Squats are one of the most basic human movements. Small children squat down to the floor with ease to play. Some people can squat and touch the floor for life, while others lose the flexibility and strength to do so. Sometimes this is due to lack of use and in other cases it’s from injury.
If your knees are healthy, squats are a great exercise to incorporate into your exercise routine, with or without weights. You can also use them as an interval on a walk, to get your heart rate up. Stop every 10 minutes and do 15 squats. When you do squats, your joints get to move into their full range of motion and synovial fluid has a chance to lubricate them. This keeps the joints healthy and flexible.
Below are some common squat form cues and alternatives to them if they don’t feel quite right.
Form Cue #1 – Feet hip width apart. This is a good starting place for a squat stance. It places your joints in alignment to distribute your body weight evenly. If you want to work your inner thigh muscles more, make the stance wider. If you want to work your outer thigh muscles more, make your stance more narrow.
Form Cue #2 – Toes facing forward. Give this a try and if it feels awkward, march in place and see where your feet land. If they’re slightly turned out, then your pelvis bone might have a slight angle to it. It might be better for your feet to be turned out. The most important part about your feet is that they are pointing the same way, whether it’s forward or slightly turned out. You can also turn your feet and knees out on purpose to work your inner thighs more directly.
Form Cue #3 – Straight Spine. Butt out Chest out is one way this is communicated and cued. It’s not always most appropriate. Traditionally, a squat is the way that a human picks something up off the floor or how they eliminate waste. The shoulders naturally round forward in this movement of collapsing toward the floor. Find a happy medium. Straight spine is different for everyone. Don’t hunch forward with your shoulders, but also don’t over-do trying to stick your chest out too far.
Form Cue #4 – Neutral Head. When squatting, you can find a neutral head position by keeping your eyes on the floor about ten feet in front of you. Many people can be seen looking forward or up. This crunches the cervical vertebrae together and can pinch nerves. Add weight to the shoulders and it gets even more dangerous. Do a few shoulder rolls before you squat and find a relaxed position for your neck.
Form Cue #5 – Relax Your Shoulders. This form cue is helpful for many exercises. Somehow our shoulders find their way up to our ears. Keep those shoulders down away from your ears during squats, push-ups, cardio, etc. and you’ll be less likely to land up with neck tension down the road.
Form Cue #6 – Go as low as comfortable. If you can touch the ground with your hands and keep your heels on the floor, that’s ideal. Any toddler can do this with ease. It uses your body’s full range of motion. Otherwise, go as low as you can without joint discomfort. See the final note below on body awareness…
Use these tips to get you started and then close your eyes while you squat. Feel what’s happening in your body and find what position works best for you. Think through each part of your body while you’re squatting and reduce joint tension as much as possible. The muscles should be tense because they are working, but the joints should move and glide freely. Body awareness is priceless when it comes to exercise.