It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know how to squat. Its pretty much the most feared exercise in the gym and everyone either likes it or not. Most people don't do squats because of their knees or their spine.
I used to be one of those people long ago. There are several ways to mess up the squat, but their are also several ways to improve it as well. Doing squats safely will not only show on your physique, but will make you a whole lot safer.
Let's start with the wrong ways....First and foremost, you should squat with your "knees". This meaning that as you descend your knees bend causing them to come over the feet excessively. When you squat like this, it puts way too much pressure on your knees. You won't last too long in the gym when you do this.
I've done this myself and I was worried about having to quit powerlifting because of it. Second, I've seen guys have the bar too high on their backs. Now, I understand that some may try to perform a "high-bar" squat, but its pretty much the same as the regular squat, so I would say if you do like your spine, don't risk it.
I also used to do this as well and it ended up getting me headaches after squats. Those weren't pleasant. Plus, when the bar is that high up, you can't completely focus on squatting, your attention is divided between squatting and making sure that the bar does roll over your head.
I've seen then happen before and its almost scary when I do see it. Third, would be what most people do...excessive bending of the lower back. This is automatically caused by having the bar too high on your back in the first place. Some guys will try to bend over just so they can get the big weight....NO WAY!!!
More Damage Than You Think
This does more damage than you think, especially if your lower back isn't up to par. The last, but not least, I've seen guys that squat when they get tired, they tend to lock out their knees to hold the weight. This again is putting undo pressure on your knees and like I said you won't last long. Now we will discuss ways of improving the squat.
First off, everyone knows that you cannot squat without a belt. That's a must and if you don't know that, now you know. Squats is one of those exercises that I can't see no one doing with out a belt because of the protection it provides.
Second, you should be squatting like your sitting down in a chair. This way, your knees are kept from coming over your feet and you'll be squatting the right way...with your quadriceps. Plus you'll be getting assistance from your hamstrings.
The Right Way
Now, this necessarily doesn't mean that you have to squat deep, but you can when you "sit back into it". Second, the bar placement should be across your shoulders and traps. This is where the bar can stay still and secure. Also when you do this, don't have your hand looped around the bar like you normally do on the bench press.
Using the false-grip on the squat helps to secure the bar much better and its also less pressure on the wrist. With that hand position, the bar can sit on your shoulders and traps easily. That way your focus is only on one thing....squatting.
To maximize this, have your chest out and during the squat keep your head up. If you look forward, without control, you tend to go foward.
Also with your chest out, your chances of going forward won't happen and you won't bend your back as well. Lastly, when you squat, do not lock out the knees, keep a bend in them during a set. This way, the weight stays on the quads and not on the knees.
If your doing squats on a power rack, adjust the pins so that when you do your squat, you should be "squatting" out of the rack. I've seen lifters do a "calf raise" out of the squat and they always have trouble putting the bar back, especially if its too much weight.
The stance is up to the lifter just as long has they're sticking their butt out during the lift and keeping the chest out, doing squats wide or narrow won't matter.