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Squat Like A Boss: How To Fix The 3 Most Common Squat Mistakes

Squats rock, especially if you know how to do them correctly. Learn how to crush these three common squat mistakes and take your squat to new depths!

As a strength coach and co-founder of my own facility, I have the luxury of living in a strength and conditioning utopia. I scrutinize every trainee, program, set, and rep under the roof of Cressey Performance, and it's my job to make them better. I always place a premium on technique—especially when it comes to more "coaching intensive" movements like the squat.

I often joke that half my job as a strength coach is to apply the brakes for people and force them to take a step back so they learn to lift correctly. After all, one repeated squatting mistake or wrong move can hinder consistent progress in the gym, or worse, cause your spine to crumble like Jenga blocks.

When I travel and train at a commercial gym, I can't help but observe other people. I'm a coach; it's second nature, like riding a bike, crushing some protein after a training session, or forgetting to put the toilet seat down, much to my girlfriend's dismay. I see plenty of people doing things right—focusing on compound movements, actually squatting in the squat rack—but I can't help but notice the same common mistakes rearing their ugly heads time and time again.

It's hard to get bigger, faster, and stronger if you're constantly banged up, so it's my goal to ensure my clients' long-term success with limited trips to the chiropractor. Check out the brief, albeit not exhaustive, list of mistakes I highlight and correct below to improve your squat safety, strength, and overall performance.

Mistake 1 /// Not Taking Time to Set Up Properly

Your initial squat setup will literally make or break any set. Unfortunately, for many lifters, they haphazardly approach the bar, grab it, and begin their set without much thought or attention to detail. This is why many fail to make any significant progress, or more to the point, end up injured. Taking time to properly set up will provide more stability for the spine, keep the body "tight," prevent and limit energy leaks, and result in more total weight lifted down the road.

A plethora of coaching cues can be thrown in here, but I'll limit them to a few universal points that help most people:

  1. When approaching the bar, duck underneath and be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together hard. This will provide a "shelf" for the bar to sit on.
  2. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can (try to make it melt in your hands) while simultaneously pulling down. Doing so will activate the lats and thoraco-lumbar fascia, which are key spinal stabilizers.
  3. Take a deep breath, unload the bar, and take two steps back—that's it. You're squatting, not making the trek to Mordor, Frodo.
  4. From there, take another deep breath, pull down on the bar to lock it in, point your elbows toward the floor, keep your chin tucked—don't look up!—and begin your descent.

Maintaining "Tightness" While Squatting

Watch The Video - 02:33




Mistake 2 /// Not Using a Hip Hinge Pattern

Utilizing more of a hip hinge pattern—initiating the descent by pushing the hips back rather than knees forward—will work wonders to alleviate common knee pain when squatting.

I could put on my nerd cap and start talking biomechanics, but I'll save you the boredom and just say that, by doing so, you maintain more of a vertical shin angle, which will be much more knee-friendly in the grand scheme.

Furthermore, the hip hinge will engage the hamstrings and glutes to a higher degree, which are generally woefully weak and underdeveloped. Beginning with the hip hinge also makes it easier to attain proper depth, as it forces the lifter to push his or her knees out to "open up" the hips more.

Understandably, like learning the tango, the hip hinge is going to feel foreign for many people, and it may take time to "groove" the proper pattern.

One drill to implement, either as part of a dynamic warm-up or just before squatting, is the dowel rod hip hinge drill.

Dowel Rod Hip Hinge Patterning

Watch The Video - 00:14




The simplicity of the drill is ingenious. Using your garden-variety dowel, place it on your backside to ensure there will be three points of contact: the back of the head, between the shoulder blades, and the sacrum—the posterior section of your pelvis.

From there, simply hinge back with soft knees (not locked) and push your hips back. If at any point you lose contact with the dowel rod, you know you're doing it wrong, because the loss of contact reveals that you're not maintaining proper spinal position throughout the movement.

The end goal is to be able to emulate the same pattern with the barbell on your back.

Mistake 3 /// Not Hitting Proper Depth

This is arguably the biggest mistake of all. If you don't suffer from past or present significant injuries or dysfunctions like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, patellofemoral pain, or femoral acetabular impingement, there's no excuse not to squat to ample depth. Ample depth is achieved when the front surface of the thigh goes below the knee joint.

Watch most people squat and you'll notice they don't come remotely close. Yes, it's uncanny how many people brag about their 300-plus-pound squat with a quarter range of motion.

I'll concede that there's a time and place for quarter squats, but if you 25-percent squat 100 percent of the time, it's just lame—like guys who wear Polo shirts with the collar popped. Knock that collar-popping crap off, fellas.

Almost always, box squats will provide the best fix for two major reasons:

  1. They keep people honest and force them to learn what proper depth feels like. For the record, it's often much lower than what most are used to.

