Squat Form

Have you ever had trouble with your squat form? Maybe it’s a challenge for you to get to parallel? Your torso starts to lean forward excessively? Or your knees start to go WAY past your toes? All these are signs that are common among many fitness junkies, workout enthusiasts, and even some professional athletes.

Proper squat form is one of the most important things to have when doing a squat. Hell, form in any lift is the most important aspect, since it’s what keeps you from snap city. So when our form isn’t there, we put ourselves at a higher risk of injury.

A lot of people think the amount of weight is the problem with getting the proper form. While that may be true for beginners, weight is not the biggest factor when it comes to achieving the right form. Sure, going up in weight when we’re not ready can definitely cause a breakdown in form. Our bodies compensate in different ways and when it comes to weights heavier than we can handle, our form is the first to go out the window.

With that said, when bad form is detected even exercising with light weights, it should raise red flags that the form must be fixed before adding any more load to the exercise. This is crucial for 3 reasons, 1 of which we had already discussed:

  1. More weight + bad form = injury
  2. The form will stick, making it harder to learn the proper form later
  3. We won’t receive the full benefits from the exercise

It’s pretty obvious that proper form is vital for the squat. Not just because it’s one of the best exercises to burn fat, but because it builds extreme physical and mental toughness. Try doing some 5 sets of doubles or triples at 90-95% of your max and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

But before that, we need to know about the biggest hurdle for most of us when it comes to proper squat form.

Biggest Factor in Proper Squat Form

So what’s the biggest factor when in comes to achieving proper squat form? Want to venture a guess? We established that it’s not the weight. We see people squat with just their body weight and still not able to execute proper form.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you’d known right away the answer is mobility.

Having mobility in different areas of your body is what’s going to impact your form. Especially in a whole body movement like that of the squat, mobility is absolutely critical.

In spite of knowing this, there are still plenty of people who can’t squat properly. One common mistake I see is putting more weight on the bar when the form was never there to begin with. This is reason #2 from the previous section. It becomes much harder to “unlearn” something when we feel it works for us.

When we feel we’re able to lift more with the bad form, the initial feedback is that our form is fine. Even if we get over the conscious side of admitting that our form needs to be improved, our body has a mind of its own sometimes, especially when it comes to ingrained habits.

That’s just one of the important reason for having proper form before moving on to heavier weights. I think the other 2 reasons listed are pretty much self-explanatory.

There are 3 critical areas that needs good mobility for proper squat form. Let’s see what they are.

Ankle Mobility

The ankles may seem to play the least important role when squatting, but it’s the determining factor in keeping our feet flat on the squat throughout the entire movement. Having good ankle mobility means not only having a good range of motion, but also expressing that range of motion during movement under stress. I reiterate this point here from my mobility article because it’s often forgotten what mobility really is.

Importance Of Dorsiflexion

When we flex our ankle so that we’re trying to touch our shins with our toes, that’s called dorsiflexion. We can feel the shins tightening up to pull our toes upward. When we’re going into a squat, the ankles go through the same exact motion.

We’re not purposely trying to pull our toes toward our shins in this case, but the ankle still has to go through that range of motion.

So what happens when our dorsiflexion is poor or non-existent?

Go ahead and try to squat down without flexing your ankles, keeping your shins completely straight. What happen? You either:

  • Lean your torso forward to the point of touching your chest to your thighs
  • Started to fall over backwards
  • Lifted your heels off the ground and got up on your toes

For those of us without proper ankle mobility, one or more of these 3 things happen when we try to squat properly. Now imagine putting weight on your back and doing that. Doesn’t seem to workout too well, does it? Pun intended BIG time 🙂

Carry Over To Other Movements

I want to stress the importance of dorsiflexion not just for the squat, but also daily movements. Poor dorsiflexion can contribute to walking flat footed, with very little to no heel contact with the ground. While it’s good to stay on the balls of our feet and avoid heel strike when sprinting, heel contact should be engaged when walking.

