Fix Your Squat Technique

STACK Expert Bill DeLongis shows you how to fix problems and perform Squats with perfect technique to get the best out of this "king of exercises."

Barbell Squat

The Squat is commonly referred to as the king of exercises, and rightfully so. It strengthens the entire body, is functional in everyday life, transfers to athletics, and is a great diagnostic tool to find imbalances and poor movement mechanics.

That being said, the Squat can be a lot more technical than just sitting and standing. Here are some of the biggest Squat problems I find with athletes I coach, along with ways to correct them. If you have any of the following Squat technique problems, you are leaving yourself at risk for injury and decreased performance.

Problem 1: Not reaching proper depth

Not going low enough in your Squat is one of the most frowned upon things in the strength training community. But sometimes initially, athletes cannot go low enough. The main reasons I have found for lack of depth are poor mobility/flexibility, being too weak to handle an external load and attempting to lift more than you're capable of.

Performing the following 4-minute warm-up before squatting helps my athletes gain the needed mobility:

Lower-Body Warm-Up

The next way I tackle this problem is by starting all my athletes off with Box Squats. I like Box Squats because they give the athlete a target to reach, so every rep is to the proper depth. If an athlete cannot reach depth due to a mobility or strength issue, I make the box a little higher than parallel and lower the box over time as he or she gains strength and mobility.

Problem 2: Knees cave in (knee valgus)

If your knees cave during your Squat, you are putting stress on your knees and leaving yourself more prone to injuries such as ACL tears. Tight hip adductors and weak hip abductors—and lack of awareness that this is poor form—commonly cause this technique error. To fix it, you need to perform soft tissue work on the tight hip adductors, then stretch them; perform isolation strength exercises for those weak abductors (gluteus medius); and use the cues below. Perform the following three times per week during your warm-up until the imbalance is corrected.

Adductor massage: 1 minute per leg

Adductor stretch: 1 minute per leg

Banded clams: 2 sets of 20 reps

Cue 1: Screw your feet into the ground and spread the floor with your feet by trying to rip through the outside of your shoes.

Cue 2: Push your knees out

Problem 3: Excessive forward lean

A slight forward lean is perfectly fine, but if your Squat starts looking more like a Good Morning than a Squat, you are asking for low-back issues. This usually occurs because you are not getting your upper back tight enough, your core isn't engaged or your hip flexors are too tight.

To achieve the needed upper-back tightness, duck under the center of the bar and pull your shoulder blades together with your hands as close as possible, allowing your elbows to stay inside your hands. Do not pull your elbows straight back. Instead, pull your elbows down and slightly back with your hands wrapped tightly around the bar with an outward (external) rotation at the wrist.

Cue 1: Pry the bar over your upper back.

Cue 2: Pull your elbows to the middle of your body.

Another problem could be your core. For every rep, be sure to engage your core and expand your midsection with air. Exhale at the end of the rep but make sure to get your air before every rep. Also, incorporate the following core workout and hip flexor stretch at the end of the workout twice a week.

Cue 1: Breathe into your stomach and low back.

Cue 2: Get fat with air.

SB Alphabet Plank

  • Move your arms to spell the alphabet.
  • Perform 2 sets.

Plate-Behind-the-Head Sit-Ups

  • 10 pounds for females and 25 pounds for males is a good start.
  • 2x12

Side Plank

  • 2x20 seconds

Weighted Back Extensions

  • 2x12

Hip-Flexor Flossing

  • 2x1 minute each leg

Problem 4: Asymmetrical shift

If your hips shift to the right or left during your Squat, you have an asymmetrical shift and are leaving yourself susceptible to groin, hamstring and quad strains as well as low-back pain. What normally causes this imbalance is that the hip adductors on the same side as your shift are too tight, while the hip abductors on the same side of the shift and the hip adductors on the opposite side of the shift are too weak. To correct, incorporate more single-leg exercises like Step-Ups and add the following corrective program to your warm-up three times a week until the imbalance is cured.

Adductor massage on same side as shift: 1 minute

Adductor stretch on same side as shift

  • 2x1 minute

Adductor strengthening on side opposite shift

  • 2x15 w/ 2-second isometric hold on each rep

Lateral Band Walk on same side as shift

  • 2x15

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