How to Do Squats Correctly — Plus, 6 Squat Mistakes You're Probably Making

Squats are one of the best exercises for your butt — if you do them correctly. Here, pros break down the proper way to do squats for maximum booty burn.

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Along with quadruped and four-way hip extensions, classic squats are one of the best butt-strengtheners around, according to ACE Fitness research. But if you don't know how to do squats correctly, you aren't making the most of this muscle-building move.

To help maximize the booty burn, check out these six super-common squatting mistakes, then learn the proper way to do squats — and ensure you score all the benefits they have to offer — from fitness pros. (BTW, this guide to your butt muscles will teach you how to best train them.)

6 Form Mistakes and How to Do Squats Correctly

Problem #1: Your shoulders and back are relaxed.

Without proper tension in your shoulders and back, your entire squat breaks down: You round your back, you lose control, and apart from being able to lift less weight, you also up your risk of injury, says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., a strength coach in Boston, Massachusetts. Basically, your body forgets how to do squats.

The proper way to do squats: Pull your shoulder blades down and together. This simple switch will engage your core and keep your body from becoming loosey-goosey, says Gentilcore. You'll be shocked how much stronger you'll feel. Plus, by squeezing your shoulder blades together, you create a little shelf on the back of your shoulders that's perfect for a barbell. If you're performing back squats (you have a barbell across the back of your shoulders), focus on pulling the bar into that little shelf. It'll help you keep your shoulder blades tight throughout the entire movement, he says.

Problem #2: Your knees fall toward each other.

Caved-in knees are a telltale sign that your outer thighs are lacking in strength, says Gentilcore. And if you let your knees cave in, you'll only exacerbate muscular imbalances. (

The proper way to do squats: Anchoring your feet to the floor can go a long way toward keeping your knees where they need to be, he says. Take a "tripod" stance, making sure your weight is evenly distributed under your big toe, little toe, and heel. Then, pretend you're trying to spread the floor between your feet. Push your feet into the ground and out to the sides. Your feet shouldn't actually move, but you should feel some tension in your hips. That will give you some more stability so your knees don't cave in, Gentilcore says.

Problem #3: You never squat below parallel.

"There's a big misconception that squatting below parallel is bad for your knees. That's completely false," says Gentilcore. "If you have no knee issues, squatting deep is perfectly healthy and can actually make knees stronger." Plus, deep squats work parts of your glutes that shallow squats just don't.

The proper way to do squats: The proper way to do squats? Squat as low as you can comfortably. The ideal depth is going to be different for every woman. But, by and large, you should squat until the top surface of your thigh is just below your knee, Gentilcore says. Meanwhile, as long as you feel comfortable and in control, you can go even lower, says Nick Tumminello, founder of Strength Zone Training. Just remember, squats should never hurt. If they hurt, that's your body telling you to change how you're doing them. (

Problem #4: Your knees extend way past your toes.

The farther your knees jut out past your toes while you squat, the more you stress your knee joints. If you have sensitive knees, that could spell injury, says Tumminello. Luckily, the proper way to do squats and fix this issue is simple.

The proper way to do squats: Keep your knees in line with your toes. While it's perfectly OK if your knees extend a centimeter or two in front of your toes, focusing on keeping them behind your toes is an easy way to make sure you don't end up taking things too far forward, he says. "Ideally, your hips should move back just as much as your knees move forward," adds Gentilcore. (Ready to take your squats up a notch? Follow this step-by-step guide to building a homemade squat rack.)

Problem #5: You've tried only one type of squat.

Squats come in all shapes and sizes, says Gentilcore. You've got back squats, front squats, goblet squats, plyometric squats, the list goes on. Even if you know the proper way to do squats, you won't see as great of results if you're only doing one variety.

The proper way to do squats: Mix up your variations for maximum results. While every type of squat will do wonders for your lower body, each variation emphasizes different muscles, such as your hamstrings or glute medius, aka side butt. Hit a few variations every week (try a handful of these 12!) and you'll get the benefits of all of them, he says.

Problem #6: You squat just once a week.

The less often you squat, the longer it will take to see results and increase muscle, says Gentilcore, even if you know the proper way to do squats. After all, squats are incredibly efficient: They work more muscles and burn more calories than just about any other movement.

The proper way to do squats: To find a happy medium between undertraining and overtraining, shoot to perform squats two to three times per week, he says. One day, lift heavy weights for only a handful of reps. One day, lift lighter weights for about a dozen reps. If you decide to add a third day in there, try a different squat variation, he says. (BTW, this guide will help you plan a perfectly balanced week of workouts.)

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