Can fixing your squat really help make life easier? Yes, it can. It will take practice and even some dedicated time, but the effort is worth the reward.
Why Focus on a Squat?
Daily living involves so many movements similar to, or are a version of a squat. Sitting down onto, or getting off the couch without using your hands to help you, is one example.
Remember the old saying “Lift with your legs, not your back,” when lifting something heavy? That’s a squat!
And how about coming down to ground level to chat with a toddler, or even sitting on a toilet? Those are squats, too! Even something as simple as bending down to get pots out of the bottom cupboard in the kitchen involves a squat.
Squats happen all the time in our lives, and yet they are still often an exercise that we need to practice with intention, to make sure we are getting the most out of the movement, and reducing our risk of injury.
Practicing squats, and doing other exercises to work the muscles involved in the squat movement, is important for improving the effectiveness of our squat-like movements when weight is involved (1), such as when lifting a child.
The Root of the Problem
If we are not practicing doing proper squats then, over time, parts of our body become weak, and some become stiff. This leads to poor form and increased risk of injury. The inability to squat correctly is common in people who sit for most of the day.
If you are trying to lift something heavy, but do so with poor form, you may cause unnecessary tension on particular joint and muscles and can injure yourself. Some examples of this include knee and lower back injuries.
Proper squat form involves a coordinated effort of your feet, ankles, knees, hips, lower and upper leg muscles, butt muscles, and core muscles.
What You Need
The good news is that fixing your squat is usually easy if you don’t have any physical impairments, albeit it may take time and patience. Depending on your body’s needs, and which exercise you select, you may need nothing more than your own body weight. But, you may also need:
- A bench, chair, or couch, and
- Something weighted. It can be a dumbbell, phone book, jug of water, or backpack full of homework. You can really use pretty much anything you find in your home with some weight added (so long as it is structurally sound as you don’t want to drop anything on your foot).
Addressing “Dead Butt”
“Dead butt syndrome” is a term used when someone is unable to control their glute muscles (butt) on command. It happens often in people who sit a lot, whether they work at a desk, drive for hours a day, sit to watch TV for hours, or any other form of sitting.
Being able to command your butt muscles is very important, and possibly the most important aspect of fixing your squat. Glutes drive your hips. Squeezing them on command helps you to get up safely without relying on your quads which can contribute to unnecessary stress being put on your knees.
Here is a way you can test if you have a dead butt and what to do about it, so long as you do not have advanced dead butt syndrome, which can be the reason for other pains you may experience. If you are unable to use the tips below or do experience other pains in your body, seek the help of your health professional.
- Sit on a couch or chair, keeping good posture with your arms at your sides.
- Try to squeeze your butt. If you are unable to feel if anything is happening, try sitting across from a mirror. You should see your whole body get lifted slightly, and go back down in sync with your butt squeezes.
- If nothing is happening then you need to practice butt squeezes daily while sitting down. You can do this on the couch, in a chair during lunch, or any other time you are sitting. Aim for at least 10 squeezes. You can repeat this as many times throughout the day as you like.
- If you are able to squeeze your butt sitting, then try squeezing it while standing such as at home doing dishes, or standing in line at the bank. And for fun, try squeezing one butt cheek at a time when sitting. Practice these throughout the day, every day.
Muscles You Need to Work
As we just covered, getting your glutes activated is an important part of the squat (2), and without this ability, your squats will not be complete.
Other major muscles needed for a squat include your hamstrings (back of thigh), and quads (front of thigh). You can work these out on their own using bodyweight, bands, free weights, or machines. We won’t cover the exercises here, but some to consider are stiff-legged deadlifts, lunges, and more. Squats do incorporate other muscles in both the lower body and torso as well.
In addition to strengthening some muscles, there are parts of your body that may be tight and need stretching in order to properly perform a squat. These areas are usually the back of the ankle and lower back.
Exercises that Help
There are several exercises that you can do to develop the supporting muscles used for a squat. For now, let’s focus on exercises that are variations of a squat.
For all of these exercises, you will need to focus on bending your hips before your knees to go down and squeezing your butt to come back up. Your hips should be the driving force in the movement, with both sides going down, and coming up at the same speed. Do not let your weight shift to one side more than the other. Whichever squat version listed below you choose, do 10-15 reps, 3 sets, for practicing form. You will need to adjust these reps and sets if you are including them as part of a weight training program. Try to include one of these squat versions as dedicated parts of your workout two times per week, or even practiced on their own in your home.
1. Body weight squat
Purpose: Bodyweight squats are a good way to get many parts of your body working together so that you can conduct daily movements easier and safer. They can be applied to tasks such as squatting down to talk with your little ones, petting a companion animal, or lifting grocery bags from the ground to bring into the house.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider, with arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Make sure you have your body weight distributed evenly through your feet. Bend at the hips first to come down as far as you can. Squeeze your butt to come back to standing, straightening your knees and hips. This is an exercise that you can add weight to once you have proper form.
