A lot of people squat, but not a lot of people know how to squat. More and more knee and lower back injuries happen due to poor technique than just about anything else. Here are the 7 most common squatting mistakes and how to fix them.
1. Your knees are caving in
If your knees cave inward when you squat, this could indicate an overactive adductor complex and underactive gluteus medius/maximus, meaning when you squat, you aren’t fully activating your glutes. This type of mistake can lead to ACL injuries and be a movement pattern that can develop during other dynamic movements.
Quick Fix: Your knees, hips, and toes should all be in the straight line. Start squatting with a light weight and actively think about keeping your knees pushed out. You can put a resistance band around the top of your knees so that you’re consciously remembering to push your knees out, but make sure to keep your feet flat, and not roll to the outside.
2. You’re rounding your back
I see this all the time and it makes me cringe when I see people do it. You know… that guy that looks like he’s doing a good morning rather than a squat…scary. Rounding your back when squatting can indicate a tight hip complex. When performing a squat, it is difficult for those with tight hips to get to a 90 degree angle without rounding their back. Even when squatting light weight, this type of squat mistake can cause injuries to the lumbar spine (lower back) and the neck.
Quick fix: Stretch any tight or under-active muscles before even thinking about walking into the squat rack. You should be able to squat at least 90 degrees without rounding your back. Double check your form with a bare bar, then add weight slowly, continuing to check your form.
3. You’re squatting too heavy
This is a big one. Everyone wants to get stronger, but oftentimes, a person’s form begins to suffer in trying to increase the weight before the body is ready, which can lead to various injuries down the line.
Quick fix: Always start with a light weight, and increase gradually with each set. Jumping to a heavy weight is tough on the joints, and can sacrifice good form and cause internal injuries and imbalances.
4. You’re not going low enough
We’ve all seen that guy at the gym who loads up the bar with like 6 plates on each side and squats it only a couple inches. The deeper you go into a squat, the more your glutes and hamstrings have to work. By not going at least parallel, your sabotaging any leg and glute muscle growth, not to mention putting your back at risk for injuries.
Quick fix: Aim for at least a 90 degree knee bend in your squats. Leave your ego at the door and load up the bar with only enough weight to still be able to keep good form.
5. You’re not sitting back
When you squat, your weight should be distributed throughout your heels, rather than putting the weight on your toes or the ball of your foot. When you descend, if the weight is in your toes, you will be targeting your quads more than your glutes and putting immense stress on the knee joints.
Quick fix: Avoid squatting with a board or plates under the heels. Focus on pushing up from a squat with your heels, rather than on your toes or the ball of your foot and using your glutes to power the movement rather than the quads. Squatting through the heels will also work on your hip flexibility. You should be able to lift your toes or wiggle them when you descend into the squat position.
6. Your feet are turning out
Turning your feet outward when you squat can indicate tight hips, hams, and calves and your body overcompensating to get into a squat position. Squatting with toes slightly pointed outward is okay with the right hip flexibility and overall proper form, but too much is a tell-tale sign of your body compensating for a lack of flexibility and range of motion.
Quick fix: Stretch the tight muscles prior to squatting and try to keep feet straight, while sitting into the heels and pushing up with the glutes.
7. You’re not switching it up
In order to keep the muscles constantly adapting and growing and avoid any plateau, you have to keep switching up your squatting routine. You can’t do the same reps for the same amount of sets with the same amount of weight every time you hit the gym for leg day and expect them to change.
Quick Fix: Try switching things up. Alternate the amount of reps (have one heavy day 1-8 reps, and a light, high-volume day (15-20) reps) and rotate between doing 3 sets or 4 sets, and incorporate supersets or plyometrics into the mix. Or, if you always back squat, try switching it up and performing a front squat to hit the different leg muscles. Your legs and glutes will thank you!
Other Squatting Tips:
A good squat should include keeping the toes, knees, and hip in a straight line, shoulders back, chest out.
Don’t look too far up in the air to avoid straining the cervical spine.
The glutes should be able to drop below and behind the knees.
Use your glutes to power up from a squat, and not your hips and lower back.
Squeeze at the top!