You're Doing It Wrong...Maybe
It is no secret that the squat is one of the best lower body exercises around that targets those hips, buns, and thighs that are troublesome spots for many women. While this exercise for women can really help you tone and sculpt those areas, it also very easy to perform this fat burner improperly thereby diminishing the power it packs and risking injury. Fear not friends! We have put together 7 tips on proper squat technique for women to ensure that you get the most out of your squat every time.
1) Proper Squat Technique: Hip Hinge
When most people try to squat, the knees protrude far over the toes, the rear end goes straight down, and the heels come off the floor. This happens because the proper squat technique requires some hip flexibility, proper balance, and a “hip hinge”. Each time you squat you should hinge your hips so that your rear end moves backward during the downward phase of the squat, your knees will no longer protrude well over your toes (if you are tall, this may happen, but make sure it does not put pressure on your knees). Finally, the pressure of the squat will be on your heels instead of your toes and you will be able to get more depth to your squat.
2) Proper Squat Technique: Straight Head Position
One major mistake people make when they squat is rounding their necks, or looking down at the ground. The spinal alignment is automatically thrown off, which makes the squat a very dangerous exercise, especially if you are using a lot of weight. Sometimes we can pick a spot on the wall that’s in line with the eyes as I standing straight, then as you squat down, keep the eyes on that spot. The head is automatically in the correct position.
3) Proper Squat Technique: Chest Out/Shoulders Back
A key theme with the squat is to make sure your spine is in proper alignment. By keeping your shoulder back and your chest out, your lower back will most likely have the correct natural curve. If you instead round your shoulders and sink your chest in, your spinal alignment will be thrown off.
4) Proper Squat Technique: Slightly Arched Lower Back
As you can see in the picture below the bottom of the spine (known as the lumbar spine) has a slight arch. You should keep your lower back flat, to slightly arched as you squat. Hyperextending your lower back by arching too much, or rounding your back can put significant pressure on the intervertebral discs, which are soft gel-like cushions that protect each vertebra. If the disc ruptures because of too much pressure, a portion of the spinal disc pushes outside its normal boundary, which is called a herniated disc and may require surgery to repair. Not enough emphasis can be made to make sure your lower back is flat to slightly arched throughout the entire squat movement.
5) Proper Squat Technique: Athletic Stance, Toes Pointed Out
Use an athletic stance for the squat so that your knees are slightly bent, feet are firmly planted on the ground, and toes pointed outwards slightly, which helps with stabilization. The wider you put your feet, the more it works your glutes and hamstring (back of the leg), and the easier it will be to stabilize. The closer in you put your feet, the more your quadriceps will be emphasized (the front of the leg). One common mistake when people use too much weight is that one, or both knees will cave in towards their center. Make sure to keep your knees out and choose a weight that is appropriate for your level.
6) Proper Squat Technique: Exhale Up/Inhale Down
Breathing is very important for squatting in particular because it is a challenging exercise. Improper breathing can make you lightheaded, or nauseous, and in extreme cases, some people even blackout. As you are lowering yourself, remember to take a deep breath in, then as you are pushing up, breathe out forcefully. Always keep this breathing pattern. Towards the last few reps, you may consider taking a few extra breaths at the top of the squat position as you are standing for some extra energy.
7) Proper Squat Technique: Depth of the Squat
The depth of the squat primarily depends on your hip flexibility. If your hips are very flexible, then you may be able to squat “below parallel” (hamstrings are below parallel with the floor) and if you have poor hip flexibility, then you will be “above parallel”. In general, try to shoot for your hamstrings about parallel with the floor, which deeply engages your thighs, hips, and glutes. If you can go lower than parallel that’s fine, just make sure you don’t experience any pain in your knees or lower back, and always keep your lower back flat, to slightly arched.
A couple of other tips to keep in mind as you are practicing the proper squat technique for women are to look at the profile of the squat as you are standing sideways towards the mirror. You may also consider videotaping your form as well.
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Adapted from an article which originally appeared on builtlean.com.