Proper Squat Technique: What You Need To Know

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Whether you're recovering from an injury, or just trying to look good at the beach, you've got to do squats! There is no better exercise for the lower body.  To learn more about the knee, go to this article on knee pain.

Proper squat technique is the key to getting results. With these tips, you'll never want to skip LEG DAY!


Proper Squat Technique with Air Squats

1. Starting position - Keep the feet shoulder width apart with weight balanced side to side. 

Man in starting position for Air squats in good position with good technique or form from front viewStarting Position - Front View

Man in starting position for Air squats in good position with good technique or form from side viewStarting Position - Side View

2. Squat Position - Lower to a squat with weight balanced between the feet.  Keep the heels down and the head up. Keep the knees behind the toes.
Man is squat position with good form or good techniques with head up and knees apart. labels show proper head and knee position. front view Good Squat Position - front view

Man is squat position with good form or good techniques with head up and knees apart. labels show proper head and knee position and low back curve. Side viewGood Squat Position - Side View

3. Return to Stand - Accelerate back up by pushing through the heels and extending the knees and hips. Keep looking forward. 

How Do You Progress Air Squats?

  • Add a resistance band around your knees. This stimulates hip rotator muscles and the Gluteus Medius.

man doing an air squat with a red resistance band around the knees to show good form or technique from front viewResistance Band with Air Squats

  • Add a Kettle Bell. (Goblet Squats)

Man using a kettle bell for Goblet squats with good technique or good form from the side viewKettle Bell for Goblet Squats

  • Do sustained holds in the squat position. Start with 10 seconds and work up from there.
  • Stand on a foam pad to challenge balance and stability. Make sure you have a support to grab in case you lose your balance. 

Best Back Squat Technique

1. Starting Position - Stand straight with the bar resting on the upper traps, just below the neck. Keep the curve in the low back.  (We did not use a squat rack for these tips to help visualize the technique)

Man is up position for proper back squat technique from front viewStarting Position (Front View)

Man is up position for proper back squat technique from side viewStarting Position (Side View)

2. Squat Position - Lower slowly and keep the weight balanced from side to side.  Keep the knees behind the toes. Keep the butt back and hinge or bend from the hip joints. Maintain the curve in the lower spine.

Man in low or squat position doing a back squat with a barbell with good technique or good form from front viewBack Squat Good Position - Front View

Man in low or squat position doing a back squat with a barbell with good technique or good form from side viewBack Squat Good Position - Side View
3. Return to Stand - Accelerate back up to the Standing position.  Extend the hips and knees and maintain the curve in the back.  Look forward.

7 Back Squat Tips

The trunk and leg positions with back squats are the same as with Air squats. The big difference is the load that is transferred through the spine to the legs. Here are some tips to help with back squats.

  1. Keep your Eyes and Head up and forward
  2. Keep the curve in your lower back.
  3. Don't go past 90 degrees at the knees.
  4. Use a spotter with heavy weight
  5. Use a safety rack (None shown in our pics to help us illustrate other points)
  6. Inhale on the way down, exhale on the way up. (Don't be the one who passes out from holding their breath)
  7. If you hurt, STOP! 

Are Squats Bad For Your Knees?

Squats are not bad for your knees if you do them properly.  It is important to keep the knees behind the toes as you go down.  This forces you to use the Gluteal muscles and the quads together.  It also keeps the knee in a position that does not overload the kneecap. 

4 Things to Avoid With Squats

1. Avoid letting the knees fall inward. This can happen when the Gluteus Medius and hip external rotators are weak.  

Man doing a squat with the right knee collapsing inward

2. Avoid leaning too far forward from the hip.

Man doing squat from the side.  Bending too far forward at the hip.

3. Avoid lifting the heels off the floor.  

Man doing a squat with heels rising off the floor with bad squat technique

4. Avoid bringing Your Knees Past Tour Toes.

Man doing a squat with knee too far forward in front of the toes.


Should You Use a Weight Belt with Squats?

The quick answer is typically no. Weight belts help to hold your abdomen in and give you support. The problem is that your abdominal or core muscles should do that for you without a belt. Back squats are a great exercise for combining muscle groups from top to bottom. That includes the core. 

Bodies are lazy! If you give the core external support from a weight belt all the time, the core will get weaker. Doing squats without a weight belt helps your core muscles learn how to provide stability and support for the spine. 

In most cases, if your back and core are not able to handle the weight, it's too much weight to lift. 

If you are trying a new max weight it may be a good idea to use a weight belt as a safety measure. Weight belts are typically not part of a regular workout though. 

Are Squats Safe?

Squats are a safe and effective exercise for most people if they are done properly.  Follow the tips above for the best results and safety.

When Should You Avoid Squats?

You should avoid squats if you have:

  • Severe arthritis in the knees
  • Back or neck Injuries
  • Recently had surgery (unless cleared by your doctor or physical therapist)
  • Recent injury to the legs
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Loss of sensation in the legs or feet

If done properly, squats are a safe, efficient, and effective way to build strength in the lower body.

Related Article: best shoulder workouts to reduce injury

If you have pain with squats or any other leg exercise, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. To schedule an appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. To see a JOI Rehab Physical Therapist at one of our 12 locations, call (904)858-7045.

Click to Learn the Best and Worst Shoulder Exercises.



Image of Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT and title Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT - Medical Content Writer

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