Breakdown of the Perfect Squat

When I was a teenager I got into competitive powerlifting. Feeling strong and capable in the gym gave me a foundation of confidence that I don’t even think I realized until I was much older.

I love all of the power lifts but my favorite has to be the squat. It’s known as the “king of exercises” because it is a fundamental human movement pattern that involves nearly every muscle in the body…

In fact, a squat was the first movement you ever did and no one even had to teach you how to do it!

baby squat at the beach

But as we get older and spend more time sitting at our desks, in our cars, and on our couches we slowly lose the strength and mobility to perform this simple exercise that combats so many chronic musculoskeletal problems we deal with these days.

The squat improves fitness, performance, and mobility in daily life by requiring all of the muscles of the spine, torso, legs, and feet to be both stable and mobile in order to execute the movement properly.

In general, you will keep the weight rooted in the mid-foot and heel throughout the entire movement and the knees will always follow the direction of the toes — if your toes are turned out then your knees will follow that alignment. Chest remains lifted as hips reach back then down.

Here are my 5 Expert Tips to help you perfect your squat:

  1. Press hips back first – pushing the hips back before you begin squatting down will help you do two important things 1) activate the hips to help stabilize the pelvis and knee joints and 2) keep the weight shifted into the mid-foot and heels to protect your knees from pain.
  2. Draw shoulder blades together to keep chest “proud” – retracting the shoulder blades into the spine naturally opens the collar bones and lifts the chest, which helps maintain proper spinal alignment to reduce back pain and injury. It’s also a great way to build better posture.
  3. Lift out of your waist – this is an old trick from my days as a ballerina. Start by toning the navel toward the spine, then lengthen your torso standing tall. As you squat imagine a glass of water on your head that you don’t want to spill — to do this you’ll attempt to stay “lifted out of your waist” even though you are squatting down. As if resisting gravity, you’ll create a sense of buoyancy that will more easily allow you to drive back up to standing.
  4. Energize your knees – this is a cue from yoga that reminds us one of the most important aspects of healthy movement is alignment. Energizing the knees means they neither splay out nor cave in during the squat — actively holding the alignment of the knees over toes is vital to building proper strength and power while avoiding injury.
  5. Activate hamstrings and glutes as you stand up – with the weight pressing into the heels it’s easier to access your posterior chain muscles. Actively engaging the hamstrings and glutes as you return to standing will generate power and protect joints.

The squat is something we should all be able to do — think about how many times a day we are already doing a squatting motion… to sit in a chair, get in the car, pick something up off the floor, go to the bathroom… and on and on.

If you can squat with good mechanics and healthy alignment you will not only be training nearly every muscle in your body, you will also be building confidence for life in ways you never even thought possible.

In Love & Gratitude,

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Missi Holt