Squats are a fundamental exercise in weight training.
If you have difficulty doing squats, you'll want to use the Wall Squats to correct your form. Squats are ubiquitous in physical fitness. You'll see people doing them everywhere; in gyms, in boot camps and when warming up for other exercises. Any trainer worth their salt will use squats regularly. Whether you're doing them unloaded (without weight), with dumbbells, a barbell or kettlebells, they are an excellent exercise for strengthening your legs, glutes, back and core. However, when done incorrectly, you risk pain and injury to your low back and knees.
What are the basics of a properly performed squat?
In this picture, the low back is in a balanced extension, keeping the lumbar curve neutral, minimizing the load into the intervertebral discs. The knees are just at the level of the toes, not passing the toes, thus protecting the knees. Finally, the upper body is leaned but is upright. A little meme to remember is "big butt, big chest". Oh... and this is NATURAL!
What are some of the bad habits in squats that can cause problems?
There are a few very common mistakes people make when performing squats and some of those mistakes can have negative consequences for your body. The mistake with the greatest possibility of causing injury is keeping your body vertical. As your body moves downward, keeping your torso too upright forces pressure into your knees, specifically into your mensicus, the thick cartilaginous padding between your femur and tibia. This can cause the meniscus to move out of position making walking painful and can also cause the meniscus to tear.
Another common problem is hinging too much at the hips. Your upper body bends too far forward. Unweighted this isn't a major problem but once you're bearing weight, either on your shoulders or in your hands, your weight is unbalanced and your low back muscles will need to work way too hard to keep the weight supported. Obviously this can result in low back pain and potential injury.
The easiest way to learn proper squat form: Wall Squats
The basics of the Wall Squats are simple:
- Place your hands at your hips like you were holding two six shooters.
- Walk up to a wall until your finger tips just barely touch the wall. This should put your toes about 4 inches away from the wall.
- Place your hands on your hips.
- Keeping your eyes forward and not up, your waist drawn in to "greyhound belly" and your pelvic floor engaged, perform a squat. Think about having a "big butt". You should feel the glutes on the sides of your hips, your medius and minimus, engaging firmly.
- Stand back up to fully upright, making sure to press into your heels and engage your glutes and inner thighs.
- Repeat 10 to 12 times.
Performing Wall Squats helps direct your form in multiple ways. Through this position, it isn't possible for your knees to go considerably past your toes. Also, you can't let your upper body go too far forward, otherwise you'll smack your nose into the wall. And purposely keeping your mind on the "big butt", you'll keep your glutes engaged and your lumbar spine in proper extension. Voila... perfect squat form.
At first, your balance may not allow you to squat very deeply. You may feel like you're going to fall into the wall or fall away from it. If you've set your distance up correctly as outlined above, don't worry about what you feel at first if you can't complete a full set. Your body needs repetition to learn this new movement pattern. You'll start to understand your center of gravity better while strengthening your lumbo-pelvic hip complex (your glutes and deep core muscles).
Once you can perform 10-12 Wall Squats without hitting the wall with your face or falling backwards out of it, you've got your form down and you can move on to loading your squats. Then you can start working on horrible (awesome!) exercises like squat jumps!
Have you tried Wall Squats? Did they help your form? Let me know by commenting below.
7 thoughts on “Use Wall Squats to learn proper form”
I’m really determined to learn squatting and strengthen my glutens, that’s how I stumbled across you’re blogpost.
Somehow whenever I do a squat I either have to bend forward unhealthy or when I try to keep a straight back I can only go down a little tiny bit, but when I try to get back up again, I seem to be falling backwards, loose my balance and stop the squatting.
I don’t really know what it is that doesn’t allow me to squat without falling over, maybe you have some ideas?
Thanks for your help
kind regards 🙂
Sorry for the delayed reply.
Have you been using the wall squat to try to correct your form? Many of my clients have balance issues when using the wall squat. They sometimes fall back, sometimes off to the side, etc. There is a general maxim in personal training: If you see a muscle imbalance in an exercise, that is the exercise that can correct the muscle imbalance. So if you’re using the wall squat and you’re losing your balance, so long as you’re following the guidelines to the motion correctly, the wall squat will fix the problems it reveals.
If you’re finding yourself off to one side, put a long piece of tape on a wall, line your face, sternum, pelvis and feet with the tape and use that as a visual guide when doing the squats.
Until you can perform the wall squat easily, don’t add any weight to your squats. Always have the basics down first before adding to them.
I was curious about the range of motion. I suppose my ankle flexibility may be lacking but I can’t hit parallel with this. I am trying to fix several mechanics in my form and have read this exercise can help greatly. Any pointers?
Hey Matt, if you really feel that it’s your ankles causing the restriction when you’re doing squats, you’ll want a three pronged approach. First, get some serious deep tissue massage to try to release those calves. Second, at the beginning of your workout, do static calf stretches for both the surface calf muscle (gastrocnemius) and the deeper muscles (soleus). Here are two good pictures showing both. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds on each leg, then do some walking lunges to re-integrate the elongated muscles into activity. Do the same stretches after your workout. Third, if you’re still having difficulty, place a weight plate on the ground have your heels on it when you attempt your squats. This third part should only be done until you’ve lengthened your calves through steps one and two.
Interesting! When I saw “wall squat” I thought it would be something quite different that I learned in PT, where you have your back supported in a rather upright position against a wall and go down and hold a squat that way. Even though it was part of PT for the knees I found it was a little hard on the knees, probably from holding the lowest position for such a long time. I like your emphasis on good form and injury prevention.
Hi Mary. Yeah, when I’m feeling particularly mean to a client (in a good way) I’ll make them do what you describe. I’ve always called them “wall sits”. I think the key for wall sits is to make sure you’re engaging as much of the leg musculature as possible, especially engaging the hamstrings & adductors, and try to avoid having the exercise be totally quad dominant.
nice article, very clear…
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