6 Ways You’re Messing Up Your Squats & Form Tips to Fix Them

You’ve heard it before… You wanna build your legs? Well you’ve gotta squat! And I totally agree with that.

As a personal trainer and online coach, in the 20 years that I’ve been at this game, I’ve seen folks going about squatting ALL WRONG. So today, I want to talk about 6 ways you’re messing up your squats – and how to fix them.

My goal for you, by the time you finish this article, is to have you squatting like a pro, but most of all… Performing this move in a way to get the BEST results possible! Here are my top squat form tips to get you doing this move CORRECTLY in the gym.

You’re Leaning Too Far Forward

This is probably one of the biggest culprits I see during the squat for a lot of people.

Ideally, when you squat, you want to think about keeping the chest as high up as you can.

Ideally, when you squat, you want to think about keeping the chest as high up as you can. This is proper form! Click To Tweet

Oftentimes, I observe trainees taking their squat and almost allowing their spine to drop forward into a flat position. This can be very dangerous for your spine, particularly when loaded with weight.

When performing your squat, keep your eyes forward, and head up. Think about keeping your chest up and out in front of you. For women, I always say “boobs up to the sky, ladies”!

This will also allow you to keep a neutral spine position, and keep the natural curvature of the spine during the life as well.

You’ll get your core engaged, and truly be able to increase strength, stability, and muscle tone in those legs as well.

Your Weight is Not Properly Centered on Your Feet

Another thing I see many do so often is keep their weight over their toes during a squat.

I always say to my clients that your leg work begins from the floor up. And that you want to use the stored energy and force from the floor, pushing into it, as you perform your squats. In order to REALLY fire up the glutes, hams, and quads, you have to make sure you’re making full use of your foot.

If you keep your weight on your toes, you stand to put pressure on the knees. This is terrible for you if you have knee issues to begin with. A simple shift of weight can do wonders in avoiding pain during the lift. Placing your weight in your toes also forces you to use more quads, and less glutes and hamstrings during the squat.

So to fully develop your legs, and perform your squat within PAIN FREE ranges of motion, think about evenly distributing your weight between the balls of your feet and your heels.

You’re Letting Your Quads Do All The Work

Now, as I just mentioned above, the way you center your weight during your squat is going to play a major role in what muscles do the most work.

When folks embark on doing squats, they are looking to build the legs. For women, in particular, many are looking to build the glutes. You’re not going to get there if you aren’t loading up the muscles correctly! But there are few tricks of the trade that you can do to improve your squat, and get out of the quads…

One thing that I notice with clients right off the bat is that some have a tendency to not stand all the way up at the top of the squat. As you raise up from that bottom position, brace your abdominals, push away from the floor with your weight in the balls of your feet and heels, and actively FEEL your hamstrings and glutes activating through the standing position.

Squeeze the glutes when you stand up, keeping your chest high, and your shoulders back.

By making these SMALL adjustments in your squat, you’ll be able to target far more muscles than simply the quads. And in the end, see incredible gains in your leg development.

You’re Not Mixing Up Your Squats

Here’s an interesting thing about the body… It loves LOVES – LOOOOVES – to adapt to whatever stimulus you give it. Adaptation is a GOOD thing – it’s the reason why you see any kind of progress and change.

But sometimes too much of a good thing can lead to complacency, and even make you hit a plateau when it comes to development. One of the ways to avoid this is by mixing things up.

When it comes to squatting, there are SO many ways to hit the legs, and variations you can come up with. And by you switching up your squats, you’ll be able to hit the legs at different angles which can only lead to even better development.

So the next time you’re in the weight room, try these moves instead of just your traditional squats. (Video demos for all of these can be found in the Bodybuilding.com exercise database.)

  • Plie Squats
  • Jefferson Squats
  • Box Squats
  • Barbell Hack Squats
  • Smith Machine Squats
  • Split Squats

You’re Not Lifting Heavy Enough

I find it so interesting that so many folks want to put on size and build the body – but they’re afraid to put any weight on the bar!

My question is, how do you expect to change your body, if you aren’t willing to truly challenge it?

You’ve got to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone if you are going to see any progress with your goals. Now, a lot of folks ask me next, “Rox, how heavy should I go?” My response is that heavy is truly a relative term. Because what’s heavy for you may not be as heavy for me, and vice versa.

I say to my clients that you want to think about trying to really push to what I call “controlled failure” by the end of each set. That means that the final rep of each set should feel like a challenge to complete. To be more exact, you should feel as though you are reaching about 1 or 2 reps short of failure. This will allow you to work the body without OVERTRAINING after each workout.

To get the MOST out of your lifts - push to controlled failure! 1-2 reps short of full failure is key to muscular development. Click To Tweet

Keep in mind, this theory should be applied to every exercise you do, regardless of rep range. If you keep the challenge up, development and change will come! So don’t be afraid of really raising the bar in the gym each workout.

You Think Squatting Will Make Your Legs Big

This one is especially true for my ladies out there. I hear this all the time, and I’ll be honest… I used to think the same thing too. I’ve always had naturally muscular legs, and so I felt that training them with heavy weights would only make them bigger.

What I later found out is that’s not really true… In fact, squatting, and leg training in general, has helped my legs to streamline and tighten up more. Especially if I watched my diet and kept my body fat in check.

To build the legs you gotta squat. Squatting won't make your legs big! It can actually help you tighten & tone by adding more muscle. Click To Tweet

When you’re embarking on a new program, you stand a chance at seeing some compositional changes that can have you losing fat while putting on muscle. The great thing about that is that you’ll see your body really transform in some positive ways. The mass that was once mostly composed of fat will slowly transform to where less fat is taking up that space, and more muscle is.

For those who are always saying they want to “tone-up”, this is like your dream come true! So don’t be afraid to hit up those squats, and really put the work and fire into your lifts. I promise you, you’ll absolutely LOVE the results you see.

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One thing I love to do is teach my clients how to properly lift, train, and eat for incredible change – and long-lasting results.

Training and nutrition are only ONE aspect of the game… The remaining and MOST CRUCIAL aspect of getting results from your program is rooted in a “success mindset”.

What I’ve found is that many coaches and trainers DO NOT spend enough time going over this, and teaching this to their clients… Leading them to potentially fail at reaching their goals again and again.

Well, until now that is…

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