A Step-By-Step Guide to Doing the Squat Exercise Safely

Learn to properly build great muscle strength

Woman with personal trainer working out in a gym. Coach is advising her what are the correct tecniques.
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The squat lift exercise is arguably one of the best overall weightlifting exercises for building lower body and leg power and strength. Because this is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscles and joints at once, it takes some instruction and practice to master safely.

The Benefits of Squat Lifts

Squats build lower body muscle strength, endurance, and power. Additionally, they engage the core and improve strength and stability in the trunk and upper body.  The most elite and pro athletes use the squat as the basis of a well-rounded weight training program.

The squat can be easily scaled up or down by athletes of all abilities. Beginners and older exercisers can do half squats, mini squats, and air squats and work up to the full, weighted squat over time. The full squat is generally considered the king of all full-body strength training exercises by most trainers and coaches. Any athlete can master it with the right training and progression. It's especially helpful for women who often skip the weight room. Don't fear the squat, just learn to do it safely. 

Correct Squat Technique

Doing the squat incorrectly can cause injuries, so it's essential to learn perfect technique before you lift much weight. If you are just getting started, take a class or book a session with a certified personal or athletic trainer to learn it, get experience, and build your confidence. It is also a good idea to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen, particularly lifting heavy weights.

In general, most athletes should use the following technique for a safe squat:

  1. If just beginning, work with a trainer to learn proper technique.
  2. Always have one or two competent spotters available.
  3. Position the squat rack so the bar sits about 3 inches lower than your shoulders.
  4. Position your hands evenly on the bar and back up and under the bar, so it rests comfortably on your shoulders.
  5. Maintaining a wide stance, place your feet squarely under the bar and lift it from the rack using the legs.
  6. Keep the weight centered; do not lift from your heels or toes.
  7. Slowly bend your knees while keeping your torso erect. Do not lean forward. Keep your hips under the bar at all times.
  8. At the bottom of your movement, the angles of your knee joint and hip joint are nearly equal.
  9. Never relax or drop to the bottom position. Maintain constant, slow, and controlled muscle tension.
  10. Slowly return to starting position while keeping your torso and back erect and hips under the bar.
  11. Repeat as many times as desired for a set.
  12. Weight belts are generally not recommended.
  13. At the end of the exercise have your spotters help to guide the bar back to the rack.

    Tips for Avoiding Injury

    The squat can cause a great deal of stress and strain on the knees even for those with no history of knee problems. You can change that stress by varying your foot placement. Using a wide stance decreases the stress on the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) of the knee. A narrow stance significantly increases stress. The angle of the foot (toes turned out or toes pointed straight ahead) however, does not affect the stress on the knees. There is no evidence that the squat exercise produces excessive force in the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) of the knee.

    Seventy-five percent of all squatting injuries occur before or after the actual lift; either moving into position or returning the weight to the rack. Make sure you have competent spotters at all times.

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