Squat Form: Everything You Need to Know (Science-Based) 

A vector image of a man doing a sumo squat - it is the main image to the article "hack squat reverse"

The importance of proper squat form cannot be overstated. 

With an exercise as dangerous as it is effective, knowing how to correctly perform a squat is absolutely vital for your well-being in the fitness world. 

Let’s dive right into it and take a look at everything you need to know about squat form.  

The Basics: Proper Squat Form 

Mastering proper squat form is essential to maximize the benefits of this foundational exercise while minimizing the risk of injury.  

Squats are a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups, making it crucial to maintain correct form throughout the exercise. Here are the key elements of proper squat form: 

The Details: How to Do a Squat Correctly Every Time, Step by Step 

Step 1: Stand Straight with Feet Hip-Width Apart. 

Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider.  

Position your feet parallel or turned slightly outward to allow for a comfortable range of motion. 

Step 2: Tighten Your Stomach Muscles. 

Tighten your stomach muscles to stabilize your core.  

This helps maintain a neutral spine and prevents excessive rounding or arching. 

Step 3: Lower Down, as if Sitting in an Invisible Chair. 

Lower down into the squat by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. 

Imagine sitting back into an imaginary chair.  

Keep your chest up, and your weight evenly distributed across your feet. 

Step 4: Straighten Your Legs to Lift Back Up. 

Aim to squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below, depending on your flexibility and comfort.  

Avoid going too low if it compromises your form or causes discomfort. 

Straighten your legs to ascend to the top position.  

Step 5: Repeat the Movement. 

Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.  

How Many Squats Should You Do a Day? 

The number of squats you should do in a day depends on various factors, including your fitness level, goals, and overall workout routine.

It’s generally recommended to incorporate squats into your training regimen at least two to three times a week. However, the specific number of squats per day can vary. 

Saying this, a range of 8-12 is a good goal to strive for general muscle and strength gains.  

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll also want to make sure you leave 48 hours in-between squat sessions if your main goal is muscle growth. 

5 Major Benefits of Squats 

1. They’ll Prime You to Lift Heavy Things Safely 

Squats engage your lower body muscles, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.  

By strengthening these muscles, squats enhance your ability to lift heavy objects safely and with proper mechanics. 

2. They’re Totally Time Efficient 

Squats are a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups simultaneously. 

Incorporating squats into your workout routine allows you to target various muscle groups in a time-efficient manner, making the most of your training sessions. 

3. They Can Prevent Injuries 

Strong muscles and joints are less prone to injuries.  

Squats help develop lower body strength and stability, which can protect against common injuries, such as strains or sprains, especially in the knees and hips. 

4. They Are Functional Fitness 

Squats mimic movements we perform in our daily lives, like sitting down and standing up.  

By improving your squat strength, you enhance your functional fitness, making everyday activities easier and more efficient. 

5. They Don’t Require Any Fancy Equipment 

One of the beauties of squats is that they can be performed with just your body weight.  

You can also add resistance by using dumbbells, barbells, or resistance bands if desired.  

This versatility makes squats accessible to everyone, regardless of their access to gym equipment. 

How Many Calories Do Squats Burn? 

While squats are a fantastic exercise for building strength and toning your muscles, they also provide a calorie-burning benefit.  

The number of calories you burn during squats can vary depending on factors such as your body weight, intensity, and duration of the exercise.  

On average, a person weighing around 155 pounds can expect to burn approximately 200 to 300 calories per 30 minutes of squatting. 

However, it’s important to note that squats alone won’t lead to significant calorie burn compared to cardiovascular exercises like running or cycling.  

The primary focus of squats is on strengthening and toning your lower body muscles. 

If your goal is primarily calorie burn, incorporating squats into a well-rounded exercise routine that includes cardiovascular activities and a balanced diet will yield the best results. 

Proper Squat Depth 

Achieving proper squat depth is essential for maximizing the benefits of the exercise and ensuring safety.  

The ideal squat depth can vary from person to person, depending on factors such as flexibility and joint health.  

Generally, a good starting point is to aim for a squat depth where your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below. 

