Squats are one of the most effective exercises you can do, but they are also one of most poorly performed exercises in regard to form. If you struggle with your form but still want to gain the many benefits of a squat, here are a few good options to build your strength.
This is as simple as a squat comes. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your feet pointed slightly outward. You don’t want them pointed directly ahead. Keeping your knees too close together will cause knee strain; too wide of a stance can cause issues for the MCL and patella. As you bend your knees, keep your back straight and pretend you are about to sit in a chair. Your weight should be in your heels.
Do a quick check and be sure your knees have not gone in front of your toes – once your knees are in front of your toes, your form is compromised and you are at a higher risk of injury. Be sure to keep your core tight, and do not round your lower back. This will cause strain and could cause your back to spasm.
As soon as your thighs are parallel to the ground, you have completed the full range of motion, and can begin to come up. Keep your knees and quads still pointing forward and do not let your knees dip towards one another. As for your arms, place them wherever is most comfortable – on your hips, behind your head, etc.
Squat with a stability ball
The stability ball will help to act as a bit of a crutch for your squat. If you do not feel like you can achieve good form on an air squat, add the stability ball. Place it on your back standing up, and put your body weight on it against a sturdy wall. Perform the raising and lowering motion as the ball glides along your back. This will help your back to stay nice and straight and will give you a chance to work on good form. You will end up sitting back a bit further in your heels since the stability ball will account for some of your weight.
Squat with TRX straps
The TRX straps will provide a similar feeling as the stability ball, but your arms will account for a bit more of the effort. I did TRX squats multiple times during my pregnancy since my balance was off, but I still wanted the benefits of squatting to help me with labor.
Grab the TRX straps and hold on tight. Raise and lower yourself by sitting back in your heels. In the beginning, you can rely heavily on your arms to support you. Once you get the hang of it, try putting a bit more of the effort into your legs, and minimally use the TRX straps for support. This is a great way to transition from the supported squat to the air squat.
A leg press machine also mimics the squat, but in a different way. It is much easier to load a lot of weight with a leg press machine than it is with free weights or a bar bell. With that being said, it does not mean leg presses are easy! Keep in mind your low back should be nice and flat against the bench you are sitting on. If you have a little curve in it, you will be using your back to lift instead of your legs, and once again, will raise your risk of injury.
Squat with free weights
This will be exactly the same as an air squat, with the only difference being you have a free weight in each hand. Pay attention to the weights and be sure they are not pulling you too far forward. If they are, lighten up the weight. Your hands (with the weights) can either be by your side, or up by your shoulders. Just don’t rest them on your shoulders. Holding the weight right around your shoulders will give your arms some resistance as well, and cause you to keep a nice and tight core.
Squat with a barbel
Form is of utmost importance when adding weight to a squat, especially when the weight is held up over the head. You can either rest the barbel on your back (on your shoulders) or keep it held above your head. Start with minimal weight, just to get the feeling of the extra element added to the squat, and build from there. Remember, do not round your lower back when pushing back up. This is unbelievably important!