The squat (also known as the air squat) is a basic fundamental movement that humans make, and it is one of the most important movements that CrossFit keeps in its repertoire. The squat is such a basic human movement that we come neurally preprogrammed to do it – young children can squat properly without any difficulties, and it is the way that we would go to the bathroom if we didn’t sit on toilets instead. Unweighted, the squat can be an excellent stretch for mobility, and a potent metabolic stimulus. After mastering the air squat, weight can be added to the back, front, or overhead to add a huge strength building component that strengthens the legs, core and shoulders (in the case of the overhead squat).
To squat, stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointing out slightly (about 30 degrees). The wider your stance, the farther out your feet point, and vice versa. Your feet should be flat, with your weight placed predominantly in the heels. Once your feet are in place, drop your hips back and down as if you are sitting down onto a chair. Keep dropping until your hips have gone below your knees (or the top of your thigh is just below parallel with the ground). When you get to the bottom, bring yourself back up to standing by driving down through your heels. Actively contract your hamstrings and glutes to get the most out of your posterior chain.
If your heels come up while you squat, it usually means you are shifting your weight forward onto the balls of your feet, which removes the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) from the movement and makes the quads work a lot harder. It also makes the movement hard on the knees. To help correct this, try lifting your big toes off of the ground, which will naturally make you shift your weight backwards. Also think about starting by bringing the hips backwards, rather than straight down.
Make sure your knees track over your toes. This means, if you look down at the bottom of the squat, your thighs and feet should be pointing in the same direction. Make sure your feet are turned out to an appropriate angle to match where your thighs are, and make sure you are pushing your knees out to the sides. If your knees collapse inwards at the bottom, you need to work harder at pulling them apart.
Keep your back straight. Pulling your chest up as high as you can during the squat helps keep your back muscles and core tight and active during the squat, which will protect your lower back. Raising your arms up as you drop can help to tighten up the muscles around the shoulder blades and maintain the correct position.
Spending time holding the bottom position of the squat can help stretch out the hips and legs and will make you feel more comfortable when squatting. It will also make reaching the correct bottom position easier and more automatic.