The squat is one of the most important movement patterns when it comes to resistance training for health and performance. Perfecting your form in the squat will allow you to build a strong and capable body over time whereas continuing with poor technique may result in increasing the risk of injury. Whether you’re learning the squat or looking to improve your current squat, the exercises provided here will be very effective at improving the form of your squat.
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Squat technique should not be a complicated topic, but some in the fitness industry are intent on not letting go of some strange theories around the dangers of putting the hips lower than 90 degrees. To this point, I would just like to say that moving through the full range of motion on any other movement pattern (hinge, press, pull etc) is never considered dangerous at any point, nor should it be for the squat.
The squat involves lowering the hips towards the floor through bending at the knees, with the back staying upright and the feet staying flat on the floor. You should move to the end of your range of motion, your range of motion may mean your hips are very close to the floor or that they do not pass under the knee. The toes should be at a slight angle and the knees should stay over the toes at all times throughout the movement. All these factors result in a very good looking squat.
Moving incorrectly in the squat can increase your chances of getting injured. The squat is one of the injuries with the highest injury rates in the gym, this is likely because of the lack of mobility the majority of people have in the hips and the lower back, then loading these tight joints with weight they are not prepared for mixed with poor technique, all come together in a perfect storm to make injury much more likely.
Squatting with great technique will allow you to mitigate these injuries, through moving through your appropriate range of motion, with appropriate loading, you will be able to avoid injuries. Squat injuries often occur at the knee due to valgus knees (the knees caving in) as this puts a great deal of pressure on the knee joint itself and not the muscles in the leg. This is an example of both a technical and mobility issue that needs to be addressed. Learning and correcting your squat technique will be very important if you want to mitigate injury.
Without sufficient technique, it will be impossible to reach your potential of strength. Learning great technique in a movement pattern is like building the base of a pyramid, if you do not lay the correct foundations then you will never be capable of reaching your peak. Sometimes taking a step back from your current technique and levels of strength to re-learn the movement pattern is really important, it is hard to take steps back in a strength endeavour to work on technique, but for the long term can be highly beneficial. Try and think about how important these skills like squats and hinges will be to build long term health and strength, rather than the short term of your performance.
If you’re still in the learning to squat phase of your training journey, then you may want to use these exercises as tools on your way to mastery. Learning to squat with good technique can take anything from a couple of sessions to months of training. Either way, all of these exercises will be beneficial at different points in your skill acquisition.
These exercises are also very effective at rebuilding broken squat form or progressing a squat which isn’t quite there yet. Some individuals need to take a great deal of time to rebuild their squat, especially if they have years of maladaptive movement patterns that need to be altered.
There needs to be a distinction made between what is causing the issues in your squat, is it a mobility issue or is it a technique issue that is preventing the desired movement pattern. This distinction is really important because without it you will not be able to use the correct exercises to solve the issue. A lot of the time these issues are intertwined with one another, especially in beginners. When you cannot perform the movement pattern correctly because of a mobility issue you need to actively use exercises like those in this list to progress your mobility whereas when you have a technique issue you will need to use corrective exercises also like the ones in this list to improve your technique.
A great way to progressively improve your squat form is to add exercises that you need to perform into your warm up. Imagine your squat form isn’t perfect because you are lacking in mobility, adding squat mobility exercises into your warm up can be a great solution to this. It also helps save time meaning you can still get your squat strength work in while your progressively improving your mobility.
These exercises can in some instances take up the main part of your training session by adding them in as either your primary or secondary exercise selection. This is useful either when you have a huge technical issue and need to completely re-work how you squat or when you are a beginner and need to use simple and easy exercises to help you learn proper squat form.
A great way to work on small technical shifts during your standard squat session is to add corrective exercises in between your squat working sets. This will allow you to continue to work on your strength whilst also focusing on some technical points.
The kettlebell counterbalance squat is my favourite exercise to both help learn and relearn squat technique. Keeping the torso upright is one of the most challenging parts of the squat and the counterbalance from the KB will help you to maintain an upright posture throughout the squat. This sensation can then be applied to other squat variations like the back squat.
The Goblet squat is a great tool for beginners as it can help not only learn the squat movement pattern but also build strength at the same time. The goblet squat again encourages an upright posture with the weight in front, helping individuals learn to lift with the legs and not the back. Building the initial building blocks of strength with the goblet squat is a great idea before transitioning to a landmine and barbell squat.
Goblet squats with ankle rocks are designed to help open up the ankle joint prior to a squat session. These can be used to great effect by those who struggle with ankle mobility, performing them consistently prior to a squat session and squatting with your full range of motion will enable you to build mobility over time.
The goblet squat with release is a mobility exercise that can be used in warm ups to help improve squat depth. It uses the kettlebell to allow a certain range which may be difficult without it, therefore when the kettlebell is placed on the floor it challenges the mobility of the hips and ankles a great deal. Using this as a warm up before squat sessions is a great intervention to improve squat mobility and therefore squat form.
The goblet lateral lunge is a brilliant way for individuals to improve their squat mobility through progressive loading. This exercise will work both knee, hip and ankle mobility, making it an extremely effective mobility and warm up exercise for those who’s squat form is poor due to a lacking of range of motion.
The squat with TRX support is only really for beginners who want to improve their form. The TRX will allow them to take the weight off the lower body, making it easier to test out technique changes that they would not be capable of without the TRX. This is for people who are lacking a lot of strength, usually due to an extremely sedentary lifestyle or ageing.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.