3 Basic Steps to Properly Perform a Squat

Starting Position

The starting position
The starting position. Mike Harrington/Getty Images

The squat takes many forms including with dumbbells, barbells, bar and plates, a Smith machine, or even without equipment at all using your own body weight. You may wish to start with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell of light weight until you get used to the form and technique. A qualified trainer is recommended to guide you through appropriate execution, particularly for more serious squatting with heavy weights. This description uses dumbbells.

The squat develops the muscles of the buttocks (the gluteals) and the legs, particularly the front thigh muscles (quadriceps).

Positioning the Body

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow them to hang comfortably at the sides.
  • Position the feet about as wide as the hips.
  • Keep the heels planted firmly on the floor and don’t allow them to rise up.
  • Tighten the abdominal muscles. You can identify these by pretending to clear your throat or by coughing. You will notice the ‘abs’ tightening automatically in the stomach region.
  • Stand tall, shoulders pulled back with good balance.

Body Movement

The squat movement.
The squat movement. Robert Daly/Getty Images


  • Move as to sit down by bending your knees ensuring that your upper body does not appreciably lean forward.
  • The first movement should be with your butt rearwards as you start to lower your body by bending at the knees. Make this a positive and deliberate movement.
  • If you concentrate on this butt rearward movement you are off to a good start with the squat. It is important not to arch the back forward on descent or when you return to the start position. Keeping that butt "pointing" rearward and the back straight is the key.
  • Don’t descend any lower than where your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Try not to extend the knees beyond the tips of the toes as you lower, although some authorities suggest this is not necessarily a problem. It depends on depth of squat, body shape, balance and flexibility.
  • You could try three sets of 10 exercise repetitions with an appropriate weight to start with.

Check Points

Another squat lift.
Another squat lift. Robert Daly/Getty Images

Check Points

  • Don’t round the back forward, going down or coming up. A rounded back under weight can cause damage to the spine at the upper or lower end.
  • Keep the knees from extending beyond the toes if possible. However, this may not be possible with a parallel squat for some people and is not necessarily dangerous depending on stability and flexibility.
  • Try not to look down — look straight ahead — or at least be aware of what your back and butt are doing.
  • Keep those heels planted firmly on the ground and the knees lined up with the feet and not splayed in or out.
  • Don’t start with weights that are too heavy.

Congratulations, you are now a squatter. Now move on to the next exercise, the chest press.

If you need to, check out the top 10 list and review the basic training and safety information.

Continue Reading