Get to Know Squat

A step-by-step guide to proper squatting technique.


Robert Reiff


There are two schools of thought on breathing while squatting. We’ll call the first the just-do-it school and the second the hold-it school. Just-do-it prescribes that you forget about it and breathe as necessary throughout each set. Therefore, you’ll have one less thing to focus on. The hold-it school prescribes that you inhale just before descending, hold it, and exhale either when the rep is done or as it’s being completed (or if you hit a sticking point). Hold-it maintains that it’s easier to keep your torso tight if you’re not breathing. Each school has its advantages. Experiment to see which way works best for you and your squat.


The shortest distance for the bar to travel is a straight line. This means it needs to follow a path as close to vertical as possible. However, this doesn’t mean that your back should stay vertical. Your back will lean forward as your hips go backward. In this way, you’ll be folding slightly, and that’ll keep the bar descending straight down. Ideally, it should stay over your midfoot throughout each rep. How much you lean forward is somewhat determined by your height. Taller squatters with longer legs will need to bring their hips farther back and their chest farther forward.

Your knees should come out over your feet, which are themselves angled outward, while your hips simultaneously travel backward. Your knees will stop moving forward when the bar is approximately halfway down, but they’ll keep bending as you continue lowering your hips. Meanwhile, your lower back should maintain its natural arch but not accentuate it.


How far down to go is a topic of some debate. Bodybuilders like Tom Platz, who had the roundest wheels of all time, used to go glutes to ankles, as low as they could go without digging a hole in the floor. Others have built world-class legs while never hitting parallel. Generally, however, the zone where your femurs are just below parallel to the floor (knee side slightly higher than hip side) is the target. This marks an official squat in powerlifting and can be considered a full rep in bodybuilding. Below parallel is also the hardest part of a squat to get to and get out of. That’s the reason it’s called “the hole” and why so many squatters avoid it. But its difficulty is precisely why you should go there. By breaking parallel you can be assured you’re getting the maximum muscle stimulation out of every set.

But how exactly can you be sure you’ve gone deep enough without an X-ray machine to see the angle of your femurs? A squat is considered below parallel if your hip crease (the line formed where your thighs connect to your hips) is below the top of your knees. You can have someone watch and/or film your squats from the side to monitor this. You can also practice by setting a box just below parallel and squatting down to it. After a while, you’ll come to feel when you’ve gone low enough.

13. GET UP

Getting out of “the hole” is the hard part. Never dawdle there. As soon as you hit it, get out of it. Bring your hips up and unfold your knees simultaneously. Remember to stay tight. Keep your chest up, your spine only slightly arched, and your upper back constricted. As you rise and unfold, your knees will travel backward and your hips will go forward, but the bar should stay over your midfoot the entire time. After about the halfway point, the remainder should be smooth sailing. But don’t get sloppy. Stay tight and let your knees, hips, and upper body  straighten simultaneously. Some bodybuilders avoid straightening their legs fully between reps in order to keep constant tension on their legs, but the benefits of this are minimal. Lock out very briefly to complete a full squat.


Each rep should be precisely like the one before. With practice you’ll get into a groove so that correct form will come naturally and you’ll hit your target depth on rep after rep, rhythmically, like a piston rising up and down.




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