I had a conversation with one of my clients about his squatting and correct form last week. I have seen a lot of variations but many of them are bringing people closer to injury. I find that many people will sacrifice their form in order to "get lower" or do what the other people at the gym are doing. As with any movement, it's important to know what it's supposed to look like and where you should be feeling your efforts. Knowing your purpose is always important. Why are you doing a squat? Is your answer to get stronger or to lift more weight than the guy next to you?
Two golden rules of exercise that will save your joints:
1. If you have to compromise form in order to do something, go back to what is optimal.
2. If you can't do the exercise in correct form, lower the weight.
As soon as you take yourself out of a position where you are supported by your structure, you bring yourself closer to injury. It is possible to stay in optimal alignment while exercising and get a good workout, build muscle, and feel stronger.
So what is correct form in a squat?
1. Feet hip-width apart or slightly wider
2. Heels behind toes and toes forward
3. Soft knees (go into full extension and just unlock the knees)
4. Neutral pelvis (sits bones behind you not tucked underneath you)
5. Everything should stack up: ears over shoulders over hips over knees over ankles
6. Bring your belly button to your spine and lean your hips back
7. The goal is to keep your torso as upright as possible while bringing the hips back
8. To come up, squeeze the glutes and press your feet into the ground.
9. Make sure that you are inhaling on the way down and exhaling on the way up.
If you have questions about where your body is supposed to be in certain exercises or poses, let's use a session to work through your areas of confusion or figure out how you can do what you want without pain. There's a lot to be said for understanding where your body should be in space and how to move in a way that is supportive to your structure and achieving the results you are looking for.