squatting hdr 1

Squatting For Beginners

Squatting is Good For You!

Fundamental movements are movements that are essential for maintaining independent living and enjoying exercise. They include movements such as squatting, lunging, running and hanging. Learning the correct technique to perform fundamental movements is known to reduce the risk of injury in children. It is not only children who benefit from proficiency in these movements. To maintain balance, and thus independence, and to avoid injury, older adults must maintain their ability to perform fundamental movements. 

Squatting is a particularly important exercise. It is not only foundational to sporting activity but it is also crucial to everyday tasks such as sitting and lifting. Getting up from a sitting is a fundamental task for living independently into old age. The longer we can perform a squat, the longer we will remain independent in old age. 

Squatting activates the largest muscles in our bodies. The quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calf muscles are all activated during a squat. These large muscles are important not only for movement and balance but also for our metabolism. Muscles act as a store of glucose. They are therefore crucial to how our bodies handle sugar. 

A squat, when performed correctly, does not compromise the structural integrity of the knees. In fact, it can enhance our stability. This is crucial, as maintaining balance and stability becomes increasingly important as we age. Falling in old age can have disastrous consequences. In addition, squatting, when performed correctly, can improve the stability of the knee and reduce the risk of sports injuries. Being able to squat correctly is a prerequisite to being able to perform more ballistic, explosive movements such as box jumps and plyometrics. The squat mimics the explosive movements required in many sports. Thus, improved squatting enhances sporting performance. 

Due to its importance in everyday life and because it activates the largest muscles in the body, squatting is fundamental to any resistance training program. Squatting also acts as a useful tool in the doctor’s, physiotherapist’s, or osteopath’s office to screen for any issues with movement mechanics. This is because the squat is what is known as a “compound manoeuvre.” Compound exercises are loved by physical trainers because they require the use of several muscle groups working in collaboration. These exercises are incredibly useful for building muscle mass, strength, and power. As it is a compound movement, squatting is incredibly useful for picking out biomechanical problems. These issues can be due to a lack of muscle strength, an imbalance of strength on each side of the body, unstable joints (also due to a lack of strength), and a lack of joint and muscle flexibility. 

How to perform a squat

It is highly recommended that you get an experienced personal trainer or physical therapist to observe your squat technique. This can give you the appropriate cues and feedback to ensure rock-solid technique. It can be really helpful to record your squat movements from the front and the side so that you can see any errors that you are making. 

If you are new to squatting, you can just use your body weight. Ideally, use a dowel or a light (2.5 kg) strength bar. This allows you to begin in the same position that you will progress to when increasing the weight that you are squatting. Using a cylindrical dowel or light weight bar also engages the muscles around the scapula, helping to stabilise the upper body. 

Bar – Squatting with weights

Begin in a standing position with your feet flat on the floor. Your knees and hips should be in a neutral position, and your spine should be upright with its natural curves preserved. Grip the bar or dowel with the palms facing forward and slightly wider than shoulder width. The bar should rest just below the neck on the upper back. A good tip when using a bar is to “bend the bar.” This action helps brace the torse and improves squat performance. Keep your wrists straight and your forearms parallel to your torso. 


Stand with your heels shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward or slightly outward by no more than ten degrees.


Prior to beginning the downward squat motion, breathe in through your nose and down into your belly to about 80% of a full breath. This increases the pressure in the abdomen and helps prepare and brace the spine for the load. Breathe out through the mouth when you are coming back up. This helps to negate the need for a belt.

Squat Motion

The descent phase of the squat begins with “breaking the hips.” The motion is that of sitting down while sticking your bum out. It is almost as though you are trying to sit on a chair that is just too far away. The goal should be to keep your bum as far back from your ankles as you can while maintaining an upright torso. The distance between the hips and shoulders should remain constant. The heels should bear the majority of your body weight. The ideal finishing position is with the thighs just below parallel to the ground. The thighs going past the line parallel to the ground are not more likely to result in injury. The speed of the ascent should be 2-4 times the speed of the descent. 

The upward motion follows the same path as the downward motion. The glutes, or bum muscles, should be the primary driver of the motion. Again, the low back should be kept stiff, and the shoulder and hips should be at the same distance throughout. The weight should be in the heels (I wear shoes with a very minimalist sole to facilitate this although some people squat without shoes). 

The main, albeit weird, mental cue I think of when performing a squat is that my buns are cracking a walnut. To cue getting my bum out far enough, I imagine that someone could place a walnut between my bum cheeks when I am at the lowest point of the squat (what a job that would be!). I then imagine that I am crushing that walnut with my bum cheeks in the ascent phase. 

Avoiding Pitfalls

The squat is a complex movement. There are several ways it can go wrong and result in injury. Here are a few pointers to help maintain the correct technique. 

Head Position: The gaze should be aimed forwards, and the neck should be perpendicular to the ground. 

Chest: The chest should be up and the shoulders should be back. So if you have a logo on your t-shirt, you should be able to see it in the mirror. 

Trunk/Middle: Your trunk should be in line with your shins at all times. 

Hips: If you are squatting in the mirror, you should see that your hips should be level and parallel to the ground. 

Knees: Your knees should travel in line with your second toe and should not tilt inward past the inside of your ankle. 

Feet: The entire sole of the foot should remain in contact with the ground throughout. 

Squatting is, I think, the most important resistance exercise. If done correctly, it can improve athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury, maintain independence, and improve metabolism. But it is really important to do it correctly. Start with no weight or a very light weight. Ideally, have an experienced personal trainer or physiotherapist observe your squat motion. 

Dr J Hugh Coyne

Private GP 

Parsons Green, Fulham