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How to Squat Properly - Squat Mistakes

by Jason Stallworth

August 11, 2020

Countless bodybuilders and strength training athletes have crowned squats as the king of exercises.

There’s a good reason for that. Doing squats will help you pack on some serious muscle mass. And they help you gain overall strength, even on your other lifts.

But the problem is there are some mistakes that will keep you from getting the full benefits of squats. In fact, some of these mistakes can lead to injury that can put you out of the gym for weeks or more.

In this post, I’m going to share 6 common squat mistakes that I see many people make in the gym (some of which I have made, myself)!

You’ll also learn how to fix these mistakes and squat properly so that you can make gains.

Mistake #1 – Not Squatting Deep Enough

Squats - not low enough - half-ass

The most common mistake I see in the gym is people not going deep enough on their squats. This leads to two things…

  1. Fooling yourself into thinking you can squat more than you can
  2. Potential back and knee issues

Let’s be real. It feels good to step out of the rack with a bunch of weight sitting on your traps. The problem is you may feel like you’re going far enough down when oftentimes you’re not.

Another part of this mistake is letting ego get the best of you. We all want to be stronger, and, of course, it’s a natural high to lift heavy. But going down only a few inches does not look cool. Rather, it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing!

In addition, not squatting deep enough screws up the natural form of the lift. Stopping the movement prematurely can put more stress on your lower back and joints.

You don’t necessarily have to go ass-to-ground, although that method indeed has its place for strength gains, per Dr. Aaron Horschig’s article ‘Are Deep Squats Bad For The Knees?‘. But you should at least squat to parallel, and a little beyond parallel.

Going through the rest of these mistakes and correcting them will actually help you squat deeper, with confidence. So keep reading…

Confession Time: I listed this squat mistake first because I was guilty of this for years!

What ‘woke me up’ is I had an experienced powerlifter-buddy watch me closely during a set of heavy squats. I felt I had gone parallel – he assured me that I was not even close to parallel.

That was kind of embarrassing. But from then on, I lightened the load and learned how to squat properly before trying to go heavy again.

Mistake #2 – Rounding Your Back

If there’s one thing you should avoid above everything else, it’s rounding your back during squats. This can cause major back problems.

The main cause of disc herniation or prolapse in the lower back is repeated lumbar flexion, or rounding, adds spine specialist Dr. Stuart McGill. Avoid rounding your lower back and you shouldn’t have to worry about squats causing injury.

‘Are Squats and Weightlifting Bad for Your Lower Back?’ by Mike Samuels on livehealthly.chron.com

Elite powerlifter and strength trainer Alan Thrall shows you how to fix the problem with rounding your back, which is also referred to as the ‘butt wink.’

To recap Alan’s points from the video that relate to back-rounding

  • Make sure you’re moving the bar in a straight line, over the mid-foot
  • Prevent falling forward (causing back-rounding) by placing the bar properly on your mid-traps and keeping tension throughout the lift
  • Breathing into your belly – we’ll talk more about breathing later…

Mistake #3 – Too Wide or Too Narrow Stance

Image from Stronglifts.com

Another area many have trouble with is their squat stance. More than often, people tend to use a wider stance because they feel that it allows them to squat more.

The problem with a wide stance is that it can cause pain in your groin area. This is definitely not something you want and you’re not going to get the full benefit of the squat.

On the flip side, some people squat with a stance that’s too narrow. This makes it difficult to break parallel, which was the first mistake we talked about in this post – not going down ar enough.

The proper stance for squats is simple – keep a shoulder-width stance. This will allow you to keep the bar straight throughout the lift, as we talked about in mistake #2. And it also helps you keep the muscles engaged.

Shoulder-width Stance. Squat with your heels directly under your shoulders. This creates room for your belly to pass through your legs when you Squat down. It makes breaking parallel easier. If you have long thighs with a short torso like me, your heels should be slightly wider apart than if you have short thighs with a long torso. But your heels should always be about shoulder-width apart when you Squat.

‘How to Squat with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide’ by Mehdi on November 18, 2018, stronglifts.com

Mistake #4 – Letting Your Knees Go Inward

Many have a tendency to let their knees cave in when squatting. As it may be obvious, this can lead to knee injury.

Here’s how to avoid this mistake:

  • Have a correct stance (follow the tips above from mistake #3)
  • Point your toes slightly outward
  • As you squat upward, push your knees outward
  • Press the weight using your heels – do not let your heels lift off the floor

TIP: If you continue to have the tendency to let your knees come inward, try squatting with a rope band around your legs. Place it right above your knees.

This will force you to push your knees outward as you squat. I learned this technique from an advanced powerlifter friend in my gym as I was having this issue.

Mistake #5 – Not Breathing Properly During Squats

Squatting properly requires a specific breathing and bracing technique.

Breathing and bracing is all about teaching your body how to support weight. This is crucial when you squat as the weight is directly over you, working in conjunction with gravity.

In the video below, there’s another elite powerlifter and strength trainer I want to highlight, Brian Alsruhe. He uses a can of Monster as an example of how breathing and bracing works when squatting.

Brian goes into the details of how you need to breathe when lifting in the video below…

To recap the experiment from the video…

  • When the can is full and unopened, it can support a tremendous amount of weight
  • When the can is open and empty, it will not support that amount of weight

The result is you should brace yourself with a lot of air in your belly before you squat. You also need to push your stomach out mimicking a can, so that the weight is supported.

You can release air once you get back to the starting position. But you’ll need to take another deep belly breath before performing the next rep.

This is why you don’t hear ‘real lifters’ yelling and screaming in the gym. They know that to lift the max amount of weight properly they have to hold that deep belly breath so that they can support the weight.

Not only is yelling in the gym annoying, but it’s also counterproductive. So don’t be that person!

Mistake #6 – Not Being 100% Mentally Focused

Squats - Squat rack and belt

You can have the proper methods and techniques down but there’s one thing you absolutely must have when squatting…

You must be 100% focused!

Squats are completely safe when you do them correctly. But if you’re not focused, you’ll be prone to making one or more of the other five mistakes we talked about.

Most pre-workout drinks have specific ingredients like caffeine, acetyl l-carnitine, and theanine that give that mental boost. One of the pre-workouts I recommend is PreFierce by TrueFierce.

**You can read my review and experience here: Jason’s PreFierce review

Build More Overall Muscle and Strength By Improving Your Squat

When done correctly, squats are indeed the king of exercises. It’s tough for any other exercise to build muscle and strength like squats (an exception may be deadlifts).

Another thing you may want to consider is squatting twice a week. In fact, I’m a ‘huge’ believer in training legs twice a week, in general. Legs are the largest set of muscles in your body so it makes sense to give them more attention.

I give you some full leg workout routines you can do in this post: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Build Bigger Legs

I hope this post helps you squat better and squat more! Please feel free to share it.

Train with Passion,

Jason