The squat: the first major fundamental exercise

squat, exercise

This is the first article in a series that will present some cornerstones of the execution of the three main exercise of weight training (called “The big three”): squat, bench, and deadlift. In particular, the first fundamental exercise that we will analyze in this article is the squat.

Here are the most important things to know: from correct positioning to the most common doubts.

Advance immediately, for the more expert readers, that on some theses exposed there are different schools of thought, therefore it is not difficult to find different opinions in authors/coaches also very respectable. As in many other areas of existence, critical discernment should be exercise, both theoretically and in light of personal (practical) experience. It is not exclusively by reading and comparing 1000 articles or studies that one learns to do a correct squat, but by drawing on reliable sources and trying firsthand to then draw their conclusions.

However, I would like to clarify that the following, if implemented correctly, is sufficient for safe and profitable execution of the exercise in question; it is up to each of us to take responsibility (and the challenge) to seek personal “stylistic” nuances to make the movement more efficient according to individuality (joint levers, strong/weak points, limitations in mobility, etc …).exercise


Feet at shoulder width, toes towards the outside, shoulders back and low, barbell on the trapeze or the rear deltoids (not on the neck), elbows towards the floor (not backward). Lift the barbell off the supports and take two small steps back.exercise

Eccentric phase (descent)

– fill the “belly” with air (diaphragmatic breathing) and hold your breath

– start the descent by sending your butt back

– push your knees out, so that they point in the same direction as the feet and are perpendicular to them

– chest out, always

Concentric phase (ascent)

– push the chest and knees out

– keep the back straight (not vertical) i.e. do not invert the physiological lumbar lordosis

– start to exhale as soon as the dead center is passed

Common mistakes

– do not use breathing to stabilize the spine

– begin the descent by bending only the knees

– close the knees inwards

– raise the bottom of the shoulders more quickly (“squat” the squat)

– lose lumbar lordosis

Once the main guidelines have been indicated, it is also necessary to dwell on some less basic themes, which are always interesting for a “generalist” public, where there are no discussions about the different brands of clothing / technical equipment.

As for the squat, I have selected some questions that are asked more frequently and therefore deserve some attention.

How far should you go?

The maximum allowed by individual joint mobility and ascending as soon as you begin to lose lumbar lordosis.

It is essential to arrive at least with the femur parallel to the ground while the ideal would be to go down a little further. At first, it is normal to have difficulty reaching this depth, therefore it is important to work on flexibility and mobility.

Why do you have to go down at least to the parallel?

To activate the posterior muscles of the lower limbs, i.e. the buttocks and hamstrings.

Activating these muscle groups allows for greater joint safety. In short, the quadriceps pull forward, the hamstrings contract by pulling back and compensating for the action of the quadriceps. Result: the shearing forces on the knee are therefore less than a squat where you stop before the parallel.

The more I go down, the better?

The Americans say “Too much of a good thing .. ain’t such a good thing”, we say “Too crippled”. There are two limits that it is not appropriate to go beyond:

joint mobility.

We stop as soon as we begin to lose lumbar lordosis

physical conformation.

In the case of athletes with highly developed calves and hamstrings, it becomes counterproductive to go down to create a big pressure between these two muscle groups, because in this case, the fulcrum of the rotation moves from the knee to the point of contact (between the hamstrings and the calf), creating a force that tends to “unhinge” the knee by applying traction to the ligaments.

How much should I lift to get benefits?

The load is a very important parameter in the execution of an exercise because it determines the greater or lesser difficulty. Since the squat is a complex movement, it is not appropriate to use loads that make the technique of execution uncertain or incorrect. It is much better to do a few more sets with a modest load, stopping as soon as the movement is no longer fluid than to load too much and do the repetitions badly or continue to grind repetitions even after fatigue has deteriorated the technique.

Why do squats? Are leg presses, leg curls, and leg extensions not enough?

We start from the principle that the body is not made to work in watertight compartments: in everyday movements, a contraction of the hamstrings is rarely isolated, usually occurs in conjunction with the use of other muscles, both antagonists (the quadriceps) and synergistic ( buttocks). The squat is a movement of coordinated extension of three joints (ankle, knee, and hip) in a natural gesture.

Leg extension and leg curl have their place in a complete workout, of course, but due to their character of isolation exercises they cannot form the basis of a workout for the legs (if not for rehabilitation purposes or in the presence of spinal conditions who advise against the squat).

The leg press deserves a separate discussion. It also involves the three joints in a natural gesture and this aspect makes it more complete than leg curl and leg extension but lacks one very important element: the stabilization of the spine under load. In a squat, the load is located on the shoulders and the muscles of the trunk, which form the so-called core, must keep the spine steady while the lower limbs perform a fairly complex movement. squat exercise

By training this function in optimal conditions (under the guidance of expert instructors, with a manageable load, paying careful attention to the correct execution, etc.), we can then transfer it to everyday activities (lifting and transporting heavy objects, but also simply standing or sitting) with great benefit for posture and functionality of the back. squat exercise

Belt: how, when, and why to use it?

We have seen the role of the core in stabilizing the spine and in the short guide to performing the squat, mention is made of “belly” breathing also called diaphragmatic breathing or, better, Valsalva maneuver. With this practice, the intra-abdominal pressure is increased and used to lock the spine in place, thus avoiding losing the lumbar lordosis. squat exercise

The belt is useful because it allows you to exert more pressure. After taking a diaphragmatic breath, he pushes against the properly adjusted belt and immediately feels a sensation of the greater stability of the spine.

The belt alone does not guarantee absolute protection against imprudences (such as using a load clearly above one’s capacity) or execution errors (for example flexing the lumbar section losing lordosis) but, if known to use, it is useful for two reasons:

helps to become aware of the action of the core during the squat.

improves the transfer of energy from the legs to the shoulders

The first reason, of course, is more interesting for a novice athlete while the second one concerns those who already have a solid experience.squat exercisesquat exercise

Last observation: since the belt is a “wall” against which to push with the abs, the best type is that of powerlifting at a uniform height. If those are not available, bodybuilding ones can be used having the foresight to wear it backward, that is, with the highest part in front and the buckle behind. Seeing is believing…