Maintaining proper depth is crucial for engaging the targeted muscles effectively, especially the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.  

However, it’s essential to find a depth that is comfortable for you without compromising your form or feeling any pain or discomfort.  

If you have any pre-existing conditions or concerns about squat depth, it’s always advisable to consult with a fitness professional or physical therapist. 

Muscles Worked 

Squats are a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups throughout your body. The primary muscles targeted during squats include: 

Quadriceps: Located in the front of your thighs, the quads are responsible for extending your knees during the upward phase of the squat. 

Hamstrings: The muscles at the back of your thighs, the hamstrings, work to bend your knees and assist in hip extension during squats. 

Glutes: The largest muscle group in your buttocks, the glutes, play a significant role in hip extension during the upward phase of the squat. 

Additionally, squats also activate various stabilizer muscles, including the calves, core muscles, lower back, and upper back muscles. These muscles work together to provide stability, balance, and support throughout the squat movement. 

Squat Videos 

Link: How to PROPERLY Squat for Growth (4 Easy Steps) – YouTube 

Squat Safety 

Knee Safety 

Avoid allowing your knees to cave inward or go beyond your toes. Maintain proper alignment and distribute the weight evenly across your feet. 

Lower Back Safety 

Keep your lower back neutral and avoid excessive rounding or arching. Engage your core muscles to provide stability and support. 

Failing Reps Safely 

If you’re unable to complete a rep, it’s essential to have safety measures in place. 

Using safety bars or having a spotter can help ensure you can safely rack the weight or receive assistance if needed. 

Squat Technique 

Squat Stance 

Begin by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, with toes pointed slightly outward. Experiment with different stances to find what feels most comfortable and natural for your body. 

Feet and Toes 

Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the squat. Ensure your weight is evenly distributed across your entire foot, with your heels down and toes gripping the floor. 

Knees 

As you squat down, track your knees in line with your toes. Avoid allowing your knees to cave inward or extend excessively beyond your toes. 

Shins 

Keep your shins relatively vertical during the movement to maintain proper balance and prevent excessive forward lean. 

Hips 

Initiate the squat by pushing your hips back and down, as if sitting into an imaginary chair. This helps engage your glutes and ensures proper hip hinging. 

Lower Back 

Maintain a neutral spine throughout the squat. Avoid excessive rounding or arching of your lower back, which can place unnecessary stress on your spine. 

Grip 

If using a barbell, choose a grip width that feels comfortable for you. Ensure a secure grip on the bar while keeping your wrists aligned with your forearms. 

Bar Position 

Place the barbell securely on your upper back, across the meaty portion of your trapezius muscles. Use padding or a towel for added comfort, if necessary. 

Elbows 

Position your elbows under the barbell to create a stable shelf for it to rest on. Avoid allowing your elbows to flare outward, as this can compromise your form. 

Upper-back 

Maintain a tight upper back by retracting your shoulder blades and squeezing them together throughout the movement. This helps provide stability and support. 

Chest 

Keep your chest up and open throughout the squat. This promotes proper alignment and helps prevent excessive forward lean. 

Head 

Maintain a neutral head position, looking straight ahead or slightly upward. Avoid looking down or excessively tilting your head, as this can affect your spinal alignment. 

Back Angle 

Depending on your squat variation (such as high bar or low bar squat), your torso angle may vary slightly. However, aim to maintain a relatively upright posture throughout the movement. 

Unracking 

If using a barbell, unrack the weight by stepping back with control. Take a few steps back to clear the rack and find your squatting position. 

Way Down 

Initiate the descent by bending your knees and pushing your hips back. Control the movement as you lower yourself into the squat, maintaining proper form. 

Bottom 

Reach your desired squat depth while maintaining tension and control. Aim to achieve parallel thighs or slightly below, depending on your flexibility and comfort. 

Way Up 

Drive through your heels and straighten your legs to ascend from the squat. Keep your chest up and engage your glutes and quadriceps throughout the upward phase. 

Between Reps 

Maintain control and stability between each repetition. Avoid bouncing or using momentum to propel yourself out of the bottom position. 

