The Squat: Simplified for Perfection

The squat is an exercise that most have heard of but few probably truly understand.  A seemingly simple movement that we use everyday is actually very complex and involves the coordination of many muscles and joints.   A well done squat requires a harmony of strength, balance, flexibility, and stability at the ankle, knee, hip and core.  If any of these areas is lacking, the form of the exercise will suffer.

You may find limitations, weaknesses or imbalances when trying to get into a deep squat.  This is normal for everyone and you can use the squat as a tool to find and work on some of your own problem areas.  For example, if your calves are tight you may feel your heels rising off the ground as you descend.  Someone with weak hips may allow their knees to cave in as they squat.  Practicing good squat form and increasing your range of motion can improve the quality of movement for all the joints of the lower body.

In my opinion, the body weight squat should be mastered before you even think about adding external weight.  Cleaning up your form without weight will prevent injury down the road and set you up for success when you do add on extra pounds.  Once you decide to add weight you have many options for loading the exercise.  Most people probably picture the classic back squat, with the bar resting on the back of the shoulders, but there are tons of variations like the front squat, goblet squat, and dumbbell squat just to name a few.

Bodyweight squats can be done for repetition to failure as an endurance type exercise that can be done anywhere and works the whole lower body and gets your heart rate up at the same time.  No fancy equipment needed.

Don’t believe me?  Try 3 sets of 50 squats right now and tell me how you feel.

When adding weight, I recommend you find a weight that fatigues the legs in 8-12 repetitions with good form.  For most people 2-4 sets in this range will really strengthen the legs.  The sets, repetitions and weight can all be varied depending on goals like losing weight, adding muscle, or improving strength, speed or power.

The squat is a basic but valuable exercise that benefits the whole body.  It is a movement we will need for most of our lives so we should be familiar with it and get good at it.  Picture a small child squatting down playing with blocks.  Most of us had this capability when we were little.  The question is do you still have that ability or have you lost it?   If you’ve lost it, get it back.  If you still have it, keep it.  Practice this movement frequently.


  • Feet:  Shoulder width apart.  Weight distributed slightly back on heels.
  • Knees:  Should stay in line above the ankles. Do not let knees fall in or out.
  • Hips:  Slide backwards as knees bend.  Keep weight back on heels.
  • Core:  Keep torso upright during the squat.  A slight forward lean is normal.  Keep head up and eyes forward.

Try it and let me know how things work for you!

Learn something new!


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As an athletic trainer at Williams College and North Adams State College, Dan Murphy - aka Murph - got the opportunity to train, assess and rehabilitate athletes in a variety of sports including hockey, football, lacrosse, tennis, track and field, soccer, baseball and softball. He holds numerous fitness certifications and has been instrumental in helping The Clubs at Charles River Park evolve to a wellness center. Murph lives with his college sweetheart with whom he has two exuberant kids. He also plays bagpipes with the Bunker Hill Pipe Band from Charlestown - they recently performed before the first Bruins game of the season! (

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