All about the Squat

We are all familiar with the Big Three: Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. We perform variations of these lifts in the strength portion of our group classes. They are the staples to most strength programs. In this week’s blog, we’ll analyze the squat– everything from the biomechanics of the movement to its benefits. 


The squat is considered one of the most powerful movements and known as the “king of all exercises”. Although it is thought of mostly as a “lower body” exercise, it is a full-body movement because you have to engage your full body to execute the movement. Here are some of the major muscles involved:

  • Anterior Muscles

    • Primary Muscle: Quads (front of the thighs)

      • Rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis

    • Stabilizing Muscles:

      • Tibialis anterior

      • Core (external oblique and rectus abdominis)

  • Posterior Muscles

    • Primary:

      • Gluteus Minimus

      • External Obliques

    • Stabilizing Muscles:

      • Hamstring (semimembranosus)

      • Lats (latissimus dorsi) 

      • Traps (trapezius)

The Squat is a compound movement, which means there are multiple joints involved in the lift. The joints involved are:

  • Hip Joint

    • Hip extension: this is accomplished by the work from the glutes, and adductors (inside of the thighs).

    • Hip external rotation (this is where the cue comes in: “knees out!”): this is accomplished through the glutes.

  • Knee Joint

    • Knee extension: the quads are responsible for this movement; it is responsible for straightening the knee from the bent position it takes at the bottom of the movement. 

When analyzing someone’s form, these are some of the first things we look at to ensure they are meeting requirements and performing a safe, effective movement.

Common Faults

  • Rounded back

    • How to fix: keep a stable core and breathing/bracing properly. We want to keep all of the muscles around the spin to be stiff and stable. 

    • How to brace:

      • After unracking the bar and before lowering into the bottom of the squat, take a breath in and push the air to your belly. Place focus on pushing your midsection out.

      • Push your upper back to the bar. This will help with scapular retraction. 

      • Push your feet into the floor. Remember, you want to have the “tripod feet”! Utilize your full foot (big toe, pinky toe, and heel).

  • “Good morning squat”- Hips rise quickly while the chest drops forward during the ascent. An ideal squat will have the hips and chest moving up at the same rate. 

    • There are several theories as to why this happens; one of them being quad weakness. However, several studies have shown that quad weakness is probably not the cause, instead the main cause is coordination problems due to fatigue. Under high fatigue, it gets more difficult to utilize the glutes and turn them on, therefore causing the issue of having the chest leaning too far forward.

    • How to fix: verbal cues such as “chest up!” or “look up!”. This will force the person squatting to fix their positioning from leaning too forward. Another way of fixing this issue is performing squats at a lower weight with polished technique. 

  • Knees caving in

    • How to fix: there are several things that can be done to help with this; verbal cues such as “knees out” can help. Another cue is tactile cues such as placing a small band around the knees, this way the person can feel the band pushing the knees in thus forcing them to actively push the knees out.

Squat Steps

  1. Unrack the bar

    1. Grab the bar just outside shoulder width.

    2. Your feet will be directly under the bar when you unrack. Initially, you will have a slight knee bend (since the hooks/bar should be set up around shoulder height). Stand upright and walk it out. 

      1. Take one step back then one step with your other foot; from there, align the heels of your feet and keep your feet slightly flared out. 

    3. Adjust feet to your preferred stance position: Typically, your feet should be around shoulder width apart but some people may prefer wider or narrower stances. 

    4. Keep your body tight. Breath and Brace. 

    5. Push upper back into the bar. 

  2. Descend

    1. Break at the hip and push your butt back. 

    2. Keep your eyes forward.

    3. Keep descending until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

  3. Ascend

    1. Keep your head and shoulders pulled back.

    2. Keep your chest open (proud chest! Show off your t-shirt logo!)

    3. Keep feet planted firmly on the floor; push aggressively with your feet.

    4. Breath out as you drive up.

The squat is a very technical lift that requires a lot of practice and technique refinement. Even advanced lifters still find ways to improve their squat mechanics and execution through constant adjustments and technique accessory work. However, the more you practice and polish your technique, the less risk of injury you will have when performing the lift and the more benefits you will see in everyday life performance and functionality.