Racking 

If using a barbell, carefully and securely rack the weight after completing your set. Step forward with control and re-rack the barbell, ensuring it’s properly supported. 

Bar Path 

Maintain a vertical bar path throughout the squat movement. Avoid excessive forward lean or shifting the barbell too far forward or backward. 

Breathing 

Take a deep breath before descending into the squat and exhale as you ascend. Focus on maintaining a consistent and controlled breathing pattern throughout the exercise. 

Common Issues 

Can’t Break Parallel 

If you struggle to reach proper squat depth where your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below, it could be due to limited mobility or flexibility.  

Work on improving your hip, ankle, and hamstring flexibility through targeted stretches and mobility exercises.  

Gradually increase your range of motion over time to achieve the desired depth. 

Losing Balance 

Maintaining balance during squats is crucial for stability and safety. If you find yourself losing balance, focus on strengthening your core muscles, which provide stability and help you maintain an upright posture.  

Additionally, make sure your foot positioning is solid, distributing your weight evenly across your feet. Practice with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as your balance improves. 

Leaning Forward 

Leaning too far forward during squats can put excessive stress on your lower back and compromise your form.  

To address this, pay attention to your chest position and maintain an upright posture. Engage your core and focus on driving through your heels to maintain balance and prevent excessive forward lean.  

Additionally, working on strengthening your posterior chain muscles, such as your glutes and hamstrings, can help maintain proper alignment. 

Heels Come Up 

If your heels lift off the ground during squats, it can indicate a lack of ankle mobility or inadequate weight distribution.  

Ensure your weight is evenly distributed across your feet, and focus on pushing through your heels throughout the movement.  

Strengthening your ankle mobility through exercises like calf raises and ankle mobility drills can also help address this issue. 

Lower Back Rounding 

Rounding your lower back during squats can place excessive stress on your spine. To prevent this, focus on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement.  

Engage your core muscles to provide stability and support for your lower back. Reduce the weight if necessary and focus on perfecting your form before gradually increasing the load. 

Knees Cave In 

When your knees collapse inward during squats, it can strain your knee joints and compromise your form. Strengthening your glutes and hips can help prevent this issue.  

Focus on driving your knees out during the squat movement, maintaining proper alignment with your toes. Resistance band exercises that target the hip abductors can be beneficial in improving knee alignment. 

Fear of Squats 

Fear or apprehension about squats is not uncommon, especially if you’re new to the exercise or have had previous injuries.  

It’s essential to start with proper form, lighter weights, and gradually progress as you gain confidence and strength.  

Consider working with a qualified fitness professional who can guide and support you in overcoming your fears and ensuring correct technique. 

Common Squat Pains 

Neck Pain 

Neck pain during squats can result from poor posture or tension in the neck muscles. 

Ensure your head and neck are aligned with your spine throughout the movement. Avoid excessively tilting or extending your neck.  

If necessary, try using a lighter weight or modifying the bar position to alleviate neck discomfort. 

Wrist Pain 

Wrist pain can occur if your wrists are forced into an uncomfortable position when holding the barbell.  

Ensure your wrists are aligned with your forearms and maintain a neutral grip. Consider using wrist wraps or alternative grip variations to reduce wrist strain. 

Elbow Pain 

Elbow pain during squats can be a result of improper bar placement or excessive tension in the elbows.  

Ensure the bar rests securely on your upper back, and your elbows are positioned under the bar to create a stable shelf.  

Avoid excessive flaring or inward collapsing of the elbows. 

Knee Pain 

Knee pain is a common concern during squats and can stem from various factors such as poor form, muscle imbalances, or underlying knee issues.  

Focus on maintaining proper knee alignment with your toes, avoiding excessive inward or outward movement.  

Strengthening the muscles around the knee, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, can also provide stability and support. 

Lower Back Pain 

Lower back pain during squats can be a sign of poor squat form, such as rounding or excessive arching of the lower back.  

Ensure you maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement and engage your core for stability. If lower back pain persists, consult with a healthcare professional to address any underlying issues. 

Hip Pain 

Hip pain during squats can indicate tightness or muscle imbalances in the hips. Prioritize hip mobility exercises and stretches to improve flexibility.  