This puts unnecessary stress on the arch area of the foot, and over time it can get overworked. The last thing you want is an injury or even soreness on the bottom of your feet.

Tripping is another hazard that can result from poor dorsiflexion. When the foot cannot raise high enough, the toes may catch the ground before we expect it. A stubbed toe would also be on the agenda if we’re around the house. And running with poor dorsiflexion could turn into a somersaut.

Ankles are obviously important for proper squat form. Working our way up the body, some may think the knees are the next important link in the chain. Actually, if we move up just a bit more, we have something far more important.

Hip Mobility

The hips in my opinion, are the most important element in the squat. The very motion of the squat involves opening up and closing the hips. This is not to downplay the other body parts involved but the hips are what makes or breaks your squat.

“It’s all in the hips.” – Chubbs from Happy Gilmore

When I talk about the hips, I’m not referring to just the area of the hip bone. I’m talking about the entire region in that hip area; lower back, buttocks, upper hamstrings and quads, hip flexors, lower abdomen, etc. Now you see what I mean when I say that squatting is a whole body movement?

General Area Tightness

With all those muscles and tendons and ligaments in that area, it’s very easy to get tight muscles there. I think I can safely assume not all of us can do full splits (me included). So a mobile hip doesn’t come naturally to us.

No matter if we’re workout maniacs or a couch potato, hip tightness are bound to creep up at some point. Especially if we don’t ever work on stretching or doing mobility exercises, they can get tight on us pretty quickly.

One of the worst activities that all of us do at least multiple times a day is sit. Sitting is necessary for a lot of us and this is not to scare you off, but you may have already heard that sitting is the new smoking. From a hip mobility standpoint, sitting keeps the hips closed, which keeps the muscles in a shorten state.

The most notable effects from prolonged sitting is tight hip flexors. These muscles lie below your inguinal crease and above the top of your thighs.

In the case of the squat, the hip flexors are actually antagonistic muscles, meaning they work against the motion of squatting. A trick to temporarily squat more weight is to stretch out the hip flexors right before a set. A long stretch over 30 seconds at least would be best. This temporarily weakens the muscles, which reduces the antagonistic effects and allows for more weight to be lifted.

But if the hip flexors are antagonistic muscles, then I should have to worry about them being mobile then! Wrong. I used the hip flexors as an example to illustrate how our hips in general can get tight over time. The lack of mobility due to sitting and other daily activities are not exclusive to the hip flexors only.

Multiple Factors

One of the most overlooked muscles are the hip adductors. These muscles are responsible for closing our legs together. If you squeeze an object between your thighs, you’re flexing your hip adductors.

Another muscle that can affect our squat form are our hamstrings. As much as some say they don’t affect our squats, a tight hamstring can pull your hips under and forward at the bottom of a squat. This is one of the contributing factors to the infamous “butt wink”.

Sidenote: The “butt wink” isn’t always due to tight hips or other mobility issues. Some people’s anatomy just works in such a way that it’s unavoidable if they squat deep. I personally have a bit of this if I go ATG (ass-to-grass).

So we see how much hip mobility can affect our squat form. Remember, the major movement in the squat is the opening and closing of the hips. This cannot be done properly unless our hips are mobile enough to be opened!

Thoracic Mobility

This is the part where some people get tripped up. As we move up the body from the hips, it appears there’s nothing else that really affects our squat form, right? I mean, the squat happens at the lower body so nothing above the hips really matter all that much, RIGHT?

You already know that’s not the case.

Easily the most overlooked problem area when it comes to the squat: thoracic region.

Easy To Miss

Because this area is so overlooked, any symptoms of poor squat form are usually attributed to everything else but this. Although we may be tight in other areas, poor squat form usually isn’t the result of a single culprit. Fixing the ankles and the hips will get us far, but the thoracic region is also critical.

