Of all compound strength training exercises squats are probably most the effective way to strengthen legs as well as almost the entire body. Therefore everyone following an ambitious strength training routine should include squats regularly.
Squats are also one of the hardest-to-learn exercises. A proper technique is important to exercise safely and effectively and to protect the body from injury.
Besides the classic barbell squat, which I will explain more in detail below, there are several other squat variations that rely on the basic training technique.
Full Body Strength
Squats require the use of the entire body, especially when using relatively heavy weights. Leg and hip muscles experience a high dynamic impact while almost all other muscles serve as stabilizers.
The simultaneous workout of many muscle groups leads to increased testosterone level in the body, which ultimately leads to increased muscle mass, not only in the legs.
Provided a correct training technique, squats are very well suited to stabilize the knee joints, because the high level of muscular activity and co-ordination is strengthening all surrounding muscles and passive structures. Also squats are one of the most effective exercises for strengthening and stabilizing the trunk.
Proper squats require a high degree of mobility of the ankle and hip articulations. If the lowering of the hips in a correct fashion is not possible, I recommend have a regular stretching to improve the joints mobility beforehand.
For heavy squats you have to use squat rack, a.k.a. power rack, which enables the positioning of the barbell at a proper height. In addition, most racks provide a lower dumbbell stack to catch the barbell in case of failure in the lowest point.
Grasp the barbell with your hands slightly more than shoulder-wide apart and place it on the upper back and rear Deltoids. When using heavy weights you have to stay inside a squat rack.
Then lift the barbell from the rack, place your feet about shoulder-wide apart and turn them slightly outside. Keep your body upright. Also keep knees slightly bent and tense the body.
Now bend your knees and lower your hips back as if you were sitting down until your thighs are about parallel to the ground. Your knees have to stay above your toes, pointing slightly out.
Now press your hips back up. Firmly tighten your buttocks. Beware to move your hips up and not to front, otherwise your knees will be pushed beyond your toe tips.
Keep your body weight shifted to your heels, they are the basis for a powerful squatting up..
In the top position stand upright again. Your knees have to stay slightly bent.
Here´s one of the few Youtube videos showing a very good squat technique. Just perfect.
Place the barbell on the muscles of the upper back and rear shoulders.
Position your feet about shoulder-wide apart while you turn your toes slightly outward, pointing toward the knees.
The grip distance may vary. The closer the distance, the better the tightening of the upper back.
Keep your wrists as straight as possible. The back carries the weight while hands just stabilize the position.
Let the elbows point down behind to keep up a tight upper back.
Head & Neck
While squatting you have to permanently look ahead or slightly up to keep your back straight.
Keep all upper back muscles tight to provided a solid and safe base for the barbell.
When tightening your upper back, your chest move up. Keep it up to avoid any rounding of the back.
Tense all muscles to maintain a lower straight back.
During squats move your body weight on your heels. You should be able to (in theory) permanently curl your toes off the floor.
There is a variety of squat variations to intensify or to simplify this exercise, or to demand certain muscles in a different way.
Keep your torso as upright as possible. It is important to push your hips up in a calm and focused way to avoid a delayed raising of the upper body.
That leads to a rounding and instability in the back. Always look straight forward or slightly upward keep your back remains.
The weight is shifted to the heels. Prevent them from lifting off. Shortened calf and thigh muscles can make it difficult to do the desired range of motion.
Knees beyond toe tips
Imagine sitting down on a chair. While lowering the hips move backwards. When squatting up, move your hips straight into upright position. Avoid any forward motion.
Never lock the knees in the upper position. Locked knees shift much of the workload from the muscles right into the knees, causing an intermittent muscular tension and high pressure inside the knee articulations, which can lead to knee pain.