Okay, so we all know that squats can totally change your derriere. The problem: The majority of people who drop it like a squat are doing it wrong, and thus, not getting all of those much-desired benefits.
Ideally, you want your hips to go slightly below parallel, meaning they will drop just below the knees. (If you have good mobility, you more than likely can go even lower.) In this position, you are recruiting more of your glutes (hello, tight, lifted tush!) and the upper part of the hamstrings rather than putting the emphasis solely on your quads.
The trouble is that even the fittest among us are not getting low enough. And unfortunately, for many of us, our range of motion isn't what it should be, thanks to body imbalances—tight hip flexors, shortened quads, etc.—that prevent us from squatting properly.
"One has to be aware that when going into a squat, if your anterior muscles are tight and your posterior muscles are weak, your body is programmed to choose the path of least resistance; this often leads to you shifting your weight forward, elevating your heels, and caving in at your knees instead of coming down and sitting back," explains Faheem Mujahid, owner and master trainer at InFluence Atelier in Miami. "If you have all of these misfires, and your kinetic chain isn't working properly, it doesn't matter how low you get—you are doing your body a disservice."
While Mujahid agrees that “you may increase the activation of the glutes and hamstrings more by going below parallel,” he also says that “you can still reap the butt benefits, along with firmer legs, by accomplishing at least a 90-degree flexion.”
The Right Way to Squat
So how exactly do you fix those imbalances, so you can execute the perfect body-weight squat?
Try this: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Keeping the natural curve in the lower back, push hips back, bend knees, and lower down. Drive through heels to return to standing.
You can also try using a wall as a guide: Stand facing the wall with toes touching it and hands straight up in the air; push hips back and lower down as far as possible. The goal is to not let any part of your body, except those toes, make contact with the wall.
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If you find it difficult even to get down to 90 degrees, try these dynamic stretches from Mujahid to help loosen up your lower half and prime your body to get low—or at least lower.
Sumo groin stretch
What it targets: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors
How to do it: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart and toes turned out to 45 degrees. Sit butt back and lower down as far as possible. Keeping chest up, place fingers under toes (A). Use arms to press knees back for 2-4 seconds. Straighten legs, keeping fingers under toes (B), and hold for 2-4 seconds; return to start and repeat.
World's Greatest Stretch
What it targets: Hip flexors, butt, hamstrings, quads, and calves
How to do it: Start in the up part of a pushup with hands underneath shoulders (A). Step right leg forward, placing it to the outside of the right hand. Right knee should be bent to 90 degrees and left leg extended behind you with the ball of the foot on ground (B). Hold for 2-4 seconds. Step right foot back to meet left, and then repeat move on left side.
What it targets: Lower back, abs, hamstrings, and glutes
How to do it: Lie facedown with feet together and arms extended out to sides (palms facing down), so body forms a "T" (A). Squeeze right glute, bend right knee and lift right leg, twisting hips and reaching right foot to touch the ground on the outside of left leg (B). Try to keep arms and chest on the floor. Hold for 2-4 seconds; reverse motion, return to start, and then repeat with left leg.
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Active Lunge Stretch
What it targets: Legs, hips, groin, hip flexors, and quads
How to do it: Start with feet shoulder-width apart, chest up, and shoulders back. Take a large step forward with left foot, then bend both knees to lower down (A). Left thigh should be parallel to the ground, so that left leg forms a 90-degree angle. Right knee should touch ground. Bring your hands to rest on left knee. Push hips forward until you feel the stretch (B); hold for 2-4 seconds, and then repeat on other side.
By adding these moves to your rotation, we're sure you’ll be squatting like a pro in no time.
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