For many of you proper squat form can seem like a puzzle. You've read all the articles, watched all the videos, but your squats sill look ugly and don't feel right.
This post will point out 2 common squat mistakes and tell how to fix them. By clearing up these errors you will be taking a giant stride forward towards better squatting form, and reducing your risk of injury.
Mistake #1 - Knees Forward Squatting
"Knees forward" squatting is by far and away the most common squatting form flaw. The squat should be performed with the toes pointed out in a natural manner. For most lifters, this will mean about 30 degrees, give or take.
When squatting, the path of the knee should be about the same as the angle of your foot. Unfortunately, most lifting magazines feature the old school, "knees in", bodybuilding-style of squat. A knees in squat will make it much harder for you to hit proper depth.
Because of this, most lifters who squat with their knees in end up half squatting. Half squatting is one of the worst things you can do with a barbell on your back. It puts the knees in a precarious position, and increases the risk of injury. Regarding the half squat and similar variations, Mark Rippetoe had this to say:
I think they are an ineffective way to train anything, because their mechanics are sufficiently different from normal human movement patterns that they are actually counterproductive. (1)
Mel Siff had this to say regarding the knee and partial extensions:
There tends to be an irrational fear associated with deeper-than-parallel squats, even though most of this is based on theoretical analysis and is usually contradicted by clinical studies which show that even more knee injuries occur in activities which do not flex the knee anywhere near parallel (such as running and jumping). Others show that partial squats can traumatize the knees even more than full squats!
To fix this issue, practice squatting with your knees moving along the same angle/plane as your toes. You may need to move the knees out as you descend to allow you to hit proper depth. Never practice form adjustments like this with near maximal weight.
Mistake #2 - Flying Elbows
It is extremely common to see inexperienced lifters folding over in the hole of a squat like a wet piece of paper. Believe it or not, this issue isn't necessarily caused by a lack of strength. It's generally the result of a loose upper back and elbows.
Watch videos of less experienced lifters performing sets of 5 to 20 reps. You will notice that with each rep, their elbows slowly creep up and up. As this is happening, the lifter starts to lean more forward in the hole with each rep.
When your upper back and elbows are not tight, or are not kept tight throughout a set, they will natural start to fly up over time. This seemingly trivial change actually results in more forward lean than you would think.
Stand upright and pretend you are about to squat. If you keep your back and arms tight, your head remains in a consistent position and there is a reduced chance of forward lean. Now from this position loosen up your back and raise your elbows. You will notice that your head wants to move forward and your mid-back wants to round.
When this looseness occurs during a squat set, it results in near-good morning style squat reps. Your lower back and erectors are hit hard, and you increase the risk of strains, pains and injury.
The fix for this issue is simple. Before each squat rep, make sure you squeeze the bar with a death grip and tighten your elbows and back as much as possible. Yes, you will be doing this in between reps during your sets. It only takes a fraction of a second, but will save your lower back a lot of grief.
It's quite common to hear: "I don't want to squat. I've heard it's bad for the knees and/or back." If done incorrectly, squatting is bad for your knees and lower back. Any lift performed incorrectly is more dangerous.
Work on correcting these 2 common squat flaws and you will greatly reduce your risk of injury. You may also notice that your squats feel more natural and powerful.
Have you been making these 2 mistakes? If you have any questions, comments or need more help with your squat form, make sure to leave a comment below.
References 1. "Incorporating the half squat into an athletic program." Mark Rippetoe. 30 May 2011. Link.