The traditional barbell squat (a.k.a. back squat) is one of the most common exercises performed at the gym and given by physiotherapists as a functional strength exercise.
There are many good reasons for this:
Enables co-activation of important muscles such as the glutes and quads in a functional movement
A great maintenance exercise glute and quad strength
Helps increase power for activities such as sprinting and cycling
Helps prevent future osteoarthritis in at-risk joints such as the knees and hips
A good resistance exercise as part of 'core-stability' training
A great energy-burning exercise due to the recruitment of many large muscles during the movement
As the squat is a multi-joint movement, learning good squatting technique can be complex. Whilst there are other considerations for good technique, here are my 4 major tips regarding body mechanics:
Bend your knees
Bending your knees allows you to bend at your ankles and allow the major joints and muscles of your legs to work together to form large strong springs to control the weight on the way down and push the weight back up. This helps to avoid excessive stress through any one joint or groups of muscles. Stiffness or issues with the knee joint complex and ankle joints may limit your technique.
Stick your bottom out
The glutes are one of the most powerful muscle groups in the whole body. An effective squat requires strong hip extension. Research shows that the hip extensor muscles (primarily gluteus maximus) are most effective when the hip is flexed, which requires you to stick your bottom behind you on the way down. You should stick your bottom out comfortably and naturally rather than ‘reach’ behind you with your bottom. A common mistake people make is they try to keep their upper body as upright as possible which places excessive stress through the low back. Sticking the bottom out allows for the body to bend at the hips to spread pressure through the strong hip muscles rather than centred to the low back. For some, hip joint issues may cause pain at the front of the hip and/or groin with squats.
Keep your back straight / avoid rounding your back
Along the lines of the previous tip, save yourself from low back troubles by allowing your trunk to tilt forwards whilst maintaining a straight posture without excessive bending. If you are unable to keep your back relatively straight as you travel down, you are either not following tip 1 and 2 enough or you are squatting too deeply.
Keep your knees in line with your hips and feet
By keeping your legs in good alignment, you can avoid excessive knee joint stresses. It would be a shame to be unable to squat due to knee pain!
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