2. Box Squat
Purpose: Box squats put an emphasis on working your backside, especially your glutes (butt), and hamstrings (back of thigh). They are helpful in strengthening the upward movement of a squat and can help with tasks such as getting off a couch you’ve been sitting on to watch a show or standing up after spending some time on the toilet.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider just in front of a bench, couch, or chair. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder height. With weight distributed evenly throughout your feet, bend at the hips to come down to sitting on the bench. Pause here for a moment and then come back up to standing, straightening your knees and hips. This is an exercise that you can add weight to once you have proper form.
3. Goblet Squat
Purpose: A goblet squat can quickly rectify form when you are having difficulty igniting your backside on command, or need to work on keeping your chest facing more forward rather than downward.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart or a little wider, making sure you have your weight distributed evenly through your feet. Hold a weight at your chest -not your sides or back! The weight can be a dumbbell, phone book, jug of water, or a backpack full of homework (pretty much anything you find in your home with some weight added so long as it is structural sound). Choose a weight that you can feel when it is added to the movement, but does not feel heavy as our focus right now is form, not strength building or muscle building. Bend at the hips first to come down as far as you can, working towards being able to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Squeeze your butt to come back to standing, straightening your knees and hips.
If you’re concerned that you may go too low and cannot come back up with the proper form in a bodyweight squat, or goblet squat, then put a bench, chair, or couch behind you. You can squat down until you tap the bench with your butt, but do not rest there. If this is too low then add books or pillows for more height. Over time you should be able to lower yourself further without a catch, and eventually remove the need for the bench completely.
Exercise Selection to Fix Your Squat
The exercises above can be mixed and matched to target problem areas of your squat. If you are completely new to squats you will want to try a bodyweight squat and see what you are capable of.
If you find yourself having difficulty activating your glutes in a bodyweight squat then spend your time alternating your squat sessions between box squats and goblet squats throughout the week.
If you are working on increasing the depth of your squat and using proper form, then goblet squats are the way to go.
Read on to the Common Mistakes section to see if you are experiencing any of those, and which squat version you should be doing to correct them.
There are a few common mistakes that you may experience at some point when working on squats. They include heels lifting off the floor, knees caving in, and chest pointing downward. Here are ways to recognize if they are happening to you, and what to do about it. You can use a mirror or video record yourself to see if these things are happening during a workout. However, these items are not accessible in everyday living circumstances and you need to be able to recognize when your body is making these mistakes so you can make adjustments as needed in the moment.
Heels lifting off the floor
If you find your heels lifting off the floor then practice bodyweight squats, with a decreased depth, going only go as low as you can before your heels begin to lift. As you complete each rep you may find it is easier to go a little deeper into the squat as your body warms up to the movement. Over time you will find you can go lower and lower.
If you can get to a position where your thighs are parallel to the ground before your heels lift then you can also work on your box squats and goblet squats.
Knees caving in
Most often when your knees are caving in, it is a sign that you need to squeeze your butt more! Without the assistance of your glutes during the upward movement of the squat, the positioning of your legs is compromised and your knees will move towards one another. This is not good! A general rule for knee safety: You want your knees to go in the same direction as your toes are pointing.
If you are having difficulty with activating your glutes then go back to practicing butt squeezes on the couch, box squats, and goblet squats.
Chest pointing downward
When squatting you want your chest pointing more forward rather than downward. When your chest is falling towards the ground, you can become off balance very quickly especially if you are using added weight. Keeping your chest pointing forward allows for the weight to be distributed more efficiently throughout your working joints. If you find yourself falling downward, think about shifting your weight back into your heels more.
If you are having difficulty keeping your chest pointing forward more than downward then practice goblet squats.
Adding Squats to Your Daily Living and Reap the Rewards
Even the most limber and strong person has to practice their squats, and sometimes this involves heavy weights or barbells on their back. But even if you have no interest in gaining muscle mass in your body, or creating legs as strong as an ox, working on your squats with the three exercises in this article will make a difference in your life.
In fact, you may even find that you squat more now than ever before. Squat to lift furniture. Squat to pick up your kid. Squat to squeeze into the last spot on the couch between loved ones. Squat to play on the ground with kids.
Use squats to your advantage to make life easier, more enjoyable, and reduce your risk of injury. Happy squatting!
If you’d like to add squats to a full-body workout, grab a copy of my Full Body At-Home Workout Cheat Sheet. With this cheat sheet, you can easily create workouts that exercise your whole body with only a couple of dumbbells in less than an hour.