5 Common Mistakes When Doing A Proper Squat

squat mistakes

Can you do a bodyweight squat? Great!

Now, can you do a PROPER bodyweight squat?

Right now you’re asking, “What’s the difference, Steve you weirdo?!”

Today I’m gonna drop some bodyweight squat knowledge bombs on you. Don’t worry, they don’t hurt! Instead, they’ll make your body feel good, and you’ll say: “OOHHHHHHHH, that’s what a squat is!”

Like other basic movements like the pull-up and push-up, most people think they know what a bodyweight squat is, and they think they’re doing them right… but are they?

Judging by the people in my gym, 80%+ of people are actually making some major mistakes in their squat, making the movement inefficient at best and dangerous at worst!

If you have any interest in ever being able to do a barbell squat, you need to first nail the mechanics for a proper bodyweight squat.

We got you covered: by the end of this article you’re going to know exactly what to do and how to remind yourself to keep good form.

We were recently at Camp Nerd Fitness, and NF Team members Staci and Jim along with myself put together a quick 5 minute video explaining the ins and outs of (and common problems people have with) bodyweight squats.

Watch the video and check out the mistakes most people are making with bodyweight squats below.

5 Common BodyWeight Squat Mistakes

Click to play the video above, or view here.

Mistake #1: You stance is too wide or too narrow! Everybody is genetically different. We’re all different sizes and shapes, with longer or shorter legs and torsos, etc. But even still – there are a few key points for any squat that we want to achieve.

We see people often stand too wide or too narrow with their feet. When this happens their squat suffers since they’ve failed to get low enough or have been thrown off balance. A big part of this comes down to hip mobility – sometimes our bodies can’t yet get as low as we should be able to.

Solution: Set your feet about at shoulder width apart, with feet turned slightly out (15-30 degrees). Not parallel with each other like railroad tracks – this can prevent proper depth, twist knees, or mess with your balance.

Mistake #2: Your knees don’t track over your feet! Imagine you drew a line from your heel to your toe, and extended that line in both directions for infinity. Your knees should bend and flex over that line.

If the knees collapse inwards (the most common issue) then you may very well be able to squat low, but you are going to be putting a lot of undue stress on the knees. Your knee is supposed to be a hinge. Putting sideways stress on your knee is a bit like hanging off of a swinging door. Sure, you could do it, but it just isn’t built to take that kind of beating!

Solution: Start in a good position! Before you even start to descend into the squat, think “knees out!” Turn your kneecaps out so they track right over your feet. Your feet and body aren’t moving – just the legs and knees! Try it right now wherever you are sitting or standing: keep your foot stationary, but aim your knee like a flashlight to face different directions.

Mistake #3: You don’t squat deep enough (a power curtsy!). Some people think squatting below parallel is dangerous for your knees. If that’s true then your knees would explode every time you went for a run, climbed a step, or sat in a chair. Your knees actually get STRONGER and healthier when you squat deeper. Deep squatting makes for a complete movement that recruits all muscles in your legs. When you only squat a bit, you’re not recruiting all leg muscles, and that leads to imbalance and injury.

We are not advocating that you squat into a range of motion that causes pain. The first rule of exercise is “do no harm!” But we often see a host of people not squat low enough, either out of fear, misinformation, ego (too much weight on the bar!)… or just because they’ve made another mistake on this list.

Solution: Squat like a toddler. Ever see a toddler squat down? How low do they go? Until the backs of their legs touch their calves, right? If you can do this, congratulations! Many have lost the necessary mobility or strength to be able to do this.

If you lack the strength, try grabbing onto a door, squat rack, or workout box to assist you into a deeper range of motion. If even this doesn’t help you, then mobility is your weak point. Practice the assisted squat as seen in the video and spend time pausing in the bottom and you’ll be on your way to improved mobility in no time (note: this will be difficult at first).

Mistake #4: You don’t keep your back straight and core tight. “Straight” doesn’t mean that your torso should remain straight up, perpendicular to the ground like a telephone pole. That’s not how the body moves naturally. We naturally lean a bit forward as we drop down into the squat.

By “straight” we mean that the natural curvature of the spine should be maintained for the entire squat movement. If you drop to the bottom of the squat and look like Gollum hunched over the One Ring, then we have a problem if you ever want to squat with added weight.

Solution: Think: “chest up”. This doesn’t mean “head up” – chest means your chest. Don’t let your head fool you. Puff it up a bit in your squat, like Superman. Did you know that the S actually stands for squats? Yeah, true story.

Be sure to keep your midsection tight and engaged. It should feel like all the muscles around your middle are tensing a bit – like when you cough, or if you were Neo bracing from a punch from Mr. Smith.

Mistake #5: You get up on your toes. Keeping your feet on the ground is essential for a strong and balanced squat. It is your foundation! If you are just squatting down to grab something or look under something, then popping up on the toes a bit is of little concern, but if you are training your body to eventually move weights around (whether in the gym or everyday life), keeping your feet firmly grounded is crucial during your workouts.

