We love squats, but it's another one of those exercises that's more technical and prone to mistakes than it initially lets on. Even if your bodyweight squat is on point, everything changes when you pile on any appreciable amount of weight. You start to do things that your hips, ankles, knees or lower back won't like. Image by AstroSamantha.
Years of sitting in a chair and having really tight hips, ankles, calves and upper back have all made us more likely to do one or more of the following when we do a barbell back squat:
- Your heels lift off the floor: Make sure you push through your heels, where most of the power for a squat comes from. Digging in your toes instead shifts your weight too far forward and is a good way to get knee pain from squats.
- Your knees cave inward: It's common for your knees to cave in a little bit. This is OK for some people, but it could cause some lower back, hip and knee problems in others. Imagine that your knees are arguing, so keep them far apart when you squat down.
- You don't have a "tight" upper body: Squeeze your shoulder blades together and contract your abs hard to create tension and stability in your upper back, traps and all throughout. This also helps keep your elbows pointed down and toward your butt, all of which make for a solid barbell squat.
- You drop too fast: Speed is integral to driving back up from the bottom position, but you should still have some control going down. Think about lowering yourself steadily, and quickly pushing through your heels to come back up.
- Your chest drops down: In most cases, this is because the weight is too heavy, your upper back isn't strong enough or you go too deep (or all of the above!). Sometimes it helps to adjust your head position by looking at something in front of you, but also imagine pushing your weight through your heels, keeping your chest up and pushing your traps into the bar.