4 Tips on How to Do Squats the Right Way

two women doing squats
Squats can improve full body strength and joint health.

Squats are a basic human movement pattern. They're a highly functional exercise, as they mimic the movements required to sit and stand. However, many people aren't sure how to do squats properly.

Squats are a foundational exercise that can improve full body strength and joint health. They target the front and back of your legs, glutes and core, while the rest of the body helps to stabilize and support. Since squats activate a number of different muscles, they can help you perform better in your other workouts!

The movement can be manipulated for any level of fitness, from complete beginners to elite athletes. Here's how to do squats the right way.

1. Find the Right Stance

When performing squats, it's common for people to place their feet either too far apart or too close together. Finding the right stance is important because everybody squats differently. This is due to several reasons, one being the depth of your hip socket — which isn't exactly something you can change. For many people, having feet shoulder-width apart is best.

When in the correct stance, your hips should feel comfortable throughout the entire movement and you should be able to perform your squat with a sense of balance. Play around with different foot positioning until you find what works for you. Ultimately, your toes should be flared out proportionately to how wide your stance is (more on this below).

2. Check Your Knee Path

A safe knee path is vital for injury prevention and it can help you squat with a heavier load. You don't want your knees collapsing inward (or too far out), so it's important to check your knee path as you perform squats.

Your knees should track right over your toes. If they're tracking off the outside of your feet, and not directly over them, you may need to point your toes further out. If the knees are collapsing inward and it's not an issue relating to weak or inactive outer thighs, you may need to point the toes in a more forward-facing position. Before making any changes to your foot position, check to see if you can achieve an optimal knee path by simply applying more control to your squat.

3. Brace Your Core

Having a braced core is important for spinal safety. When doing squats, you should try to avoid having a rounded or hyperextended back, relaxed shoulders and/or relaxed stomach muscles.

Here's how to brace your core: While in the starting position, tighten your stomach muscles, keep your chest up and try to keep your spine as straight as possible. Maintain this upper body tightness throughout the entire movement and reset between each repetition.

4. Note Your Depth

Not squatting down far enough — or even going too low — can be an issue. Unless being used specifically to improve a particular part of your squat, partial repetitions won't get you the results you're looking for. Also, squatting so far down that your hips are no longer parallel to the floor can be very unsafe for your spine. For these reasons, it's crucial that you note your depth during squats.

If you struggle to reach a lower level, try squatting down to a bench, chair or box to help you gain the confidence (and core strength) to squat lower. Core exercises like planks and side planks can also help with this. If you feel yourself go past the point where your hips and the floor are parallel, you need to stop the movement when you're higher up. Improving hip mobility and ensuring proper core bracing can help you reach a deeper squat depth without going too low.

Remember: Just because someone else is squatting down to the floor, doesn't mean you should!

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.