Want to maximize your squat and get it as strong and safe as possible?
Avoid these squatting mistakes at all costs!
The squat is known to be one of the most technical and difficult exercises or lifts to execute properly.
There are so many things that you have to think about, so many places you could go wrong and just so many things that you constantly have to be thinking about.
For many people, it's going to take several months or even years to fully master the squat and perfect the technique.
Some people might even never be able to fully master it.
There's seriously A LOT that you have to get right.
That's why in this post I'm going to be running through 5 of the biggest squatting mistakes that you might be making, which could be heavily impacting your ability to squat both safely and efficiently for maximum power.
I'll explain what each mistake is, and give you some pointers so that you can fix them if they apply to you and maximize both the safety and effectiveness of your squats!
Let's get right into it!
1. Not Keeping Your Knees In Line With Your Toes
This is one of the biggest mistakes that you'll see people making in the gym.
Now this one doesn't only apply to squatting, as this mistake can be made in a wide range of other exercises as well.
Not tracking your knees in line with your toes is known as 'knee valgus', and refers to the knees caving inwards towards each other during a squat or movement that requires knee extension.
Like I mentioned earlier this can happen on a very wide range of exercises, going from squats to lunges, to leg presses, to Bulgarian split squats, and even the deadlift!
Lifters mostly experience knee valgus on the concentric portion of a movement, where you're generally bringing the weight up and contracting the quads and straightening at the knees.
This is likely due to the fact that gravity assist you in lowering the weight down during the eccentric phase of the movement, whereas you're actively having to work against gravity during the concentric portion of a movement to move the weight.
Sometimes when the weight starts to feel heavy, lifters will allow their knees to cave inwards and continue to try and grind out their reps.
Allowing this to happen is going to place large and excessive amounts of stress and tension on your knee joints, as you isolate them away from your other joints.
You see, generally the strongest way we can lift is with our joints stacked on top of each other, allowing us to safely and efficiently transfer the pressure from joint to joint.
However when you allow your knees to cave in you place A LOT of the stress on the knees, completely on their own.
Now squatting with your knees caving in likely isn't going to cause you immediate pain today.
Nor next week.
However, it can definitely cause you some problems in the long run if you continue to squat and do your lower body compounds this way.
Over time this mechanical deficiency can cause your knee to undergo much more stress and tension than it really should, causing knee pain and discomfort when you're a little older.
This can lead to early disabilities and potentially come back to bite you by severely limiting your movement in the future.
In some severe cases, knee valgus under heavy loads can lead to ACL tears and sudden injuries that could take weeks and months to heal.
This isn't us telling you not to squat heavy, but we're simply outlining the potential risks that could come with squatting if you do make a big mistake.
So How Can You Avoid Knee Valgus?
Well, you can try your best to avoid knee valgus by simply thinking about pushing your knees out and tracking them in line with your feet/toes during the way up on a squat or knee dominant movement.
Doing this might help resolve the problem slightly, as actively thinking about this cue really does do the trick for a lot of people.
Taking a Wider Stance
Another method that you can use to try and reduce the amount of knee valgus you have would be to take a wider stance in your lower body pressing movements.
Doing this is going to change the angle as which your knees travel, and many people will actually find that squatting with a wider stance helps a long way in reducing the amount that their knees cave in.
Strengthening Your Glutes
While these cues and modifications can help in reducing knee valgus, the best way to tackle the problem is to find out what's causing it, and work from there.
The majority of the time, knee valgus is caused by lifters having weak glute muscles, and not being able to externally rotate at the hips enough.
To strengthen this muscle group you can do:
unilateral leg presses
Doing these exercises is going to allow you to really focus on your glutes and get them back up to speed with the rest of your body.
Increasing Ankle Mobility
Another common reason for people experiencing knee valgus is the fact that they have immobile ankles, and aren't actually able to flex at the ankles far enough.
When you squat or do a lower body pressing movement, you force your ankles into ankle dorsiflexion, basically meaning bending at the ankles and bringing your toes up closer towards your shins.
When you try to bend further than your ankles can tolerate, you'll likely find that your knees start to cave in to try and make up for a lack of ankle mobility.
The same thing happens during a squat.
To try and combat this, you can focus on increasing your ankle mobility by doing specific ankle drills and constantly doing things like front-foot elevated deep lunges or deep squats to force your ankles into heavy dorsiflexion.
Check out the comprehensive video by Precision movement for a full ankle mobility drill below!
2. Initiating At the Knees
Another big mistake that far too many people make would be initiating their squats at the knees, and not the hips.
You see, lots of people tend to think of the squat solely as a knee movement.
All they think about is bending at the knees, and then pushing back up and straightening them.
However, the squat is not that simple.
