Back to basics: The Squat

There is nothing we do at the gym that is more important than developing a great squat.  The squat will not only build strength in your entire lower body and core, but depending on the variation, it can also strengthen your lats, traps, biceps, etc.  And there are a ton of variations.  You can back squat, front squat, overhead squat, pistol squat, split squat, zercher squat — the list goes on.  You can use any form of external weight you want and get a different stimulus.  You can load it symmetrically or asymmetrically.  

But all of these benefits are only available if you’re doing your squats correctly. So, here are a few common squatting mistakes, tips on how to fix them, and a plan you can use to build a better squat.

Mistake 1:  You only squat with weight

Typically we squat with some sort of load, but you might be surprised to learn that the squat is, at bottom, a resting position.  Everybody seems to be getting wise to the fact that chairs are the enemy but nobody seems to be replacing any sitting time with squatting time, and that’s too bad because if you can hit a deep squat comfortably for an extended period of time without any discomfort, your hips and low back are pretty damn healthy.  Want to start building up your ability to rest in a squat? This 10-minute squat test from Mobility WOD is an awesome way to start.

Mistake 2:  You do not squat low enough/You squat too low

Some of us just don’t have the bone structure (hip joint and femur) necessary to allow for a great squatting position, especially under load.  Could you do it, anyway? Sure.  Should you do it repetitively under weight? Probably not.  A weighted squat should be built under control (think tempo/pausing).  Depth becomes available through increased range and strength of our tissue.  But this doesn’t mean you should stick with higher depth squats to stay safe.  Reduce your weight load and make depth the priority until you can find a comfortable position below parallel.

Mistake 3:  You only back squat

And you do this with the same grip, same bar position, same foot position, same lifting shoes and same belt every time.  If you are directly leading into a powerlifting competition, all of those things are acceptable.  If you are not, then change it up. Single leg work and varying the position of the weight is essential in developing the muscles interacting with the hip in a balanced way.  If you can’t squat without your lifting shoes on (or shoes in general), than it’s a problem that needs to be addressed with a coach’s help.  

The Plan of Attack

Here’s a five-day plan to help you build a healthier squat that will take just under 15 minutes a day. This is not a strength program. All squatting should be done below parallel or to the deepest comfortable depth with no shoes, if possible, and no belts.  


Each day start with:

30-second Samson Stretch/leg

30-second Lizard Pose/leg 

60-second Pigeon Pose/leg


Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
3×10 Box Squat – 50%*

(high bar or low bar)

10 minute squat test 3×10 Split Squat/leg

(add weight thru sets)

10 minute squat test 3×5 Box Squat – 60%

(front or goblet squat)

3×15 Lateral Lunge 3×10 walking lunge/leg


3×10 Cossack Squat

*Percentage is based off 1RM, if that is unknown the weight used should feel light not heavy.


For instructions on how to perform the movements, see these helpful videos:

Box Squats 

Split Squats 

Lateral Lunge

Cossack Squat 



Duncan McNeill is a coach and co-owner of Alchemy CrossFit. 

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