Gradually increase your range of motion and avoid forcing yourself into positions that cause pain.  

If the pain persists, consult with a healthcare professional for proper assessment. 

Groin Pain 

Groin pain during squats may indicate strains or tightness in the muscles of the inner thigh.  

Warm-up adequately before squatting and incorporate groin stretches and mobility exercises into your routine.  

If the pain persists or worsens, seek professional guidance. 

Squat Stretches 

Hip Flexibility 

Hip flexibility is essential for achieving proper squat depth and maintaining a stable position. Perform exercises like hip flexor stretches, butterfly stretches, and deep squat holds to improve hip mobility and range of motion. 

Shoulder Flexibility 

Adequate shoulder flexibility allows for a comfortable and secure grip on the barbell during squats. Incorporate exercises such as shoulder dislocations, wall slides, and doorway stretches to improve shoulder mobility and flexibility. 

Equipment 

Power Rack 

The power rack, also known as a squat rack or squat cage, is a staple piece of equipment for squatting.  

It provides a secure and stable structure that allows you to perform squats with proper form and safety.  

The adjustable safety bars on the rack ensure that you can safely bail out of a failed lift and prevent injuries. 

Power Rack Alternatives 

If a power rack is not available, there are alternative options that can still provide support and stability during squats.  

One such alternative is using a Smith machine, which has a fixed barbell that moves along a guided track.  

While it offers stability, it limits the natural movement pattern and stabilization required in free-weight squats.  

Another alternative is using a sturdy squat stand, which provides a basic frame to hold the barbell during squats. 

Olympic Barbell 

The Olympic barbell is the standard equipment used for squats. It is a long, weighted bar with rotating sleeves that allow for smooth movement.  

The barbell’s length and thickness provide stability and grip options for different squat variations.  

Make sure to choose an appropriate weight for your strength level and gradually increase as you progress. 

Squat Variations 

Olympic Squat 

The Olympic squat, also known as the high-bar back squat, is a squat variation commonly used in weightlifting.  

It involves placing the barbell across the upper back and shoulders, with a narrower grip compared to other squat variations.  

This squat emphasizes quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. 

Ass-to-Grass Squat 

The ass-to-grass squat, as the name suggests, involves descending to a depth where your glutes come in contact with your calves or heels.  

It emphasizes maximum range of motion and engages the glutes, quads, and hamstrings more intensely. 

Front Squat 

The front squat places the barbell across the front of your shoulders, with your elbows pointing forward.  

This variation shifts the emphasis to the quadriceps, core, and upper back. It requires greater mobility and core stability compared to the back squat. 

Box Squat 

The box squat involves squatting down onto a box or bench, which helps establish proper depth and form.  

It is beneficial for building explosive power and improving hip and glute strength. 

Smith Squat 

The Smith squat is performed using a Smith machine, where the barbell moves along a fixed vertical path.  

This variation provides stability but limits the need for core and stabilizing muscles compared to free-weight squats. 

Leg Press 

Although not a traditional squat variation, the leg press machine is an effective alternative for targeting the lower body muscles.  

It allows you to safely load weight and work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. 

Dumbbell Squat 

Dumbbell squats offer versatility and are a great option when barbells or machines are not available. Holding dumbbells at your sides or in a goblet position, you can perform squats to target the lower body muscles. 

Consider Starting With Squat Therapy 

If you’re new to squatting or struggle with proper form, starting with squat therapy exercises can be beneficial. These exercises focus on developing proper technique and mobility. Here are a few squat therapy variations: 

Wall Squat 

Stand with your back against a wall and slowly squat down while keeping your heels, hips, and shoulders in contact with the wall.  

This exercise helps you develop proper alignment and awareness of your body position during squats. 

Goblet Squat 

Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at chest level, with your elbows pointing down. Perform squats while maintaining an upright posture.  

The goblet squat encourages proper hip and knee alignment. 

Basic Bodyweight Squat 

The basic bodyweight squat allows you to focus on proper squat mechanics without additional resistance.  

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down while maintaining a neutral spine and proper alignment. 

