How To Squat: Essential Guide For Beginners
Squats are one of the most popular exercises, and for good reason. They’re versatile, simple, and incredibly beneficial to your overall health. And not just for your glutes: squats help strengthen multiple lower body muscles simultaneously, while also improving bone and joint health.
Despite being a simple movement, it’s important to learn the correct form when performing squats to ensure you reap the benefits and get the most out of your workout.
What are squats?
Squats are a functional movement designed to strengthen your glutes, quads, hamstrings and core, all at once. They can be done as a bodyweight exercise or with added weights, making them a versatile and useful movement to have in your workout arsenal. There are multiple variations of squats you can do — which can help to place more of an emphasis on particular muscles. Done right, you can incorporate squats into many different kinds of training styles.
What are the benefits of squats?
Squats have many benefits for your physical health, from improving muscle strength to overall mobility. Knowing what the benefits are can help you understand what the movement is for, and why it is a great compound exercise to add to your workout routine.
Squats work on almost all of your lower body muscles
Squats are known to strengthen your glutes and quads, but they work on far more than just those. Squats incorporate almost all of your lower body muscles and also place a great emphasis on the core, particularly when loaded with a barbell.
Part of the process of learning to squat, and progressing your squats, is squatting deeply. The deeper you are able to squat, the greater your range of motion. This means improving your lower body mobility and flexibility.
Strengthened joints and bones
Squats are not only beneficial for your muscles. They also work to improve joint and bone health. Squats engage your knees, ankles and hips in one movement, which helps to strengthen these joints in the process. And, as you place strain on these joints, this strengthens the bones, tendons and ligaments here too. Resistance training can help with bone density, which is great to fight against osteoporosis later in life.
Squats can be done with or without equipment
In their most basic form, squats can be done without weights as a simple bodyweight squat. This means that once you know how to do them correctly, you can do them almost anywhere — whether you’re in the gym or working out at home.
Squats strengthen your core
Not only do squats benefit your leg muscles, they help improve your core stability and abdominal strength too. Squatting with the correct form requires a degree of stabilisation from the core. This is amplified when adding weight to the squats. Improving your core strength means lessening your risk of injury when doing other exercises.
What muscles do squats work?
There are multiple muscles that squats help strengthen when done correctly. More specifically the major muscle groups are:
However, as you progress the movement into different variations, you can work different muscle groups. For example, a barbell back squat with the barbell supported on your upper back adds more load and complexity to the movement, increasing the demand on your core and also engages your back to stabilise the bar. The goblet squat variation is a great stepping stone when adding weight to your squat again placing a greater emphasis on your core whilst also engaging the upper body.
Proper squat form
The best squat for beginners who are learning how to squat with the proper technique is the sit squat. The sit squat involves utilising a chair as a fixed point to aim at. This emphasises the importance of driving the hips back rather than initiating the movement at the knees.
This is the foundation of all other variations of squats, and is a good point to build from. Once you've mastered the sit squat, move onto a bodyweight squat and replicate the same technique. Here is the proper sit squat technique in more detail:
1. Place a chair behind you and begin standing facing away from the chair, with both feet planted on the floor hip-width apart.
2. Inhale and engage your core. Looking straight ahead, bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring that your knees remain in line with your toes. Continue bending, driving your hips back and bending your knees until you are able to lightly sit on the chair behind you, ensuring that you maintain a proud chest and avoid hunching throughout the movement.
3. Exhale as you push through your heels to mid foot and extend your hips and knee simultaneously to return to the starting position. You should feel the tension in your glutes, quads and hamstrings.
How to do squats
Ensuring you use proper squat form will allow you to get the most out of your squats by building muscle and reducing the risk of injury.
How to do different types of squats
There are many squat variations you can do. Each of these squat variations can work your lower body muscles in a different way, change the complexity of the movement, or increase the intensity.
Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat is great for strengthening your glutes and quads in a targeted way, as it places greater focus on hip stabilisation and single-leg strength, compared to a conventional squat. You’ll need either a bench or a sturdy chair to do this exercise. Simply stand in front of the bench, and carefully place your foot behind you onto the bench (with the ball of your foot facing towards the sky).
