Imagine kids playing – see how agile and naturally they move? I often admire their activity, their freedom of movement, and willingness to do so. One position they very often use is the squat. They intuitively know how to do a squat and when to use it.
Every time they wanna grab something off the floor or need a rest from staying upright they squat down. No wonder, originally the squat was besides sitting, THE human resting position – until chairs and hours of deskwork arrived in our culture.
As early as school starts, with its 8 hours per day and much sitting involved, many of us lose their ability to squat – because it simply isn’t needed anymore to sustain our day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, this robs us of this precious position with its many benefits. Addressing this problem is my lofty task for this post: After we’ve both talked much about the squat you should know well how to reclaim and keep it in your arsenal of moves.
First off, let’s look at why the squat is that important.
One might say – it’s obsolete. Why dedicate time to train it, if our daily live has no demand for it? My question towards this would be – why train at all? Fitness isn’t needed either to maintain our life. You can get well1 through life being a chain-smoking, lazy, and unsocial fuckup.
The easy answer would be – because we are meant to move. Our modern society changed much for good, but it isn’t perfect and for every two problems solved it ripped other chasms of new arising issues open.
Plus, the bodyweight squat can be very useful, too. Despite the existence of chairs:
It is a great tool to keep mobilityand display great hip, knee, spine, and ankle mechanics.
The squat takes pressure off your low back by staying in it and is a great helper when work at the floor has to be done. Just imagine gardening and picking up your groceries.2
A good squat is a gateway to a variety of other movements if that’s your goal. You could squat heavy, jump explosively, squat sideways or one-legged.
What does an optimal Bodyweight Squat look like?
Got you! This headline was more or less clickbait.
There is no such thing as an optimal squat.
Everyone’s squat looks different. Humans are immensely complex and one is very different from one another. There are tons of hip socket variants, differing muscle insertions, and many other factors3 contributing a role to how your perfect squat may look like.
That’s why for some a very wide squat with feet turned out, might be their way to get the job done, while others prefer to squat narrow with straight feet. Do me a favor and slap everyone lightly who tries to push you into that dogma of squatting narrow with the bullshit of your feet behind your toes.
OK – we got it now. Squats are as unique as people are. What there is are some cues that are commonly used to set people on the right path to their very own healthy squat.
Cues to remember when Squatting
Knees over toes is totally fine
The old myth that knees over toes are harmful is nonsense. Unfortunately, even among fitness professionals, it is widespread.
It is true that it puts some additional force onto your knees. But why is that entirely a bad thing? Stress is what makes your body strong and lets it flourish. It solely gets a problem if the total amount gets too much from one or a variety of sources.
Nonetheless, there is biomechanically no way you can’t squat deep, comfortably, without getting your knees beyond your toes. Slap every trainer with the PVC-Pipe they put in front of your knees, to hammer this dogma into you, with it.
Turn your knees out
By turning your knees out, you activate your glutes and create a stable environment.
It doesn’t have to be executed super strictly – it is just a tendency to keep in mind which should aid you.
Use your feet
One often forgotten part of our bodies are the feet, although they are the very fundament of everything we do as bipeds.4 That’s why stable, healthy, and active feet are very important.
Create a tripod and push with your big toes into the ground. This creates a stable arch – likewise a strong bridge.
Don’t obsess over a buttwink
The buttwink is nothing bad – unless you load your squat. While just squatting your bodyweight it is totally fine and shouldn’t take unnecessary strain onto your lumbar.
When squatting heavy this is a whole ‘nother story.
My favorite exercise is the goblet squat. It is a variation made easier by holding a lighter weight of 5-10kg in front of your body – like you would present a cup in front of you. That’s where this name came from.
By holding a weight in front of you, it is easier to get into the real deal without falling onto your butt. This is a common problem for people lacking hip or ankle mobility. When they hit their limit and try to push further they fall backward. This is very frustrating.
That’s why I love this exercise! You can spend time in a deep squat – which is yet beyond your capabilities and build strength, as well as mobility, there.
Perform the goblet squat for reps, as well as time spent at the very bottom of a deep squat. While in a deep squat play around within it. Move left and right, twist, bend sideways, and not just statically stay there forever.
I would perform 3-5 sets of 12 reps or holds of 30-60s.
Squat Progression II: The Pole Squat
The pole squat is mechanically likewise the goblet squat, with the difference that you grab onto a pole in front of your body to get deeper into it.
It is the version better suited to do within your daily life, outside the gym. I really like it to accumulate time in a deep bodyweight squat, when no weight is around. Like at your flat, at work, or when walking around the park.
The best Way to get it – Squat Everyday!
By doing something daily, or even implementing it into other existing routines – like eating or reading – you make the biggest impact. Logically your body can adapt the best to things done daily.
My advice would be to really make time for 5-10 minutes of squats everyday. While this might sound much it is really quickly done:
Sit in it while brushing your teeth (2x2mins = 4 mins per day)
Sit in it while eating a snack (1min)
Do 5 sets of squats a day (5 min)
Here we go – minimum work done! If you now decide to eat a bigger meal within your squat, work in the garden while squatting, or even unconsciously use it, you even get more work done and will squat perfectly in no time.
What to do after you nailed your Squat?
Use it and squat Everyday
Of course, you could now take it further and try one-legged pistol squat backflips. But why always think competitively?
And if you’re erring on the more competitive side of squats there are a lot of variants to work on:
The simplest way is to load it when your technique is solid. Wanna build very strong legs? Squat heavy!
Wanna improve your arsenal of different squats? There are tons of different variations. You could try Cossacks, Pistols, Shrimps, or explosive jumps and flips. All of these build on the foundational knowledge of how to do a squat perfectly.
Alright, that’s it from my part onto the topic of how to do a squat and the best ways to get there. As you see it’s not that black and white, but a very individual topic – likewise nearly everything in life. One of 1000 different grays.
I hope you could take much home with you and are now set well onto your path towards a solid bodyweight squat. One thing I would really like to know is if I fulfilled my above proclaimed lofty task of writing an easy, but comprehensive squatting guide. Did I manage to do that? Or was my mouth bigger than my brains?
Anyways, have a great time on your #squatjourney! Till then,
I learned a lot about them and how to do a squat from Squat University. I can really recommend his Squat Bible, as well as his Podcast featuring MANY amazing guests, such as Dr. Stuart McGill or Dr. Kelly Starret.
More or less. Mostly less.
One huge problem of people who have forgotten to squat, as well to hinge, is that they overuse their lumbar flexion. Every fucking time they need to grab something up from below they round their lumbar spine. Don’t get me wrong – this movement isn’t bad. None is. But the overuse is. If you could squat, hinge, and bend over and would use all of these three somewhat equally there is the big possibility that a huge amount of back pain could be eradicated.
One interesting factor is your origin. If you are from Asia chances might be you can squat narrow and very deep more easily, than us over here in Europe. We tend to have not so deep and wider hip sockets.
Maybe expect when handbalancing – but even then they are important. Point them goddamn toes!