Hate squats? You may not realize it, but you probably do them as part of your daily activities. So it’s smart to know proper form.
Many people avoid doing squats because they believe they’re going to hurt their knees. However, any time you pick something up from the floor (assuming you’re lifting safely from your legs and not your back), you engage in a squat. Knowing how to do the move properly will ensure that you don’t injure yourself. Besides, says Melissa Hendricks, MEd, manager of the Cleveland Clinic Fitness Centers, contrary to popular belief, adding squats to your exercise routine will actually strengthen, not weaken, your knees. “Squats target the muscles in the front and back of your legs, along with your gluteals and core. The stronger these muscles are, the more stable your knees will be. In fact, stronger muscles above and below your knees serve as shock absorbers for your knees. The fact that most people do not do squats correctly is what can lead to injury,” she says. Here, Hendricks offers a primer on how to perform squats properly.
• First, try not to bend forward at your waist; this is quite common and is usually a sign of a weak core. Bending forward while you’re squatting puts a lot of pressure on your lower back, and it also drives a lot of the strain straight into your knees. To prevent this from happening, keep your back as straight as possible. Try finding a spot on the wall to focus your gaze on throughout the exercise. You may also want to limit how low you squat until you gain more strength in your core and perfect your form.
• Next, make sure you’re not shifting your weight forward into your toes and lifting your heels off the ground. Not only does this put a lot of pressure on the knee joints, it also takes away a lot of the effectiveness of the exercise, since you aren’t using the strong gluteus (butt) muscles to lift you from the squat. When going down into the squat, make sure you can always see your toes. If your knees travel past your toes, then shift your weight back into your glutes more. Try putting a chair or bench behind you, and then aiming for the bench.
• If you are just learning how to squat or have very little lower-body strength, you may also want to consider placing a stability ball behind you, against a wall, and allowing the ball to guide you up and down. This will help you to feel more secure in the exercise, and it will train your muscles for when you’re ready to do your squats without the ball.