Bend both your knees to a 90-degree angle, taking care not to bend your front knee over your foot as you move. Your front knee should be in-line with your ankle once you get to the bottom of the movement. This exercise can be done with dumbbells if you’d like to make it more challenging.
Front squat with dumbbells
Another common squat variation is the front squat. This is typically done with a barbell, but if you don’t have one, you can easily do this exercise with dumbbells instead. To start, position yourself with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold your dumbbells up near your shoulders, with your palms facing towards each other. Proceed through the squat movement as usual.
A sumo squat is a slight variation on a conventional bodyweight squat. The main difference is that your feet will be placed further than shoulder-width apart and turned out to 45 degrees.
This movement can be made a little more challenging by using dumbbells for resistance.
Single-leg box squat
A single-leg box squat is typically performed with a box, but you can easily do it with a chair or a bench if you do not have a box. Simply put a sturdy chair or bench behind you, and place your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, raise one of your legs out in front of you so that you are balancing on one foot.
Move through the squat movement, coming down to sit lightly on the chair behind you before coming straight back up. Make sure you alternate between your legs.
In a goblet squat, you’ll be holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell in front of your chest throughout the movement. Start by holding the kettlebell with both hands against your chest. If you have a dumbbell, hold it vertical with both hands in front of your chest. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart and proceed through the squat movement, ensuring that the kettlebell or dumbbelll remains fixed.
It’s important here to maintain a proud chest and to keep your shoulder blades back and down. This will help avoid hunching over as you move through your squat.
How to progress your squats
If you’re new to squats, the best place to start is with bodyweight squat variations. Perfecting these movements means you’ll have the basis for the correct form once adding weight.
Start by doing sit squats and regular bodyweight squats, then when you feel confident and stronger, you can try adding in weights. A simple weighted squat exercise to start with is the goblet squat. Start with a light weight, and increase the weight the more confident and strong you feel.
Eventually, you can progress to barbell back squats, starting with the bar without any additional weight added. It’s important to get comfortable with each movement, and start off light before progressing to the next variation or adding in extra weight.
Another way to progress your squats is to perform single-leg variations. This essentially means going through the normal motions of a squat, but with one of your legs extended out in front of you. An example of this is a single-leg box squat. Doing single-leg variations challenges your balance, core and leg strength.
Common mistakes made when doing squats
While squats are a simple exercise, there are some common mistakes that often get made when trying to complete them. Here are what some of them are, and how to avoid them.
Knees moving in as you squat
A common error when squatting is letting your knees drift inward as you sit down through the movement. It’s important to drive your knees outward as you bend down to avoid this. Using a band around your knees can be a great way to remind you to drive your knees out and forces you to engage the glutes.
Knees going over your toes
Avoid letting your knees track further than your toes as you bend down. You should focus on hinging at the hips and sitting back into the squat position, rather than bending forward into your knees.
Moving through the movement too quickly
Moving through squats too quickly can impact your form and increase the risk of injury. It’s vital (especially if you are a beginner) to slow the movement down and focus on keeping your body in good form as you move.
Going up on your toes
People sometimes forget to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground during squats. The power should be coming through your midfoot, so remember to keep your feet firmly on the ground.
Not going deep enough in the movement
When squatting, people often don’t go deep enough into the movement. Make sure you work towards getting your legs parallel to the ground (or as close to this as you can).
Hunching your back over
Keeping a neutral spine is very important for avoiding injury and correctly doing a squat. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your chest out as you move through the squat.
Not keeping your neck neutral
Bending your neck up or down can strain the muscles here, and impact your neutral spine. Try to keep your neck neutral as you move through your squat.
Not engaging your core muscles
Many people forget to engage their core muscles when squatting. Ensuring your core is switched on will help protect your back from risk of injury (especially with added weights).
How to get started with squats
If you’re not sure how to get started, the best place to start is trying out bodyweight squats. Start with three sets of twelve squats, increasing the reps as you get stronger. Remember to keep a neutral spine, and avoid the common mistakes mentioned above. Perfecting a simple bodyweight squat will make it much easier to progress into more challenging variations of squats later on.
For more information on how to incorporate squats into a full workout routine, you can start with our simple bodyweight workout.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.