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A woman doing a squat.

Squats work the muscles of your lower body, core, and upper back, making it an ideal exercise for muscle gain, fat loss, and improvements in athletic performance and general well-being.

The move appears simple: You just lower your hips down and stand back up. But this action is easier said than done. Tight hips and ankles, a weak core, muscular imbalances between left and right, and simply not knowing how to do the move can all be hindrances. Luckily, none of these has to stop you.

The cues and options here will help you safely get started or progress your practice.

A woman doing a squat.
  1. Stand with feet about hip width apart and planted firmly on the ground, hands in front of you or on your hips.
  2. Brace your core, and, with control, bend your knees and hips to squat down until your thighs are about parallel to the ground.
  3. Press through your feet to stand up. Squeeze your glutes at the top to achieve a full lockout.

Tip: Keep your chest up and proud by bracing your core and maintaining a neutral spine — neither overly arched nor curved.

Tip: Squat only as low as you comfortably can while maintaining good form and staying pain-free.

Tip: If mobility is an issue, try elevating one or both heels off the floor (thin weight plates do the trick).

Tip: Play with foot positioning. You may find that a small change — like slightly turning out the toes of one foot — makes a big difference in comfort and balance.

Our Favorite Variations

Barbell Back Squat: Perform a squat with a barbell positioned across your shoulders and the meaty part of your upper back (not your neck).

Goblet Squat: Squat with a kettlebell or dumbbell held in front of your body at chest height.

Zercher Squat: Use a barbell or sandbag positioned in the crooks of your elbows.

This article originally appeared in Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

Photography by Kelly Loverud; Fitness model: Julianne Lago
Maggie
Maggie Fazeli Fard

Maggie Fazeli Fard, RKC, is an Experience Life senior editor.

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