Are you squatting properly?

Libby O'Sullivan

You have probably done (or at least seen) squats as an exercise, maybe in a gym or fitness session. It’s such a great exercise because it can be done anywhere, it doesn’t require a lot of equipment, it gives you a good thigh and butt burn and it gets your heart rate up because you are using those big muscle groups. But for such a seemingly simple exercise, there are a lot of ‘rules’ to follow!

Before we get into the HOW lets cover WHY it is important that you can squat and that you can do it properly.

Why squat?

The simple squat can offer a range of benefits. As a strengthening exercise it can:

  • improve your thigh and butt strength and tone
  • help maintain or improve your bone density
  • improve your deep abdominal strength and function
  • make every day functional activities easier
  • make it easier for you to walk up and down stairs and hills

Why squat properly?

Like any exercise, good technique will allow the exercise to work it’s magic! You will simply get more out of the exercise for your strength, tone and balance if you do it properly. When done with poor technique, the squat (especially when it’s done repetitively or with weights) can increase your risk of:

  • patello-femoral / knee pain
  • hip pain
  • lower back pain
  • upper back pain

to name a few…

Now, if you’re thinking you don’t need to learn good technique because you have no plans to engage in this ‘exercise’ business, think again! You use squats ALL the time, or at least you should if you don’t want to overload your spine! You squat when you pick the toys up off the floor, put your babies into their bouncer/swing, do the weeding/gardening, even get down into and up from a low couch / chair.

So, using a squat when you need it AND doing it properly can keep you functionally fitter and also save your backs from overload!

How should you squat?

Alignment

A squat might look a bit different on different people. They can be done deep or shallow, with feet wide or narrow, with toes straight or turned out (as long as knees follow), but there are a few key rules that we should all follow:

  • Shins should be as close to vertical as possible
  • Knees should not move forward of your toes
  • Knees should track over 2nd/3rd toe
  • Stick your bum out, back and down
  • Keep your tailbone untucked
  • Keep your ribs down, not flared out with chest
  • Shoulders should be back and down
  • Weight should be through your mid-foot and heel, not your toes and ball of foot

When to breathe

Like most exercises, you should breathe out through the ‘hard part’, or the ‘work’. In the case of a squat, aim to breathe in and relax your pelvic floor as you lower down. Then breathe out and engage your core as you stand up.

So:

  • Inhale as you go down 
  • Exhale as you go up
Looking after your pelvic floor

Squatting is generally a pelvic floor safe exercise, especially when done with good technique. To keep it extra safe, make sure you:

  • breathe out and draw up your pelvic floor, especially through the pushing up phase
  • avoid very deep squats
  • only progress weights used in your squats gradually and in line with your strength
  • always monitor for new symptoms which might indicate you are overdoing it / not doing it properly.

So if you’re not already doing squats regularly, why not throw a few in? And as always, if you need some extra guidance or are experiencing any pain, see your physio.