, and in my mind there is no exercise better than squat for doing so.
Despite the many benefits of this wonderful exercise, there are certain prevailing myths that refuse to go away. Let’s discuss two of these before I give you the correct technique for performing a squat.
Myths Surrounding Squats
Myth #1: Squat is used to build up your legs only.
Of course, squat directly works your thighs, but it also works your glutes, your lower back, and, in fact, the complete core area (comprised of 23 muscles). Squatting works to stabilize your body throughout the movement. It also creates an anabolic environment (release of HGH and testosterone) which is vital for growth overall.
Let’s put it is this way: If you want to increase one inch on your arms, squat! Squatting with heavy weights will help you increase bodyweight, and for every 10 pounds you gain, you increase your arm size by roughly one inch.
Also consider this statement from John McCallum: “Your upper body bulk is determined by the size of your chest, and the size of your chest is determined by the size of your rib box…the surest, fastest way to enlarge your rib box is combining deep breathing with heavy leg work…heavy leg work and deep breathing will make your physique dreams come true.”
Myth #2: Squat could injure my lower back and my knees.
Data on 27 male powerlifters and 28 male weightlifters were analyzed by years of experience and skill level. No effect of squat training on knee stability was demonstrated in any of the groups tested.
Another study discusses whether the depth of squat has any effect on knee health or even lower back health, and results were clear that there was no effect.
How to Squat the Right Way
I am working very hard to improve my swimming. Why? I learned to swim the wrong way, and now I have to unlearn to learn.
Whenever you try to build up a skill—in this case, how to perform the squat—make sure you learn it properly, because when you start progressing and one day you are squatting 400 pounds, there is no way you will injure yourself if you have taught your neuromuscular system to perform the exercise the right way.
If you are an intermediate and you think after reading this section that you are not performing squat correctly, drop some weight, and learn to re-establish the right feel of doing it. Your body will thank you.
Squat can be your best friend, but make sure you devote time to learning the exercise. Perform this king of exercises regularly, and you in no time you will gain more muscles and strength than you ever believed was possible.
How to Squat: 5 Key Steps
Warm up properly. If you are doing squat first in your workout, perform a general warmup on a cardio machine for five to ten minutes or until you break into a light sweat. Then, perform a few specific warmup sets by gradually increasing the weights.
Squat stance. The first step is to take your chest out and retract your shoulder blade (pinch it back), and then get underneath the bar and put it on your upper back. If you put the bar too high, you risk neck injury. If you put it too low, you risk letting the bar slip and putting added pressure on your arms. Maintain a neutral spine; don’t arc it too much. I personally don’t use any cushioning, but feel free to use any padding (a towel or something else) if you like.
I like to keep my feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and my toes pointing outwards (30 degrees). I feel really strong in this position, and over time I have found this width works pretty well for me. I tried a narrower stance, but it didn’t work for me, as I always felt there was a risk of my knees buckling in. I also tried a wider stance, and in this case, my groin area was getting stretched a bit too much!
My recommendation is try different widths, and very soon you will find the stance that works best for you.
Performing the squat. Once you have the weights on your back, slowly squat by looking straight ahead and maintaining a neutral head position. Go down slowly (but not too slowly), and sit back as if you are sitting on a bench, which takes the weight off your knees and puts it onto your glutes. Don’t hold at the bottom, and with a slight thrust push back, maintaining a straight back and neutral head position.
Ideal squat depth. The ideal squat depth is where you are just below parallel. A lot of people do quarter depths, probably because they lack flexibility or as a way to boost their ego, as they can load more weight this way. I was guilty of this for quite some time, until one day I decided that from now on I will squat with proper depth—until my hip joint is below my knee joint. (Please note that you don’t have to go all the way down until your hips touch your ankles.)
Once you start going slightly below parallel, you start to correct your muscle imbalance. Your hamstrings and glutes will also start to get stronger and become as powerful as your quadriceps. Of course this is very challenging compared to a quarter squat. In weight training, it’s not the amount of weight you lift but how challenging the exercise is that ultimately matters. I would suggest dropping your weight down and increasing your squat depth if you still haven’t. You will enjoy the benefits.
Breathing. This is the key. Instead of inhaling all the way down, I recommend taking a deep breath before you start your descent. This increases intra-abdominal pressure, which keeps your core safe. On the way up, don’t hold your breath. Instead, release it slowly as you come up.
Check this video out for detailed instruction on performing a squat:
In the end, remember the following statement before you squat or perform any other weight training exercise:
ANY EXERCISE REQUIRES MORE ATTENTION TO PROPER TECHNIQUE THAN TO THE AMOUNT OF WEIGHT LIFTED.
Weight training is a sport like any other and requires a bit of skill (though not as much as others sports), and my advice is to educate and empower yourself with enough knowledge to perform every exercise in perfect form before you start progressing with heavier weights.
Good luck, and let me know your experience with squat in the comments below!
How to Squat the Right Way
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Akash is a creator of 25+ programs and certificate courses in which more than 200,000 students have enrolled both on Udemy and Fabulous Body's native platform. Akash is also an author of three books that can be found on Amazon. His answers on Quora have gathered more than 12 million views in less than a year.