If we consider some of the common symptoms of a tight thoracic region, it’s easy to see why this can be easily missed for inducing poor squat form.

  • Excessive leaning forward with torso
  • Rounded back
  • The “butt wink”
  • Weight shifting mainly onto the heels

Having a tight thoracic region can cause these symptoms. The problem is that these symptoms can also be attributed to other problem areas of the body.

The Most Overlooked

Another reason this area is easily forgotten about is how it relates to other exercises. “Thoracic extension? That’s for Overhead Squats only!”, “Opening the Thoracic? We’re not doing Front Squats!”.

Because opening up the thoracic area is so common with the overhead squat, front squat, and other movements that appears to directly involve the upper back and deltoids, the thoracic doesn’t get much love with the back squat.

But this almost goes against all logic and reason. If an opened thoracic region is vital for other variations of the squat, why would the foundation exercise for them all, the back squat, not require it?

Keeping the torso upright during the back squat is just as important as it is in the front squat or overhead squat. Each movement required us to look straight ahead with our chest up. And the only way to do that is to keep our thoracic region mobile.

Opening Up These Areas

Here comes the part you’ve all been waiting for. Enough talk about how these areas of our bodies are important, let’s get to the good stuff!

I’ve posted a video for opening each area that we’ve discuss above. These are just the most effective and useful exercises that I’ve found through research. There are more advanced versions that you can certainly try, but I suggest going with these when first starting out.

All the exercises can be done with equipment that you can find at your local gym. If you don’t have access to one, the only thing you’ll need is a medicine ball or a PVC pipe or something firm to place under your back while lying down.

Of course, to get the best out of these exercises, be sure to check out the mobility bands I used in the videos.


Key points:

  • Keep the heel flat as much as possible
  • Okay for knees to be over the toes in this instance
  • Supplement with calf stretches for better results
  • Do it on both ankles (duh)


Key points:

  • Differentiate between discomfort and pain, do tolerate the former but never the latter
  • Again, move slowly throughout this stretch
  • Use a lighter band or no band for your first time

Thoracic Region

Key points:

  • Use a softer surface than a PVC pipe if it’s uncomfortable
  • Learn to breathe naturally in this position

Make It Your Routine

Practice makes perfect as they say, and this is no exception. Starting out, doing these each time before you squat will show definite improvement. We can move onto doing these drills each time before we workout, regardless of what we’ll be doing. This will keep those areas mobile for any exercise.

Eventually, we can move onto more advanced exercises that requires a good amount of mobility to begin with. Some of them may not need to be performed everyday, just before each time we workout.

I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful. Happy squatting!

Stay healthy,


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Written by 

I've just started getting serious about health and fitness around 2014. Since then I've learned the insider info on how to optimize athletic performance and healthy living through both nutrition and proper training. The most important thing I've discovered however, is the connection between the mindset of those that excel in athletics, and those that succeed in their life pursuits. I've spent the last couple years observing and drawing these connections and similarities, finally created a platform to share with you all what I've found, and how to apply them in your own life to get similar results.

15 thoughts on “Proper Squat Form- 3 BIG Mobility Areas

  1. Hi Wing! Great site you got there. Think you have it for awhile. Did you make any $$ from it? or you just make it to share info. be side that, I am also from Hong Kong and my Chinese name is also Wing! LOL. Anyway.. nice to meet you here and keep up the good work with your web site!! Good bye!!

    1. Hey Wing! Hahaha,

      I had this site since the beginning of May. Actually exactly 2 months today to be exact! So it’s been a bit of time but still pretty much in its infancy compared to the other well established sites of the same niche. I want to share info but also would love to monetize it. I’ve signed up with Adsense and have a couple product reviews. Still have yet to make any sales though.

      The name of the game is consistency and persistence so I don’t expect much for the first year really. I look forward to your site as well!

      Best of luck to you!


