The importance of proper form during compound lifts cannot be overstated – it reduces your risk of injury and ensures that the exercise stress is being imposed on the targeted muscles to maximise the adaptive response. This will ultimately deliver more muscle and greater gains in performance over time.
And if there’s one exercise that is performed with poor or sloppy form, more so than any other, it has to be the squat! While most lifters execute it incorrectly unconsciously and unintentionally as they never learnt correct form at the outset, other mistakes stem from pervasive conventional advice shared in the weights room that has proven to be wrong or inaccurate.
Whatever the reason, poor form needs to be stamped out, particularly when executing the squat as it can cause serious injury to your back, hips and knees. Here’s six ways you’re likely squatting incorrectly, with tips on how to fix it…
Issue #1: Stifled stance
A lot has been said and written about the ideal stance for a deep, powerful squat, but the truth is that there’s no universal law governing the appropriate distance between your legs and feet. That’s because everyone is different. We each have different biomechanics and anatomical structures. We vary in height and all have differing levels of mobility. This means you need to find the ideal stance that suits your body best. The general rule of thumb is hip-width apart, but you can go slightly wider or narrower if that feels more comfortable.
Issue #2: Sissy squatting
The ability to only squat to parallel is a sign of poor hip mobility. So, rather than reinforce an existing issue, take some time away from the squat rack to improve your mobility. Unless there’s a serious injury, pain or structural impediment, there is no reason why you can’t get low and power through a full range of motion on every rep.
Issue #3: Your head position
You may have been taught that powerful squats are led with the head… well, that’s not true. Lifting your chin to look up at the ceiling as you power out of the hole can alter your spinal position and change your upward trajectory. Shifting your head backwards and craning your neck can also result in a nerve impingement in the cervical spine, or can close the neural transmission pathway along your spine thereby impeding the brain’s ability to effectively communicate with your muscles. Rather keep your neck straight and aligned with your spine and your gaze cast forward.
Issue #4: Your foot placement
Most purists will suggest that you keep your feet pointed forward, while others say a slight angle of 15-30 degrees is acceptable. As mentioned, there is no right or wrong answer. The question should be whether this is done to compensate for a lack of strength in the adductors or due to a strength asymmetry in the hip extensors. Ultimately you want to create a platform that feels natural and comfortable, but that requires symmetrical strength and adequate mobility in the associated structures. Whatever foot stance you adopt, be sure to track your knees over your toes to limit the internal or external rotation of the knee.
Issue #5: Tippy toes
Keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground is essential for a strong and balanced squat. This base creates a solid foundation and shifting the weight onto your toes erodes this stability. An inability to keep your heels down during a squat could also be due to poor ankle mobility or poor hip mobility. In either case, it’s best to rack the weight and abstain from squatting until you are able to develop the requisite mobility to get that ass to the grass with your heels still firmly planted on the floor.
Test your foundation: Once you reach the deep squat position, try wiggling your toes. If you can’t do so without losing your balance, your weight is not adequately distributed through your feet. Work on shifting your weight onto your heels.
Issue #6: Trunk sway
A great deal of your power and stability in the deep squat stems from your torso position. When guys who lack adequate hip and ankle mobility try to get their heels on the floor, they often compensate at the hips by leaning forward. This shifts your centre of mass by taking your hips and shoulders (where you’re carrying the weight) out of alignment. This can throw you off balance or, worse, place immense stress on your lower back. As you move through the squat, ensure that you keep your spine in a neutral position and your torso upright.