Squats are one of the top three exercises prescribed for pre-rehabilitation, rehabilitation, and sports training. But what is a squat? Let’s cover the benefits, how to properly squat, five common mistakes to avoid, and a comparison of squats at home vs. the gym to determine which is right for you.
Squats strengthen your lower body muscles such as your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. In addition, this exercise works your pelvis, lower back, and abdominals.
Squats mimic your everyday activities such as walking, sitting down, or standing up.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, the variations are endless with foot placement and various equipment such as a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
There are common mistakes you should avoid when learning how to squat. Focus on proper form.
Going to the gym vs. practicing squats at home depends entirely on your goals and available equipment.
Benefits of squats
The benefits of squats are that they build up your lower body muscles such as your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Increasing your squatting strength can also impact your sprinting speed and vertical jumping performance.
Another benefit of the squat exercise is that it mimics many of your everyday movements. This includes walking, lifting, going up the stairs and even sitting down or standing up. It has also been proven that squats can be a deterrent to some knee injuries with proper form.
How to squat correctly
When you squat correctly it's considered to be a compound exercise that utilizes many of your lower body joints. This movement will strengthen your lower legs as well as your pelvis, lower back, and abdominals.
During the lowering, also known as the eccentric portion of the movement, you will experience hip flexion, knee flexion, and ankle dorsiflexion. During the lifting, also known as the concentric portion of the movement, you will have the hip extension, knee extension, and ankle plantar flexion. Here's how to correctly perform the basic bodyweight squat:
Basic bodyweight squat
Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep your feet facing forward. With the weight in your heels, sit down as if lowering yourself onto an imaginary bench. Try to get your thighs parallel to the floor. To come up, keep your back straight, squeeze your glutes, and stand up.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat, you can add weight via machines, dumbbells, or kettlebells. The great thing about squats is that there are numerous variations.
Here are a few options of the basic squat with extra weights:
Rack the barbell on your shoulders. Be mindful of your neck. Lower as you would in the bodyweight squat.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Proceed as you would in the bodyweight squat.
Firmly grip the handle of a kettlebell with both hands, the weight hanging in front of your body.
If you’re interested in changing the foot stance, check out split squats, lunge squats, and wide-legged squats. Your stance width and foot angles affect the movement of your hips and knees. Keep this in mind when targeting specific joint movements.
Each variation has its own set of benefits. Identify your goals and then choose the variation that will help you get there.
5 common squat mistakes
- Lifting your heels off the ground. You need your heels firmly planted on the ground to press down as you rise to stand.
- Letting your knees go too far past your toes or collapsing inward. Your knees should track over your toes but not beyond them. As you lower, focus on keeping your knees in line and not collapsing in toward each other.
- Not squatting deep enough. The perfect squat depth is contingent on your mobility. Generally, you want to aim for having your thighs parallel to the floor for the standard squat.
- Not properly engaging your muscles such as your glutes. As with any exercise, it is important to properly engage the muscles you are using to not only get the most out of the movement but to prevent injury.
- Not keeping a neutral spine. In the squat exercise, it is important to keep a neutral spine. If you find yourself rounding your back, reset and try again with the proper form. Pay attention to your squat depth. Don’t lower so far down that you round your back to compensate.
Squats at the gym vs. squats at home
So now that you know how to squat properly and what mistakes to avoid, what’s the difference between performing the squat at home vs. the gym?
At home, you have convenience. You can perform the bodyweight squat and many of the variations depending on the type equipment you have available. Examples of possible needed equipment are resistance bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
At the gym, you have machines available that can help and trainers who can observe, and if needed, correct your form. You will also have a wider variety of choices and weights for your exercise needs. The best decision is the one that aligns closest with your goals and available equipment.
Squats are a great lower-body exercise that also targets your core. It mimics many of your everyday movements. This means that as you get more acclimated to squats, the movement will translate into your everyday life.
Focus on the proper squat form. Avoid the five common mistakes listed above. Once you've mastered the bodyweight squat, you can learn the numerous variations with additional weights. Consider your goals and equipment available when debating working out at home or going to the gym.
Lastly, have fun! Squats are one of the top three prescribed exercises for a reason.