The Shortcut To A Perfect Squat

I’ve been teaching people to squat for years. In fact, my income depended on being the best around at teaching and correcting squat form. I was the “squat guy” and clients (usually) knew what they were in for when we worked together – namely their bodies would be changing, getting stronger, more muscular and leaner. And they’d be squatting. A lot. And occasionally whining about it to deaf ears. Talk about a deal - all those things came together in one deluxe package that is the squat. To be honest, I was kind of cheating when it came to delivering unprecidented results for clients because of these three things:

  1. Squats are one of the most effective exercises around.
  2. Squats are one of the most butchered exercises around.
  3. Squatting is a natural movement and can be easy to learn.

And in large part because of this amazing formula “You + Better Squats = Better You” I could deliver results every time.

Squats are one of the most effective exercises around

To put it plainly, there’s no exercise that does what the squat does. I could wax (somewhat) poetic on the beauty of squats for hours, but I’ll let you save your energy for the squats and try to be concise here (concise for me, ok? It’s relative).

Nothing gives you full body loading through a complete range of motion like the squat. And really, those are the two main considerations in an exercises “bang for the buck” – range of motion and mechanical load.

When you have a heavy bar on your back or a weight held in front of you and start to squat, every muscle is firing. Your core and all of your upper body muscles are lit up trying to keep you from crumpling like a Bud Lite can on a fraternity bro’s forehead. When done correctly, your legs are moving through their complete range of motion at every joint – hip, knee and ankle. Your glutes, the biggest muscle on your body (not just you, everyone – calm down, your butt is in completely normal human proportion. Probably) are working overtime as the prime mover here. And something amazing happens when you use every muscle on your body and push it through a full range of motion for a heavy loaded movement. First, you immediately think of this article and start to hate me (it’s cool, I can take it). But second, all of the prime influencers for muscle growth and increased metabolism and all the good stuff that makes you stronger and leaner and builds muscle skyrockets! A deadlift comes close, but the range of motion isn’t even close.

I’m cutting myself off here on my ode to squats, but the takeaway should be clear: Squats good.

Squats are one of the most butchered exercises around.

Half squats, caving-knees squat, quarter squats, falling-forward squats, barely-perceptible-movement-involved squats … the list goes on. It’s not fair that a movement that can be so natural is so butchered. But it’s ok, sit down, contain your outrage because it’s really easy to fix with the right guidance.

Learning to squat or fixing your squat is found money in the fitness game. The difference in ROI in a proper full range of motion squat and anything less is night and day. Seriously. Stop wasting time trying to find the most complicated solution to making your training more effective. It’s not that fancy ab program, the shiny machine circuit, or the latest MLM supplement. Look at the simple solution right in front of you: start squatting correctly. A lot. And some more.

Squatting is a natural movement and can be easy to learn.

Finally, the meat and garlic rosemary roasted fingerling potatoes of this article. Since squatting is a natural movement, the key is to give yourself just enough of the right cues to let your body do its thing. We’ll break it down step by step.

Ditch the barbell versions and start with a goblet squat, for now. The goblet squat is great for making the movement feel more natural, and it’s super easy to learn. Doing this will program you with a new motor pattern, and that will carry over to all of your other squatting variations. I have a full article on goblet squat technique here, but here’s the short version. Take your time with the setup and be very deliberate with each step separately until it all becomes automatic.

  1. Put two 5 pound plates on the floor about hip-width apart. You’re going to put your heels on these to facilitate ankle mobility and make the form feel more natural without forcing it.
  2. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell to your chest, elbows hugging your chest. Pick a light weight to start, but not too light or it won’t counterbalance you properly.
  3. Set up with your heels on the plates, toes turned out about 10 to 20 degrees.
  4. Grip the ground with your feet. Imagine your feet as majestic eagle talons, ferociously gripping the ground.
  5. Take a big belly breath of air and then squeeze your abs to pressurize that breath. Squeeze harder. Don’t poop.
  6. Shift your hips back behind you a few inches to start the movement, then immediately push your knees out to the side and THEN start moving your hips down, meanwhile maintaining that flexed core and knees out/butt back position.
  7. Take 3 full seconds to descend until your elbows are between your knees, keeping your chest up the whole time.
  8. Stand back up relatively fast, keeping your chest up and breathing out as you reach the top. How fast? After you build some comfort with the goblet squat, move up as fast as you can while maintaining control.
  9. Celebrate your progress.

Use goblet squats exclusively in your training until most of the above cues become natural, and you’re only focusing hard on improving them, especially the flexed core part. The goal here isn’t to master every cue right away; instead just get a little bit better at them every time. That’s how mastery happens.

You’ll be surprised how quickly the movement starts feeling natural and it becomes comfortable to go through the full range of motion. When this happens, it’s time to start incorporating other versions of the squat. The next one to add to your training toolbox is the barbell back squat. If you did these before the weeks of only doing goblet squats, they’re immediately going to feel much different with the new motor pattern you just programmed your body with. Your center of balance will be back a little farther, so your hips will automatically shift backward more as you descend, but the steps are almost the same.

  1. Put two 5 pound plates on the floor a few inches wider than hip width apart. You’re going to put your heels on these to facilitate ankle mobility and make the form feel more natural without forcing it.
  2. Center the bar on your back, unrack the weight and step back until your heels are on the plates, toes turned out about 10 to 20 degrees.
  3. Grip the ground with your feet. Imagine your feet as majestic eagle talons, ferociously gripping the ground.
  4. Take a big belly breath of air and then squeeze your abs to pressurize that breath. Squeeze harder. Don’t poop.
  5. Pull the bar down toward the floor, into your back. Imagine the top of a pull-up and you have the idea. Maintain this through the movement. This tightens up all of your back muscles and is critical.
  6. Shift your hips back behind you a few inches to start the movement, then immediately push your knees out to the side and THEN start moving your hips down, meanwhile maintaining your flexed core and back and pushing your knees out.
  7. Take 3 full seconds to descend until your hip crease is about even with the top of your knees.
  8. Stand back up relatively fast, keeping your chest up and breathing out as you reach the top.

If you started with programming the goblet squat motor pattern, I guarantee this will feel different from the last time you tried it. The same learning progression applies: you don’t need to master every cue right away; instead just get a little bit better at them every time.

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