Note: This will most likely mean checking your ego at the rack and taking some weight off the bar. Yeah, it sucks—like watching The Notebook to compensate for leaving the toilet seat up—but it will pay huge long-term dividends.

  1. Box squats also help people learn more of a hip hinge pattern—sitting back and pushing the knees out—that engages the hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree, which is critical to building an impressive squat.

Check out the video below, which goes into more depth—pun intended—on box squat technique.

Box Squat vs. Squat to Box

Watch The Video - 06:18





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About The Author

Tony Gentilcore is a strength and conditioning specialist through the NSCA and is the co-founder/co-owner of Cressey Performance.

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Comments

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fishnbrah

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fishnbrah

squats are like sex, it only counts if you go deep.

May 17, 2013 5:40pm | report
 
jake8k

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jake8k

Just made my day

May 17, 2013 8:02pm | report
srig24

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srig24

AGREE FISHNBRAH...

May 17, 2013 10:04pm | report
PDeV1

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PDeV1

crazy one haha

May 18, 2013 4:11pm | report
jstanek

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jstanek

Too deep and you ruin your knees.

May 19, 2013 11:42am | report
NHBPSi

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NHBPSi

jstanek I tore my ACL in half doing MMA and had to have bone-petallar graft surgery. after recovering I started lifting.. I go heavy and squat until my hamstrings are almost touching my calves (past 90 degrees) and have no problems. That is a myth bro, if you dont go deep, dont bother squatting.

May 19, 2013 8:00pm | report
Lihkin

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Lihkin

You sir, win for the best comment on this article.

May 19, 2013 8:06pm | report
Esoteric88

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Esoteric88

Man, I've been thinking it was like sex, but only if you go heavy. Jokes on me...

May 19, 2013 10:13pm | report
maeishoj

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maeishoj

Exactly! And the first 2 images a and b is a TERRIBLE example of squat. or better said, it is a GOOD example of HALF SQUATTING.

Jun 2, 2013 4:06am | report
Crystal80

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Crystal80

Nice! Good point and insight...

Jul 12, 2013 2:50pm | report
KYRifleman

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KYRifleman

I am gonna make a T-Shirt of that.

Oct 14, 2013 8:36pm | report
itsJustAROD

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itsJustAROD

depth is the main thing. i saw idiots throw on huge weight in the gym but go halfway down. pathetic.. i was raised as a powerlifter BY a world champion powerlifter so depth is in my bones.
get the full frickin rep

May 17, 2013 5:55pm | report
 
buffquads

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buffquads

Yeah, I go below parallel and some guy at the gym was doing only quarter squats told me I was going to ruin my knees, LOL

May 17, 2013 10:07pm | report
davidwhoa

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davidwhoa

Just keep in mind, they may be doing hack-squats. there are many squat variations that don't involve the full range of motion.

May 20, 2013 12:18pm | report
super43man

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super43man

dang in highschool my coaches would always yell to look up when we were squatting:/

May 17, 2013 7:59pm | report
 
bemyj42

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bemyj42

I was always taught that too

May 18, 2013 2:22pm | report
patricktydean24

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patricktydean24

same here bro, im still trying to break that habit, but looking up tends to roll the hips forward, which is the opposite of what youre trying to do

May 20, 2013 9:57am | report
TonyGentilcore

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TonyGentilcore

Try to focus on "packing the neck" or "keeping the chin tucked" rather than looking up. Keeping the cervical spine in alignment will make you more stable and less likely to injure yourself.

Looking up isn't the end of the world, but may compromise the neck in the long run, especially under heavy loading.

May 20, 2013 6:19pm | report
jake8k

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jake8k

very glad I saw this, saw many mistakes in myself that I aim not to repeat. Just wish I saw this yesterday as today was leg day

May 17, 2013 8:02pm | report
 
runnerma

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runnerma

Finally! So tired of watching guys racking up the weight to only just barely bend the knees. I couldn't agree more with this read.

May 17, 2013 10:53pm | report
 
TurkishBrahX

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TurkishBrahX

Nice Article 10/10

May 18, 2013 1:58am | report
 
kellycookie

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kellycookie

I'm pretty certain that you have the best profile pic on this entire site :p

May 18, 2013 9:43pm | report
kettchy00

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kettchy00

It is quite stunning picture. His ears stick out too far though and a pretty dull face. Cant tell if he is a tanned white man...or just a really white dark man :D

Jun 12, 2013 11:37am | report
jmtrevino23

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jmtrevino23

great info

May 18, 2013 2:36am | report
 
OverTimeGFX

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OverTimeGFX

Why does it say to not look up? Possibly something with the spine? During high school football workouts coaches preached to look up because you can breathe more air in.

May 18, 2013 3:38am | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 77 Comments

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