The squat is one of those fundamental exercises that provides the most benefit in a single movement. It’s a compound movement that targets several muscles for growth, others to improve stability, and has the added benefit to maintain musculoskeletal balance and symmetry.

However, due to its complexity, a lot of people perform it incorrectly, unsafely, or are afraid to do it at all. After watching this video, you’ll know exactly why you should be squatting - and more importantly, what you should be focusing on while in the squat rack to avoid injury.

In this video, Dr. David Gundermann explains 4 Universal Laws to follow when performing the squat to ensure you're pain-free for years to come.

1: Keep Your Center of Balance Over Your Feet

To do this: The very first initial movement in the squat is to shift your hips backward. This creates space for your center of balance to descend vertically into. Without this very first movement, the entire mechanic will be completely off. You’ll end up bending over too far, pushing your knees too far forward or just completely unbalanced. If you don’t keep your center of balance moving vertically between your feet, the heavy load you’re carrying will distribute the weight to other body parts you’re not intending to.

2: Maintain a Neutral Spine Throughout the Movement

One of the absolute most common complaints about squats is low back pain. The back muscles are meant to perform an isometric contraction to support your posture throughout the movement, but not have any lifting involvement. In order to do this, engage your abdominal muscles to counterbalance your back muscles to provide a stable core that remains unchanged through the movement.

The proper squat will have a slight forward tilt of the torso. The degree of tilt of your torso is of less importance than making sure your spine is not flexed or rounded during the movement. Engaging the abdominals will ensure your pelvis is a neutral alignment with your spine. If your back is arching, it typically means your back is trying to assist in lifting the weight. If your back is rounding, it typically means your back is absorbing the weight. Either case can be harmful with heavier loads. The goal is to keep your upper body completely static during the entire lift. Using your core to stabilize the spine should not induce any pain or injury even with heavy lifts, and instead will help increase the strength and stability of your core muscles.

3: Get Your Knees Out of the Way

Knee pain or injury is the second most common complaint of squatting and it is most likely caused by poor mechanics. Just like maintaining good form with most exercises, you need to actively restrict the natural tendencies your brain decides are most efficient. The natural tendency during the squat is to allow your knees to collapse in order to place more emphasis on the quads rather than your glutes and hams. Unfortunately, over time this will lead to a serious injury to the knee.

Moving your knees too far forward beyond your feet is also bad mechanics that lead to knee injury over time. The safest way to keep your center of balance vertically descending is to focus on moving your knees laterally as they bend. This keeps your center of balanced centered, as it opens up more space to properly sit in your squat.

This tip is independent of stance width. A wider stance alone is not a solution to proper knee mechanics. In fact with a wider stance, it is harder to prevent your knees from collapsing inward.

4: Drive the Force Through Your Heels

Fitting with the concept of keeping your center of balance in a single vertical plane, the majority of the force should be conducted through your heels as much as possible. The calf is another stabilizing muscle during this exercise and is not intended to take away any of the load from the upper legs. The heel of your foot is directly under your shin bones which can efficiently transmit the force directly to your upper leg. If you feel the weight on the front of your foot, it’s likely that your center of balance is too far forward. Being aware that the weight is on your heels is a great way to check your form.

People may debate all day about foot placement, squat depth, and bar height. As long as you follow these 4 simple rules, you can rest easy knowing that you have the fundamental principles of squatting to keep your joints healthy and pain-free.

And until next time, keep training hard.

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