It's far from it.
To squat efficiently, you need to be engaging muscles from all over the body, and maintaining strong hips to push through and lock out at the top.
Plus, initiating the squat at the hips instead of the knees is going to allow you to maintain a better bar path, setting up your spinal erectors into the right position before you descend.
You see, when you squat, you'll find that your body naturally bends itself forwards at the hips to maintain the center of mass over your legs.
However if you initiate the movement at the knees first, you can risk placing too much of the load on the quads and not engaging the glutes enough.
This can once again cause you to suffer knee injuries and hurt yourself for reasons that could've easily been avoided.
When you initiate your squats, always think about bending slightly (not a lot at all) at the hips, before descending by bending down at the knees.
Practise this with light weights first, before moving onto doing this with heavier, more challenging loads to decrease the chances of injury.
3. Using Too Much Weight Too Quickly
Another BIG mistake that lots of beginner and even intermediate lifters make on the squat would be using far too much weight far too quickly.
This is referring to both warming up to heavier loads and progressing further through your program and putting more weight on the bar.
If you try to do this you'll run the risk of shocking your body and placing it under loads that it simply isn't yet strong enough to handle.
This can cause sudden injuries such as blowing out the knees or hurting your back by placing too much stress on these joints or muscles.
Remember to always be sensible with the weight that you're lifting.
There have been a couple of viral videos going around of people completely blowing out their knees and snapping their legs trying to squat weights that they really shouldn't even be thinking of touching.
This likely isn't going to happen to you as long as you're sensible and reasonable with the weights that you lift, but it's just a precaution because anything can happen if you're not careful.
4. Not Keeping a Neutral Spine
Now this one doesn't apply to some of the other lower body pressing movements like leg presses or hack squats.
However it is extremely important to keep in mind during the barbell squat and should not be forgotten or neglected in any way.
When you squat, you should always try your best to maintain a straight spine all the way throughout the movement.
This is going to ensure that you don't place too much stress on your spinal erectors and risk injuries.
It's going to severely hinder your ability to produce force and press through the quads, placing the brunt of the load onto your spine in a vulnerable position.
To combat this, you should constantly think about keeping your spine either neutral or with a slight bit of lordosis (extending a little bit past straight).
This is going to keep your spine in safer positions throughout the lift and help reduce the chances of you suffering an injury.
Sometimes it can help to record your sets so that you can see what you look like from another point of view.
Sometimes it's hard for us to catch our own mistakes, and often we'll believe tat we're squatting with perfect technique when our videos clearly show otherwise.
5. Squatting With Improper Range of Motion
Lastly on this list today we have a a mistake that we'd say 99% of squatters have done in their lifetimes at least once before.
Squatting with improper range of motion if a surefire way to leave gains on the table and risk injury if you're not careful.
Some people will squat with too little range of motion and cut the exercise short before they get anywhere near close to having their thighs parallel to the ground.
This is going to severely limit the amount of quad and glute growth that you can achieve, as you're simply not going to be taking the muscles through enough of a range of motion to stimulate growth.
There is a direct correlation between the range of motion that you put your muscles through and the amount of muscle that you're able to build.
If you aren't taking your muscles through a full enough range of motion, you're either ego lifting and need to drop the weight, or should learn the proper form first before advancing onto heavier loads.
Unless you have a very specific reason not to go to parallel with the ground (say, for a sport like high jumping), then you should be going to at least parallel with the ground.
But... You Can Also Go Too Low
While most people won't go low enough, some people will go too low and will actually compromise some of their squat form or output simply to gain an extra inch or so of depth.
You see, if you have the problems we mentioned before (weak glutes, immobile ankles, etc.), and you try to go really low and deep on a squat, you might actually find that other problems start to come in.
Maybe you'll experience some butt wink, maybe you'll start to lean forwards too much, or maybe your knees will start to cave back in.
Getting that extra range of motion is good, but only if you can do it the right way.
You shouldn't be compromising anything in your squat for a little bit of extra depth.
It's not worth it.
If you really do want to achieve ATG squat, or something similar, the best way to go about it is to make sure that your body is physically fit and mobile enough to go down there.
Keep working on your ankle mobility, keep working on your hip strength and don't try it with heavy weights until you're certain you've nailed down the technique.
Squats are one of the most technical exercises you can do in the gym.
There's lots that you constantly have to be thinking about, and there's lots of room for potential errors to pop up every once in a while.
However, be patient, be sensible with the weight that you lift and keep an open mind to ways on how you could improve your squat for the future!
I hope you've enjoyed reading this post and have learnt something from it!
If you did, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people and help more reach their goals in fitness this year!
Do you currently make any of the mistakes mentioned in this article?
Let us know down in the comments section below!