Squats are a staple exercise for any serious lifter. Whether increasing glute mass, building strong legs, or maintaining healthy joints, all lifters should learn to squat properly.
Even squatting light, using the proper form is essential. Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know to squat with perfect form. We’ll cover some common squat mistakes and provide tips to perfecting squat form.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Perform Squats with Proper Form
- 2 Squatting with Proper Form: FAQs
- 3 Other Exercise Posts
- 3.1 The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- 3.2 The Top 5 Leg Press Muscles Worked
- 3.3 Incline Bench Press Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 3.4 Side Plank Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.5 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 3.6 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 3.7 The Top 10 Muscles Worked by Planks
- 3.8 Front Squat Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.9 Seated Cable Row Benefits, Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.10 The 5 Best Gym Machines for Chest
- 3.11 How to Deadlift with Proper Form
- 3.12 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 3.13 Decline Bench Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.14 Lat Pulldown Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.15 The 7 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 3.16 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.17 The Landmine Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits and Form
- 3.18 Leg Extension Benefits and Muscles Worked
How to Perform Squats with Proper Form
- Set up barbell in rack to align with mid-sternum.
- Load barbell with desiredweight.
- Grip barbell with thumbs on top, wrists straight, and hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Duck underneath the barbell and step forward so bar is directly over the midfoot.
- Set barbell across upper traps or rear delts.
- Tuck elbows tight into torso and draw shoulder blades together.
- Take a few steps back from the squat rack and set heels approximately hip-width.
- Turn toes out slightly so that knees track over toes.
- Push hips back, bend knees, and push knees out over toes to start descending.
- Allow chest to bend forward while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Take a deep breath into the abdomen slowly descend until hip crease is below knees.
- Begin ascent by driving hips straight up and extending knees.
- Squeeze glutes to complete the rep.
- Repeat steps 10-13 for desired number of reps.
- Walk barbell forward until it grazes the vertical columns of the squat rack.
- Bend knees to drop the barbell back into its rack hooks.
- Repeat for desired number of sets.
Check out this helpful video from Barbell Logic for a visual demonstration of proper squat form. Skip to 0:14 to learn how to perfect the bodyweight squat, or to 1:55 for a demonstration of the barbell squat.
Squat Form Tips
- First learn to properly squat bodyweight
- Experiment with different grip widths
- Balance weight through midfoot
- Push knees out slightly on descent
- Maintain a neutral spine
- Push hips backward
- Keep gaze out and down
- Slow down eccentric and explode on concentric
- Brace and breathe before each rep
- Squat deep enough without sacrificing form
First learn to properly squat bodyweight
Perfecting the bodyweight squat is an underrated way to learn to squat heavy weights with proper form. Slow down each rep and focus on engaging the correct muscles. Get familiar with the tempo and movement path of the bodyweight squat so muscles adapt to the movement pattern for a weighted squat.
Experiment with different grip widths
Each lifter is different and may need a slightly different grip to squat properly and safely. Use a narrow grip while maintaining straight wrists that align with the forearms. Larger lifters with more mass on their upper arms may need a wider grip, while smaller or very mobile lifters may be able to use a narrower grip.
Balance weight through midfoot
Keep a stable footing by pressing into all four corners of the feet. Keep the weight balanced directly over the midfoot and avoid rocking back onto the heels or forward onto the toes. Maintaining this alignment helps keep the bar path straight and will create more stablility. If rocking forward and back, lower the weight and practice engaging the core to maintain a rigid upper torso.
Push knees out slightly on descent
When bending the knees to drop into the squat, squeeze the knees outward to engage the quads and glutes more effectively. The knees should track directly over the toes, which should turn out at around 30 degrees.
Maintain neutral spine
Your spine should be rigid from the top of your lumbar spine to the base of your neck. Your torso can lean forward from the hips, but avoid rounding or arching the spine to avoid spinal compression or other back injury.
Push hips backward
Rather than dropping straight down into a squat, push the butt back as the knees bend to ensure the hamstrings, quads, and glutes absorb the barbell’s load. Pushing the hips backward creates pretension in the posterior chain, helping engage the correct muscle groups and allows for safer lifting of heavier weights.
Keep gaze out and down
Before descending, pick a spot about four to six feet ahead and fix gaze there throughout each rep for stability and focus. Looking too far up can compress the neck and upper spine, especially under heavy loads. Looking around and not keeping a fixed gaze can interrupt balance and cause loss of mind-muscle connection.
Slow down eccentric and explode on concentric
Muscles throughout the human body are stronger during eccentric contractions than concentric or isometric contractions. In a squat, the eccentric contraction occurs while lowering down into the bottom of the rep. Get the most out of the portion of the lift where muscles are strongest by taking two to three seconds to lower into the squat, pausing, then exploding up quickly. Slowing down the eccentric portion of a squat also protects the knees and hips from injury.