Other Bodyweight Squats 

Once you’ve mastered the basic bodyweight squat, you can progress to other bodyweight squat variations such as jump squats, pistol squats (one-legged squats), or Bulgarian split squats. 

Deep Squat 

The deep squat emphasizes mobility and flexibility by descending to a deep squat position. Gradually work on achieving a full range of motion while maintaining good form. 

One-legged Squat 

Also known as pistol squats, one-legged squats are a challenging variation that requires balance, stability, and strength.  

With one leg extended in front of you, lower down into a squat position while keeping the other leg off the ground.  

This exercise targets the quadriceps, glutes, and core, and it helps improve unilateral leg strength and stability. 

Barbell Squats 

Back Squat 

The back squat is a fundamental compound exercise that targets the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.  

With the barbell positioned across your upper back, descend into a squat position while maintaining proper form and depth.   

Front Squat 

The front squat places the barbell across the front of your shoulders, with your elbows pointing forward.  

This variation shifts the emphasis to the quadriceps, core, and upper back. It requires greater mobility and core stability compared to the back squat. 

How To Fail A Barbell Squat 

While the focus is always on successful lifts, it’s crucial to know how to fail a barbell squat safely in case you reach your limit. Follow these steps to safely fail a barbell squat: 

  1. If you can’t complete a rep, maintain tightness and control as you start to ascend. 
  1. Try to rise as much as possible and push through your legs. 
  1. If you can’t complete the rep, allow the barbell to roll down your back while keeping your core tight and controlling the descent. 
  1. Bend your knees and guide the barbell to the floor, avoiding any abrupt movements. 
  1. Maintain control and ensure your safety and the safety of others around you. 

Other Weighted Squats 

Dumbbell Squat 

Hold dumbbells at your sides or in a goblet position while performing squats. Dumbbell squats offer versatility and can be done when barbells or machines are not available. 

Overhead Squat With Medicine Ball 

Hold a medicine ball overhead while performing squats. This variation challenges stability, coordination, and core engagement. 

Hack Squat 

The hack squat is performed using a hack squat machine or a barbell positioned behind your legs. It primarily targets the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. 

Squat Form – FAQs 


What Is The Proper Squat Form? 

Proper barbell squat form includes keeping your feet around shoulder width apart and pointed out slightly, keeping your entire body (especially the core) tense throughout the whole movement, and making sure to control every aspect of the lift. 

What Are 4 Keys To Proper Squat Technique? 

The 4 keys to proper squat technique are setting up correctly, bracing, controlling the movement, and hitting at least parallel depth.  

How Do You Know If You’re Squatting Low Enough? 

You will know if you’re squatting low enough because your glutes will be at least parallel with your knees.  

Should You Feel Squats In Your Lower Back? 

Yes, you should feel squats in your lower back. 

Your lower back plays a vital role in the squat by allowing you to maintain an upright posture, and this causes your lower back to be worked quite significantly during squats.  

How To Do Squats With Weights? 

You can do squats with weights by using a barbell and a squat rack or using dumbbells, kettlebells, or a weighted backpack. 

This applies no matter who you are – proper squat form male and proper squat form female are exactly the same.  

How To Do Squats For Beginners? 

Beginners can do squats by keeping their feet roughly shoulder-width apart and pointing them slightly outwards, bracing (tensing) their entire body, and staying in control throughout the entire movement.  

How To Do Squats Step By Step? 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to do squats: 

  1. Put your legs shoulder-width apart and point your feet slightly outward. 
  1. Tense your entire body. 
  1. 3. lower yourself until you are at least parallel with your knees. 
  1. Return to the starting position.  

How To Do Squats Properly For A Bigger Bum? 

To do squats properly for a bigger bum you should keep your feet shoulder width apart and point them slightly outwards, flex your entire body, descend in a controlled manner until you are parallel with your knees, and then return to the starting position.  

 
We hope this article will be of some use to you. 

Mastering squat form is going to give you so many benefits, and it may even help you avoid more than just a few serious injuries. 

For more fitness guidance, feel free to head over to MovingForwards

Stay safe.