5 Ways to Improve Your Squat
The squat is a powerful exercise, whatever your fitness goals. When done right, they can help you get stronger, leaner, faster and more powerful. If you want to improve your squat, but aren’t sure where to begin, here are five tips to get you started.
Focus on Form Before Load
When it comes to your squat, good form is crucial. Don’t be impatient. Technique should always be a priority, but often gets neglected in pursuit of a bigger squat. Not only will this impede your performance and limit any benefit, but it’s also dangerous. Squatting incorrectly can place an enormous amount of pressure on your lower back and knees – don’t be that guy!
Whilst good form is essential, you must also remember there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The key to successful squatting is to discover what works best for you, both in terms of safety and efficiency. A few things to remember:
- Keep your chest up throughout movement,
- Ensure your spine remains neutral – don’t look up,
- Learn how to breathe properly,
- Push the weight through your heels,
- Keep tension when you’re at the bottom of the squat.
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any doubts about your form, work with a coach to fix it.
Work on Your Mobility
If you find it difficult to squat with good form, it’s a sign you need to work on your squat mobility. Limited range of motion in any of the key muscle groups will affect your squat; take some time at the start of each session to work through these issues.
Poor hip mobility is the most common barrier to squatting with good form. If you don’t have sufficient flexion at the hip joint, you’re more likely to compromise your lumbar spine and/or knees. To prevent injury, you need to address any issues before you start to load the bar.
Poor ankle mobility will impact your stability at the bottom of the squat, often making it difficult to push the weight through your heels. If you’re finding it hard to hit depth when you squat, and you’ve ruled out poor hip flexibility, test your ankle mobility. If they’re tight, spend some time stretching your calves and improving the range of motion before squatting.
If you need to work on your hips and ankles, start with the drills listed in this article on Breaking Muscle.
Often, we tend to focus on mobility in the lower half of the body, like the hips and the ankles, but ignoring the thoracic spine and shoulders can be just as damaging to your squat form. If you struggle to keep your chest up when you squat, focus on exercises to improve flexibility in this area.
Address Any Muscle Imbalances
In an ideal world, our muscles, tendons and bones would be perfectly balanced, working in harmony to provide our bodies with the best possible outcomes, whatever the sport. This is rarely the case, and muscular imbalances arise for many reasons. Your lifestyle, job, posture – it all affects how you move, both at home and in the gym.
Assessing your body, its limitations, and movement imbalances is essential to ensure a well-executed squat. This might be something you can correct yourself, if you already understand the mechanics and corrective treatment required. Otherwise, it’s advisable to spend time with a movement specialist or physio, to make sure everything’s working as it should.
Common imbalances that will affect your squat include:
- Lack of core strength,
- Underactive glutes,
- Weak erector spine,
- Overactive quads,
- Weak hamstrings.
Wear the Right Shoes
Footwear is often overlooked when considering how to improve the squat, but getting it right can make a world of difference. Whatever you do, don’t try to squat in trainers designed for running, or other high impact sports. These shoes contain lots of extra cushioning to protect your joints from impact, which is great for running, but bad for squatting.
If you’re serious about improving your squat, you need to invest in some decent weightlifting shoes, such as the Inov8 Fastlifts. These will benefit your squat in the following ways:
- They provide more stability and balance, making them much safer,
- They increase power: the soles grip the floor better, and don’t absorb as much force as traditional training shoes,
- They’ll help you hit depth and drive weight through your heels.
Once you’ve invested in some new weightlifting shoes, and addressed any issues with your form and/or mechanics, there’s nothing left to do except practice! Squat regularly, and add some variety by including different types of squat in your routine. Here are a few to get you started:
- Back Squat,
- Front Squat,
- Box Squat,
- Overhead Squat,
- Bulgarian Split Squat,
- Goblet Squats,