Brace and breathe before each rep
Take a deep breath at the top of each rep and retain the breath during the two to three seconds it takes to descend. Breathe out at the top of the concentric and then take another breath to brace the torso before starting the next reps. Never breathe during the active portion of the squat, as it can cause you to lose your brace and destabilize your upper body.
Squat deep enough without sacrificing form
Some lifters may have excellent hip, ankle, and knee mobility that allows them to hit ass to grass in their squats. However, there is no need to force the body into an uncomfortable or unstable position. Squat until you can get the thighs parallel to the ground or slightly lower. Focus on maintaining tension in the hamstrings and glutes at the bottom of each rep and only go as deep as you can while maintaining proper form.
Common Squat Mistakes
- Allowing knees to cave on ascent
- Lifting hips before back
- Lifting heels
- Losing tension at bottom
- Not engaging glutes
- Not squatting with adequate depth
- Choosing an inappropriate stance width
- Not keeping weight over midfoot
- Wearing inappropriate footwear
- Rounding or arching spine
Allowing knees to cave on ascent
Never let the knees collapse when squatting, as it can stress the ligaments and fail to engage the correct muscle groups. If knees continue drifting inward, drop the weight or do some bodyweight squats with a small loop resistance band around the thighs. The added tension will provide feedback and force the knees to push outward against the band.
Lifting hips before back
Letting the hips rise before the chest turns a squat exercise into a “good morning squat,” stressing the lumbar spine and adding tension to the lower back. The entire body should lift as a single unit, with the back remaining in a neutral, upright position through each squat rep.
Lifted heels during squats are often a sign of poor ankle mobility or a weight that is too heavy. Keep digging the heels into the ground to ensure you use the correct muscle groups and avoid knee discomfort or injury.
Losing tension at bottom
Maintain tension at the bottom of the squat position. Avoid sinking into the hole at the bottom of the squat, as this will make it harder to generate the force required to stand up straight. Keep squeezing the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, and maintain tension in the upper back muscles to complete the squat safely.
Not engaging glutes
The glutes are among the strongest muscles in the body and are responsible for hip flexion, the primary movement in a squat. Failing to properly contract the glutes when squatting limits your strength and makes it harder to squat correctly. Activate the glutes before squatting and consciously try to squeeze them during every rep.
Not squatting with adequate depth
Failing to hit at least parallel depth during squats shortens the range of motion and limits muscle activation and growth in your quads. Squats that are not deep enough can increase knee tension because the load shifts into your hips once the thighs are parallel with the ground.
Choosing an inappropriate stance width
Most lifters squat with the feet hip-width apart or slightly wider, but everyone’s biomechanics differ. Experiment with your stance using lighter weights or bodyweight squats to find the starting position that allows you to squat correctly and feel the target muscle groups engage.
Not keeping weight over midfoot
To squat with proper form, the weight should always remain directly over the center of gravity. Failing to keep the weight over the midfoot affects the bar path. The weight will start to rock back over the heels or forward over the toes, activating the wrong muscles and potentially causing the heels or toes to lose contact with the ground. Keeping the weight centered is essential even when doing a bodyweight squat and becomes critical for safety when using a heavy weight.
Wearing inappropriate footwear
Avoid wearing running shoes or regular trainers when doing squats. Many sneakers will have unbalanced bases or excess cushioning that can throw you off balance and impede the effectiveness of squats. Always wear flat-soled shoes, lifting shoes with a heel, or squat barefoot to maintain a solid, stable base.
Rounding or arching the spine
Keeping a straight spine and braced upper body is critical for performing squats properly. Avoid arching the lower back by engaging the glutes and tucking the pelvis, and prevent rounding the spine by bracing the upper back muscles and squeezing the abdominals. Work on hip mobility and abdominal strength and experiment with different stances if maintaining a neutral spine is difficult.
Squatting with Proper Form: FAQs
Several squat variations can support you in reaching strength, hypertrophy, or performance goals. The barbell squat is the traditional squat exercise in competitive sports like Powerlifting.
If you don’t like doing back squats, you may prefer one of the below squat variations.
The goblet squat is performed with a weight held close to the chest and puts less stress on the lower back; pistol squat is performed one leg at a time and is great for improving muscular symmetry and mobility; bodyweight squat is essential to nail before moving on to heavy, weighted squats and is ideal for warming up before adding weight; box squat is great for drilling the cue of pushing the hips back, performed by sitting back onto a box or bench and can improve squat form and depth; front squat is performed with the barbell or other weight held in front of the body. It requires good upper body mobility and strength and engages the quads and core more than a back squat; overhead squat is an advanced squat movement requiring excellent shoulder and thoracic mobility. It targets the entire body, including the legs, glutes, shoulders, and core muscles. Holding the weight steady overhead requires good balance and strength and can help improve squat depth and form.
The most important difference between the leg press and the squat is that the squat engages more muscles of the lower body and core compared to the leg press. In order to perform the squat correctly, muscles of the core and lower back activate to stabilize the upper body.
For more detail, check out our squat vs leg press deep dive.