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10 Secrets to the Perfect Bodyweight Squat

BY BRET CONTRERAS,

Doing a squat sans weight may seem like no big deal. After all, you do it every day of your life whenever you sit down or stand up. 

But the movement is the foundation of all lower-body exercises. It can determine how well you walk, run, jump, or lunge. 

Like a golf swing, everyone’s squat will look a little different. But if you can’t do the exercise with proper form, loading the pattern with weight can be more risky than rewarding. 

So it’s important that you get it right. Keep reading for the 10 secrets to the perfect bodyweight squat. 

1. Push through the outer edges of your feet

The benefit: Your feet are your base of support, so the way you stand affects what happens further up your body. Creating a strong, stable foundation with your feet keeps your knees and hips in proper alignment. 

How to do it: Keeping your entire foot pressed into the floor, push through the outside of each foot. 

2. Find your 'sweet spot'

The benefit: If you sit back too far, your torso will lean forward which forces your hips to do all of the work. If you sit straight down, your torso will stay completely upright which shifts the stress to your knees. 

Make your glutes work their hardest by finding the squat’s “sweet spot” at the bottom of the movement.

How to do it: When you have lowered down into the squat, your kneecaps should hover over the tops of your feet. Your torso should lean forward slightly, creating a 30 to 45 degree angle with your thighs.

3. Push your knees away from each other

The benefit: It’s usually no problem keeping your knees over your toes during the lowering portion of the squat. 

However, maintaining this same alignment during the lifting phase is a lot more difficult. When your knees collapse inward, you decrease your strength and increase your risk of joint pain and injury.

How to do it: When you start to rise from the bottom of your squat, actively push your knees out. Your thighs should stay in line with your feet.

4. Use your glutes

The benefit: Your glutes are the biggest muscles in your lower body, and protect your knees, hips, and low back. Take the stress off of your joints by fully activating them throughout the squat.

How to do it: Instead of just dropping down and standing back up, focus on feeling your glutes throughout the entire movement. As you lower, feel them stretch. As you stand, forcefully contract them.

5. Cross your arms

The benefit: Crossing your arms in front of your chest shifts the brunt of the load to your hips instead of your knees. Your hip joints are stronger than your knee joints, so this small tweak will make you more powerful.

How to do it: Cross your arms in front of your chest, placing each hand on its opposite shoulder. Keep your elbows elevated so your arms are parallel to the floor.

6. Look at the floor

The benefit: Where you look influences the position of your head and neck—and ultimately the rest of your body. Keeping everything in proper alignment allows you to recruit as much muscle as possible.

How to do it: Find a spot on the floor about 10 feet in front of you. Gaze at this point for the entire duration of your set.

7. Go deep

The benefit: Deeper squats lead to greater gains in size and strength. They also translate to better jumping and everyday movement when compared to partial squats. You want to go as deep as possible while maintaining good form.

How to do it: Keeping your torso slightly angled, your knees pressed out, and your glutes loaded, drop slightly past the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor.

8. Keep your pelvis in check

The benefit: But don’t go too deep if you lack the hip mobility to do so. 

Your pelvis will naturally tilt forward and backward during the squat. However, if the range of motion in your hips is limited, your pelvis may tilt too far, pulling your lower back with it.

This is known as a “buttwink,” and it can increase the pressure to the discs in your lower spine when you add weight to the exercise. 

How to do it: Perform a squat in front of a mirror or have someone check your form. Take note of the moment your tailbone starts to tuck underneath you. Stop right before that moment every time. You may have to reduce your range of motion.

9. Don’t round your back

The benefit: Rounding your back during exercise can potentially cause disc bulges—especially if you’re behind a desk all day.

Here’s why: Flexing your spine during exercise can cause the nucleus of your intervertebral discs to seep out. The risk of injury increases if you add load.

Maintaining a straight, stable spine position reduces your chances of future back pain.

How to do it: Keep your chest lifted throughout the movement.

10. Don’t overarch your back

The benefit: While trying to maintain a straight spine, don’t overdo it. Overarching can damage the small stabilizing joints in your spinal column, too.

How to do it: With your chest up, perform a mini-crunch with your abs to pull your ribcage in and down. This will preserve your spine’s natural curve.