How should I do squats?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
To strengthen the muscles of your thighs and buttock you can do squats.

Primary muscle groups strengthened in squats are: Quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteals (front of thigh, back of thigh, and buttock).

Starting position: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your toes pointing forward or slightly out. As you get stronger muscles, grab equal sized weights in each hand.

Action: Keeping your focus forward, chest lifted, shoulder blades drawn together and down, the natural arch in your lower back, and your navel pulled in toward your spine, slowly bend your knees, taking your hips back toward the wall behind you and down toward the floor until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Slowly push back up to the starting position.

  • Keep your upper torso lifted but don't lean forward excessively. Focus on lowering your hips, not your torso.
  • Do not allow your knees to extend past your toes. Focus on driving your hips back behind you, not straight down.
  • Keeps your heels on the floor.
  • Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. Do not allow them to bend toward the inside of the foot.
  • Often do this exercise with a large ball (2 feet in diameter) behind my back and against a wall. I then move up and down against the ball, which rolls against the wall.
Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
The squat is a wonderful exercise for the quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttocks. If you can only do one exercise for your lower extremities, this would probably be the one. Stand with a chair behind you (or possibly without a chair once you are comfortable with the exercise), with your feet shoulder-width apart and firmly planted on the ground. At no time during this exercise should your feet leave the ground or should you elevate onto your toes. Your back should remain straight, and your abdominal muscles must remain contracted to help protect your lower back. Slowly bend your knees as if you were going to sit on the chair. Drop your buttocks straight backward and raise your arms up and forward to help with control and balance. Don't let your knees come forward past your toes. As you lower yourself, raise your arms up straight in front of you.
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The squat is a great exercise that works the entire leg plus the glutes and the core.  To perform one correctly begin with your feet about hip width apart, and your toes pointing straight forward.  (They should be aligned directly under your knees.)  Pull your navel in toward your spine and hold it there.  This will help to support your low back.  Slowly bend at the knees and lower your body as if you were going to sit in a chair, being careful to keep your body weight evenly distributed throughout your feet, and your knees directly over your toes.  Many people shift their weight to their toes to do a squat, or shift it entirely to their heels instead.  Be aware of the pressure on your feet, and keep in even.  When you have lowered your body to about chair height you are ready to return to the standing position.  To do this correctly, contract or squeeze your glutes (the muscles of your backside) to help you stand up.  Make sure you stand totally erect by continuing to squeeze the muscles of your butt.  Pause for about 2 seconds, and again slowly lower your body. If you are new to squats, use only your body's own weight as resistance.  After two to four weeks, or when you feel comfortable, you may add light resistance by holding dumb bells to increase the intensity of the exercise.  Perform 1 - 3 sets of 15 - 20 repetitions approximately three times per week. 

To perform a squat,

  1. you should stand with your feet about shoulder with apart.
  2. When performing a squat your toes should be pointed straight forward while bending knees.
  3. Chest up and out, squeeze glutes and press through heels to return to start, fully extend legs

Squats are a great lower body strengthening exercise, which incorporate several joints and multiple muscles. When performing squats you should only go as deep as can be controlled without compensating. As one develops more flexibility and stabilization strength, the range of motion can be increased, assuming no compensations occur. To perform the squat, follow these steps:  


1.            Stand with feet shoulders-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead, and knees over second and third toes.

2.            Rest barbell on shoulders, behind neck, with hands grasping the bar wider than shoulders-width apart.


3.            Slowly begin to squat down, bending knees and flexing hips, keeping feet straight. Do not allow the knees to move inward.

4.            Keep the chest up and put pressure through the heels.

5.            Squat to a depth that can be safely controlled while maintaining ideal posture.

6.            To rise back up, contract gluteal muscles and place pressure through the heels as knees and hips are extended.

7.            Stand up straight until hips and legs are fully extended. Avoid compensation in the low back or lower extremities.

It is a good idea to practice the squat movement without weight first. Then, slowly add weight as you feel comfortable and gain confidence in the movement. 

Chris Embry

Take a shoulder width stance and point your feet at about a 30 degree angle. Focus on bending at the hips and pushing them back rather then bending at the knees and going down. Push your knees out so they are inline with your feet. Keep your low back arched, your chest up and your head looking forward. Try to go until your hips are the same height as your knees.

Really think about sitting back at the hips and pushing your knees out. This will allow you to squat deeper without your legs and midsection getting in the way.

Always use a spotter when doing a front squat. First, grip the bar with a closed, palms-up grip. Step under the bar with your feet parallel while placing the bar across the posterior deltoids and middle traps. Lifting the elbows can create a shelf with your upper back and shoulder muscles for the bar to rest on. Hold your chest up and out while slightly tilting the head up.

Signal your spotter, and lift the bar off the rack. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a flat back, elbows high, with the chest up and out. Keep the heels on the floor and knees over the feet while slowly flexing the hips and knees until the thighs are parallel to the floor. Extend the knees and hips while keeping the heels on the floor and the knees over the feet. Do not round the back or flex the torso. When finished with all the reps, step forward and squat down until the bar rests on the supports.

(This answer provided for NATA by the Washington State University Athletic Training Education Program.)
Here's how to do knee squats:
  • Stand on both feet, holding on to a counter or wall for balance if needed.
  • Bend your knees to 45 degrees. Be sure to keep good low-back posture. Don't let your knees go past the end of your toes.
  • Return to the starting position.
Eva B. Cwynar, MD
Internal Medicine
Here's how to do squats:

Start with your feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart, your back straight and your core engaged (by drawing your belly button in and slightly up). Once in position, slowly bend your knees and lower your hips toward the floor, keeping your torso straight and your knees behind your toes and pointed directly front. The objective is to keep your thighs parallel to the floor and hold for a few seconds. Your heels should be firmly on the floor, not in the air. Once you have gone down to about 90 degrees at the knees, stand back up to the starting position and repeat.

If you are a beginner, you can do a modified squat by sitting on a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your back straight and your core engaged. Then stand up without using your arms for support. Sit back down, again without using your arms, and repeat. Do this 25 times in a row, rest for 20 seconds, and repeat. If you feel that you can't get through that many reps, try doing 15 or 20 and work your way up to 25.
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Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, with your arms by your sides. Slowly descend until your thighs are approximately parallel to the floor. Your lower back should be slightly arched, and your heels should stay in contact with the floor at all times. When you reach a seated position, reverse ascend and return to the start position.

If you can comfortably do more than 10 squats at a time, hold a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells should be heavy enough to make the last couple of 6-10 repetitions challenging to complete.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.