There are multiple ways to perform a SQUAT. Majority of you must have heard about one or other form of squat. There are many benefits to performing squatting. Squatting helps to increase muscle strength, functional endurance, tone muscles and one of the famous exercises in the weight loss regime. This is an exercise that can be done by children for fun, adults to lose weight, older individuals to improve muscle strength and balance or any other age in between as a workout routine. Additionally, from beginners to professional athletes practice squatting to prepare themselves for the game. The only difference in all the above mentioned is the way they perform squatting exercise. There are many different ways to perform squats. On top of that, you can change speed, frequency, and intensity to make the exercise easier or a little difficult! So in this article, I want to discuss a few different yet important ways to perform squats.
Basic Positioning for Squatting:
- Always perform squatting on a firm surface
- Feet should always be shoulder-width apart
- Throughout the squatting, your back should remain neutral.
- Your weight should be on your heels as well as on balls of the foot.
- You should not feel any pressure or strain or pain in the back. If so, you are using back muscles more than glutes and quads. So try neutralizing your back again and bear weight through feet.
- Breath throughout the squatting process. As you start feeling more stretch or start going deeper into the squat, breathing becomes more crucial.
- Any time during the squatting, make sure, your knees don’t cross the ankles. Knees should always be over the ankles. This helps you to determine you are actually taking weight through feel and using muscles in the process. And not using your joints or back incorrectly.
Few Variations of Squat:
Below are few most common squats. They are not in any particular order. One can perform any of the squats from below an initial step as a part of a workout routine. You can make it challenging by adding some external weight or holding a squat for a few seconds.
Wall slides/ wall squat:
Wall slides or wall squat is very common in the rehab gym. This can be done as the initial stages of strengthening exercises. This is also famous post-operative exercises after total knee or hip replacement. A deconditioned person, an old aged person with poor balance and strength can be prescribed wall slides to improve muscle strength. Wall squats are also a safe alternative to a regular squat.
Wall squats are also useful for people who have incorrect posture. Having a wall behind your back helps a person to keep a back in a neutral position and avoid any extra strain on back or knees.
Here is how to perform it:
- Stand up with a wall behind your back. Ideally, your back should be in touch with the wall.
- Ankle and hips should be shoulder-width apart.
- You can cross your arms on the chest or keep them at your waist or keep it as your thighs
- Slowly bend your knees, as if you are sliding down the wall. Make sure you are tightening your butt muscles or glute muscles as well as core muscles. This way you are making sure that you are actually using glutes and not straining your back or knees.
- You can slide to the level you are comfortable with and stop at that point. If you have your hands on your thigh, slide your hands on the thighs as you slide/lower yourself down.
- Gradually come back up to your initial standing position.
- You can incorporate breathing into this exercise. You can inhale while lowering yourself and exhale at the endpoint. Inhale again while coming up and exhale at standing position.
- You can repeat this up to 12 or 15 times for 3 sets depending on your tolerance level.
You can add use some weights once you get hang to this kind of squatting. Also, going deeper is another way to make it more challenging. Once a person is safe, one can move to regular squatting in an open environment.
2. Regular Squat:
This is done exactly the same way but here you’re removing the wall from behind.
- Here are you standing straight, without any support at your back
- You can choose to keep arms on the chest or on the pelvic area.
- Ankle and hips should be shoulder-width apart.
- Stick your buttocks out – this is the easiest way to explain that you are using muscles and not straining joints.
- Slowly start lowering yourself, keep bending knee and keep back as neutral as you can.
- Once you get to a position, that you think you can not go any lower than that, exhale there. And slowly come back up.
- Inhale while lowering yourself and exhale at the endpoint. Inhale again while coming up and exhale at standing position.
Few things to be careful about:
While performing this squat, Your knees are not sinking in or going in oblique while squatting. In other words, any given time, the middle point of your knees (the midpoint of Patella) remains in between great toe and first toe for the foot. Initially, you can perform this exercise in front of a mirror or have someone watch you for your posture. This way you can make sure that you are obtaining correct posture while squatting. If you start noticing your knees are either sinking in or widening apart while performing squats, you need to strengthen your glutes, piriformis, IT band, back extensors, and core muscles.
Here, you can either stop squatting at the point when you start noticing the knees changing directions and gradually increase going deep in the squats. Or you can do strengthening of isolated glutes and get them ready for the deeper squats. To me, no one is better than the other. Honestly, it is your choice. Either way, you are going to improve the range. Doing with correct posture is more important than just performing deeper squats. Quality matters than quantity.
3. Deep Squat/ Low Squat:
This is the same as the squat. I put this kind as a different category as many times, a beginner may not be able to get to this position initially. They may require some training, and strengthening exercise. Here, you can get to your regular squat as described in a regular squat.
Repeat number 1 to number 6. Lower yourself all the way down so that you are sitting in squatting position. Your buttocks should not touch the floor.
It is better to focus your gaze at one point in the room and remove yourself from distraction to get into a deeper squat and maintain a proper balance.
Some variations you can add here are:
- Lift your heels up when you are all the way down.
- You can put your hands in “Namaste” position and breath here for few seconds (or as tolerated) here.
- To make it more challenging, you can add weight while performing squatting.
- You can make it more challenging by lifting one leg up (one leg squat) or kicking one leg out.
5. Adding Some Weights to it:
As I have mentioned earlier, at any variation of the squat, you can add some weight to work on your arms along with your lower body and core. Below are two main variations that many CrossFit trainers or weightlifters perform. This is not a common exercise that a physical therapist will perform with the patient. So I am not going into much detail for these types.
a. Forward squat:
Here, you are holding barbell front with your hands on shoulders while squatting.
b. Backward squat:
During this squatting, you are holding a barbell on the upper back.
There are many benefits to both kinds of squatting. Again, one can argue about backward squat is better than forwarding or vice versa for body mechanics as well as injury prevention. As I mentioned earlier, since this is not common in PT practice, I am not going in detail about this squats.
5. Yoga poses in squatting:
If you are a physical therapist, practicing yoga, you very well be aware of squat kind of being a base for many poses. As squat provides a good source of the lower body and core strengthening as well as joint opening exercises, it is a frequently used position. In addition, even though many positions does not end at Squat, several times it is used in the middle to get the body into the final pose or position. Here are a few famous yoga poses that are some variations of squats and essentially uses the same muscle groups.
a. Chair Pose:
This is basically a regular squat described in number 2 in this article. Here, you are keeping your hands outstretched parallel to the ground or floor. You can choose to stop at middle range (chair like position – as the name suggests) or decide to go deeper, all the way down (as described in number 3 in the article).
Breath throughout the process is an important thing to remember. Hold yourself at the deeper level (as tolerated) and gradually come back up to a starting position.
b. Squatting with Heels up/ prayers pose:
This is going deeper all the way (in almost sitting in squatting position with buttocks not touching the floor) and keep your heels up. It is otherwise known as a modified “prayer pose” in yoga. This requires a lot of practice and concentration to achieve. A beginner may not be able to get to this position during their first few sessions. Keeping your gaze fixed at a point, breathing through the position, and gradually performing this exercise helps to get to the deeper position easily.
Positions to avoid while performing Squatting:
- Don’t hold your breath
- Don’t put extra pressure on back: in other words, use lean forward or backward while performing squatting
- Make sure you are using muscles and not putting pressure on weight-bearing joints like knees.
- Use a weight or go to the next difficulty level when you and your body is ready. Every position of squatting can help if done correctly.
So these are the main variation that one can do with squatting exercises. The first three are the types that commonly used in the PT clinic.
Here is a print-out version squatting exercises.