  2. Let me start off by saying that you have made yourself appear to be a real expert in this niche. I have always worked out since I can remember all the way from playing football and basketball and through my Army days. Now I am a full time firefighter/paramedic so I have to stay active.

    That being said, I found your site to be very interesting and informative. It kept my attention and the articles were well written and persuasive from what I could read.

    One thing I was looking for is maybe more content on proper workout forms for people with past injuries like myself. Pardon me if you have something and I just didn’t see it but I would like to see more helpful insight as to what I should look for especially in my case being that I had knee surgery in the Army. What product reviews would you have for me? Any suggestions when looking at my squat form?

    Anyway, I hope that was helpful for you but again I just want to encourage you and tell you that you are doing an amazing job and your site is probably one of the best I have seen so far. Your hard work seems to be paying off and I hope and pray that you have much success in the near future.

    Take care,

    1. Luis,

      Thank you for your encouragement. And thank you for the ideas, I think I will write something regarding proper exercise form in the future since I don’t have anything specifically for that right now.

      I’m not qualified to give any medical advice or recommendations of any kind. With that said, I know that avoiding impact to you post-op knee is #1. So repeated pounding like running on pavement of jumping and landing are not recommended.

      You can send me a video or photos of your squat form at my email at wing@athletic-mindset.com

      I’ll be happy to take a look and provide feedback.

      Thanks again for your encouragement and for serving your country and your community!


  3. Very good informative article. I really didn’t know it was so much that went into squatting. I always thought it was just simply putting a bar on the back of your neck adding some weight and just going up and down. But now i see that it’s way more to it than just that. I will tweak my squats with information i’ve learned in your post hopefully do it more efficiently. I will also share on my social media accounts. Thanks

    1. Hi Gant,

      Yes, in an exercise like the squat, form is everything. Better to start light, body weight if we have to, to get the proper form. Only adding weight after that’s been taken care of is paramount.

      Thanks for sharing this!


  4. Hi Wing,

    Excellent Article, I never knew there could be so many factors that can influence your body by doing squats, very educational, very professional, its awesome, I myself absolutely love to work out, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t at least do something for my body to keep myself in shape.

    Do you have any more sources that share similar details you described?

  5. Very good read! It’s been a few years since I have gone squats, but they were one of my favorite weight bearing exercises. Maybe because I was doing good form I never got hurt, but I have seen others get hurt doing them. If you start out with light weights and work up you can feel how your body responds and it is pretty much as you say. If you lose your form, you will not be able to perform and may cause an injury. Nice work and thanks for sharing this!

    1. Kathy,

      No problem! Glad you like doing squats. A lot of people are afraid of trying it because they think it’s bad for the knees.

      Little do they know that proper squatting actually makes our knees healthier and stronger.

      Get back into it Kathy, it’ll only make you stronger!


  6. Hi Wing,
    I completely agree that having good mobility in certain parts of the body is crucial for having good form while lifting weights.
    Every weight lifter that I have talked to while in a yoga class say that after only a few classes their mobility has increased a ton and it has a direct effect on their form while lifting weights. Many times when their mobility and form improves the amount of weight they can lift goes up just as fast.
    Great info, thanks!

    1. Nate,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, having better mobility always translates in ability to have better form. With better form comes better gains, which in turn results in bigger weights.


  7. This is a great and in depth post. People don’t understand the dynamics of squatting. It is such a powerful exercise but when done improperly, it can lead to serious injury. The videos that accompany the content is a very nice touch. I hope more people come and read this so that they can be well informed.

  8. I loved how in-depth you’ve wrote about this. I have never really thought about the mobility side of a squat. I’ve always stuck to the basics – back straight, feet pointed slightly out, run knees along feet etc…

    Have had some mucsle problems with my back (which I can sometimes feel during a squat if I’ve not strecthed properly) so your thorasic streches would be really good for me. I definately try it out next time I’m in the gym

    Get post man, I loved it!

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