Solution: Keep your heels down.

Bonus Mistake #6: You’re overly concerned with your knees going past your toes on your squat. This is an old wives tail bro myth that makes a lot of people freak out over nothing! Depending on your genetic makeup and physiological makeup, your knees may very well go past your toes on a deep squat. This is not the end of the world!

Solution: Let the knees and ankles flex how they were designed! It is a combined effort of the hip, knee, and ankle closing that will get you in a deep, strong squat!

Any preexisting conditions or knee pain notwithstanding, there is no risk to the knees by allowing them to go forward of the toes. There is not a magical forcefield that lives in front of your feet that destroys knees that drift too far. If this were the case, we’d see legions of crippled olympic weightlifters – where the knees go WAY past the toes– heck, they even wear shoes with elevated heels so that they can get their knees forward more!

Start doing better squats today!

squat child

There you go, my dear Rebel friend. You now have everything you need to get started down a healthier path to crushing squats AND pull-ups.

To recap:

  1. Your stance is too wide/narrow.
  2. Your knees cave in/don’t track over feet.
  3. You squat too high.
  4. Your backs rounds.
  5. You lean forward on your toes.
  6. Bonus: You worry about your knees going past your toes.

Check back later this week for more articles and videos on how to improve your favorite bodyweight movements. And if you’re not already signed up for our email list, make sure you are so you don’t miss email-only bodyweight information this month!



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46 thoughts on “5 Common Mistakes When Doing A Proper Squat

  1. Something that helped me a lot was to “screw my feet into the ground” before I started my squat. Sort of like “bending the bar” before doing a bench press. That focus really activates some great stabilization and torque for body position and work in the movement.

  2. near perfect low squat here.

    The best tip to give i: do proper joint warm-up before squatting. Otherwise you( as most people who do not squat for sitting) are simply not flexible enough to do it in good form.

  3. What if you’re knock kneed? I have heard that if your natural alignment is off because of knock knees or bow legs or anything else similar there’s a particular way you are supposed to squat so you don’t do damage to your knees

  4. Here is the thing….I loved your post as always, but the problem is that I cannot squat down with my heels touching the ground. Have NEVER been able to even as a child.Also none of my family members can too. We only can squat on our toes. Maybe its the flexibility motion of the ankle or something, but no matter how I tried, I cannot seem to squat that.

  5. you probably lack ankle flexibility due to sitting a lot. This is very common. you can train this for example by:

    1. stretching: put one foot in front of the other, so that the the toes lean on a book or something. Lean forward and enjoy your stretch

    2. hip mobility: grab a pole and slowly squat down as far as you can without leaning forward (pole makes that easy). hold for a few seconds and go up. progress by using less force on the pole.

    this takes a lot of time.

  6. This goes under “talk to your doctor/physical therapist/trainer”. Challenges like that need to be assessed and dealt with on a case by case basis.

  7. As someone with back problems, I can appreciate the need for proper form, even with (and especially with) bodyweight squats. I’ve come to love hindu squats, as they almost by design put you into proper form. Of course, they do put a lot of strain on your knees, so I need to warm up well, and it took me a few tries to get strong enough to do more than a few.

  8. Thank you for this exercise. I don’t know whether I sit a lot..I like to think I’m active. Even my father who used to be in Armed services could never sit like this. He used to say that this happens from childhood, and if you don’t sit like this when your muscles are more malleable as a child, than you probably cannot do it later in life.

    How long do you think I need to keep doing this exercise btw? (duration etc). I really want to sit like that because the people who do, I have seen them sitting like that for hours comfortably.

  9. I kind of squatting challenging at times haha. Sometimes when I say I am going to squat for a certain amount of time. I end up doing 1/3 of that time. If it weren’t for some light weight stretching at first probably I wouldn’t even have done it at all. http://personalachieverz.com/

  10. Squat on a wedge board, board or (use) plates so that your heel is raised 1-3in, you’ll have to experiment which is best for you. Weightlifting shoes are simply robust shoes with raised heels so don’t let anyone tell you squatting like that is wrong. You’ll get the necessary depth this way

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  14. I have the same problem and have had good luck with a sumo (wide) stance. Try adjusting the width of your stance and see if that helps!

  15. Sharing this story in case it’s useful for others: Early this year I sprained my ankle and (after being cleared to go back to the gym!) couldn’t get as low as I used to. My physiotherapist recommended elevating my heels on small weights or a folded yoga mat. It worked great and within a few weeks I was getting back to my original range of motion.

  16. Wait are you telling me that squats are deep pleas? Serious? All this time I thought they were different!

  17. is there any physical harm that can result from getting up on your toes? I seem to be able to lift more weight, have better balance and gain quicker foot work than doing squats on my heels.

  18. Great advice! I’m an Olympic Style Weightlifter and you are spot on with this info. I’ve seen people squat in regular gyms and it is painful to watch. If you’re reading this, follow these “rules” and you’ll be set. Awesome article!

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