How to Squat


“Oh my god, my legs are sore from our first session!”

“You realize that we only did 40 air squats with no weight at all, right?”

“I know!”

“That should tell you how much room you have to grow!”

Why We Should All Be Squatting

You could move better. Even the basics, like getting up from a chair, could be improved. You probably sit way more than you stand every day, and because of that, you no longer know where your ass is. You have a lazy ass. Not that YOU are a lazy ass (heck, cooking all this Paleo Plan stuff takes WORK!), but you HAVE a lazy ass. Today, we’re going to wake that ass up.

We should all be squatting. Squatting is what’s going to keep you young, because the truth is it isn’t a heart attack that puts you in the nursing home when you’re 70; it’s that two people have to help you off the couch for Thanksgiving dinner. If you can get around, if you can move your own body through space, on your own with no help, you’re young.

Your legs are the trunk of the tree, they’re what keep you stable, upright, and functioning. The largest muscles in your body (your “glutes”, “hamstrings”, and “quads”) activate when you squat, and those sweet muscles are gonna burn a more than a few calories when they get going!


Basic Squat Form

We’re going to go over basic, general squat form. (Note: If you go into a power-lifting gym, or get trained by someone who does Olympic-type lifts, you might be told to tweak what we’re about to do. That’s fine. Different foot and shoulder positions relative to midline and the bar when you have weight have their place, and can be very effective in activating different aspects of power/speed/drive in your legs. But for today, we want to just get you to do move in an anatomically favorable way.)

** note – see below (& the sweet vid) for a list of common faults & fixes

#1 Feet: shoulder width & a little turned out

Feet shoulder width apart, slightly turned out (jump & land, that’s about the right amount of turnout), with weight in the heel.

The squat should happen with the majority of the body weight focused toward the heel. Even at the bottom. The toes should be able to be flexed up off the floor the whole time the squat is being performed. This should naturally keep the knee from traveling too far forward in front of your toes (breaking the plane of the toe). It’s key, and if done correctly, helps #3 tremendously below.

#2 Knees: out

Keep the knees “tracking” over the toes. There is no rotational joint in the knee, it doesn’t like to torque, it likes to bend, and it really loves to bend in line with the toe. Any turnout that happens in the foot, as well as the knee following the foot, happens in the hip, not the knee (ballet dancers don’t turn their knees out, they turn out their hips). Don’t ask the knee to rotate or torque; it doesn’t like it, and soon it will be very angry! The best way I’ve found to help keep the knees over the toes is to imagine that you “spread the ground apart” underneath you as you come up from the bottom of the squat. It really helps to engage the hammies and the butt, as well as keeping everything properly aligned.

#3 Hips: back and down

The squat movement, like many athletic endeavors, begins with your hips. Move the hips back first (but not at the expense of your midline! See #4!!). Looked at from the side, the hips should move back before anything else happens. This does two things: first, it puts the weight in the heels; and second, it sets the hips for a straight line of travel. They should go back in the same way as if you were closing a car door with your butt. The hips also need to lower until they’re below your knee, so that the line of your thigh is past parallel to the ground. A marble placed on top of or knee should roll back towards your hip. Getting this low engages all the good stuff (your butt & hammies, or, if you want to sound smart, your “posterior chain”). Not going below parallel gets a really good quad workout but leaves you not taking advantage of all the squat has to offer, so get deep! You’re only cheating yourself!

And squeeze your butt at the top; it’ll help keep you balanced, as well as make sure you stand up all the way (get full extension in the hip). We tell the kids to finish by standing like Superman. :)

#4 Torso: tight and straight, take a punch!

The midsection should be locked in and straight, with a nice natural curve to the spine. Though I’ve never had to, you should be able to take a punch during the whole movement. The midsection should be that tight. There should be no flexion in your torso. It is one unit. When your hips go back, this should leave you leaning forward a bit, but not too much. This angle, relative to the floor, should ideally remain constant throughout the squat. There shouldn’t be any bending of the spine as you go lower, or any more leaning forward excessively. Your legs are getting this work done, while your midsection is stabilizing, and tight.

#5 Shoulders/arms/hands/head: straight in front, looking ahead

For squats without weight, extend the arms completely, putting the hands in front at chest height with thumbs joined, like your making the sign for “butterfly” out at arms length. This serves two purposes: One, it keeps the chest up, so it’s not sinking down & inadvertently causing you to lean forward too much. If you were wearing one of those sweet new Paleo Plan t-shirts, we should be able to read it the whole time you’re squatting. Two, it helps to keep your midline straight, so you don’t hunch as you squat. Pick a spot straight ahead and look at it to help keep your head neutral and looking forward.

Woohoo! You’re squatting! Or at least sweating like crazy trying to get this all dialed in. Below are some common faults & fixes to help you make this as effective as possible. You may need a bit of equipment for these, like a bench or a wall. If you don’t have these handy, I have a special Paleo-cave wall for sale on my site I’d be happy to sell you.

Oh! Be careful, we’re fixing weaknesses here, so it’s highly likely you’ll lose your balance at some point! Don’t fall!

Common faults & fixes.

#1 FAULT: Weight not in the heels

As the squat happens, the heels come up and off the ground, or the weight shifts into the toes.

FIX: Place a bench, box, ottoman, or something in front of you, on the same plane as your toes. Squat without your knees touching the bench. Squeeze your butt extra at the top to keep from falling over!

FIX: Pick just your toes up off the ground.

This will tend to also fix #3, below ;)

Also see #5 below.

#2 FAULT: Knees “caving” in

The knees come in, especially when coming up from the bottom of the squat.

FIX: Try to imagine “spreading the ground apart” with your feet. Not by rolling the foot, but as if you could literally spread the tile/boards/mats/whatever apart. This should also put the weight toward the outside “knife edge” of the foot.

#3 FAULT: Hips not initiating the movement

As the squat starts, the weight either doesn’t shift into the heel, or worse, shifts into the toes.

FIX: Stand back to a wall, 6-8 inches away. To start the squat, make your butt juuust touch the wall, then have it stay just grazing the wall for the entire squat.

Also see #5 below

#4 FAULT: Leaning too far forward

As the squat happens, the lean forward increases or is too severe.

FIX: Stand facing a wall, with toes 6-12 inches from the wall. Extend your hands straight up, and without touching the wall or bending your extended arms, squat. Keep the weight in your heels!

The back will be engaged tremendously! As this gets easier, move closer to the wall until they can be done with the toes essentially touching the wall.

#5 FAULT: Not going low enough, the hips don’t go below parallel

FIX: Use a medicine ball, a small stool, stacked pillows, or some other object (preferably soft) to use as a target for your butt. This should be something you just touch with your butt, not something you sit and rest on.

This also sometimes helps with #1 and #3 as well.

Woohoo! NOW you’re squatting!

Do 30-50 of them today, and see how you feel tomorrow, and especially the next day! Let me know how they feel! W love comments!!

Sometime in the future we’ll talk about adding weight to the squat. (Ideally nothing should change from the shoulders down, but there are tweaks to be made, and I have yet to meet anyone who’s “ideal,” besides my wonderful wife, of course.)

Now for the sweet vid:

CrossFit HAX Squat Technique from CrossFit HAX on Vimeo.