Squat exercises aren’t just for athletes. You can do them as part of your regular exercise routine.
They strengthen your lower body, targeting your glutes and quadriceps. They also make you use your core muscles.
They also lower your chances of injuring your knees and ankles. As you exercise, the movement strengthens your tendons, bones, and ligaments around the leg muscles.
Squats improve your flexibility, too. As you age your muscles become less elastic. Regularly doing squats can help slow down this process.
And last but not least: squats help you feel and look good!
Squatting helps shape up your legs and butt. As your buttocks become firm, your posture and balance improve too.
So how to execute the perfect squat:
1. Assume the squat stance.
Before you squat, you should get in proper squat position: Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart. There’s no set rule for exact positioning of your feet—it’ll vary depending upon anatomical differences—but a good guideline is for them to turn out anywhere between 5 and 30 degrees. So rather than pointing straight ahead, your feet will turn out slightly, but how much they do will depend on your particular comfort level and mobility.
2. Screw your feet into the floor.
Dialing your feet into the ground helps engage your muscles, improve alignment, and create stability with the ground. It’ll also help keep your arches from collapsing, which can make your knees more likely to cave inward when you squat.
3. Keep your chest up.
Your upper body also matters for squats. Keep your chest up, and proud. This will prevent your shoulders and upper back from rounding which could overstress your spine, especially if you are squatting with weight on your back.
4. Initiate the movement.
When you’re ready to squat, think about starting the movement by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Engage your core for the descent, and keep it braced throughout the move. Make sure you’re controlling the eccentric part of the movement. Rather than rushing through the downward motion, take a couple of seconds to lower yourself. This will increase time under tension for your muscles, which will make them work harder.
Inhale while you lower, and as you squat down, your knees should track laterally above your first or second toe. Tracking too far in can also make your knees collapse inward, and tracking too far out can put extra stress on them.
5. Pause when you reach parallel.
Some people have difficulty getting to parallel because of lack of mobility or injury—and if that’s the case, it’s better to end the squat at whatever depth is pain-free for you—but sometimes people default to quarter-squats because they’re using too much weight. If that’s the case, easing off the weight and performing the full range of motion for the move is optimal.
Once you reach the bottom of the squat, pause for a second so you are not using momentum to push yourself back up. (You can also increase the length of your pause to add difficulty to the move.)
6. When you stand, drive through your heels.
Make sure your feet stay planted throughout the duration of the squat, paying particular attention to driving through your heels on the way back up. This will fire up your posterior chain—the muscles in the back of your body, like your hamstrings and glutes.
You should also exhale on your way back up. Make sure you breathe throughout the move—inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up. You definitely do not want to be holding your breath.
7. Finish strong.
At the top of the squat, try to tuck your pelvis into a neutral position. Just be careful that you are not hyperextending: a common mistake is people pushing their hips too far forward, which can actually make you lean backward and stress your lower back.
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