The squat is widely regarded as the king of all leg exercises, however, it is usually the movement that gives people the most trouble when first learning it. This is because multiple muscles and joints are involved in creating the movement. The two most common mistakes I see in squat form are:
Heels coming off the ground & Knees caving in (valgus)
Both of these mistakes can lead to significant injury if not corrected so below are some simple fixes for these squat form faults.
The heels leaving the ground during the eccentric (downward) motion of the squat can be due to poor ankle or hip mobility, but is usually just due to poor form focus. You can correct this by doing bodyweight squats with a bench or box behind you. The bench/box should be far enough behind you so that when you are in a seated position, your knees form a 90-degree angle. The bench/box is cognitive reinforcement that you have to sit your weight back in order to touch it. Sitting your weight back will force you to keep your heels planted on the ground. Practice this for several reps and then remove the bench/box and try to keep the same form in regular bodyweight squats. It may take awhile for you to be able to do this perfectly every time. You should be able to successfully bodyweight squat with perfect form before loading a barbell on your back. Keep in mind that poor ankle and/or hip mobility may be another issue causing your heels to pop up off the ground so additional mobility work may be required along with the aforementioned correction.
Knees caving in, know as valgus, is most commonly seen with female squatters due to their anatomy but men can certainly have the same problem. A valgus knee position, combined with a loaded barbell, is a recipe for disaster. Correcting this can be done by placing an elastic band around the knees and performing a bodyweight squat (pictured below). Focus on forcing the knees outward against the resistance of the band. This will strengthen the abductor muscles and teach proper movement of the knees throughout the squats range of motion. Doing side walks with the bands is also a great way to strengthen your abductor muscles.
Give these corrections a try if you have these issues while squatting or are trying to learn how to squat for the first time. It is much easier to practice it the correct way from the start, so that you don’t develop these issues, than it is to correct them later!
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