Kitchener Waterloo Chiropractor explains how to clean up your squat


While squatting may not be a new exercise for you, I’d like to take some time and get back to the basics of proper squatting technique. Whether you’re performing squats for rehab or for strength development, it is so important to have the right foundation before moving forward. I’ll start from the bottom and work my way up:

1. Feet

Start with your feet shoulder width apart and with your toes angled out 30 degrees. By angling your toes out 30° you allow for a more full range of motion at your ankle. Keep in mind, when performing a squat, your weight should be all on your heels, you should be able to lift your toes and wiggle them around. If you’re finding that your heels are coming up off the ground when you’re performing a squat, check that you have that 30° of outward rotation. If you still can’t keep your heels on the ground, you need some work on your ankle mobility… call your chiropractor!

2. Knees

Keep your knees tracking in the same direction as your toes. With your toes angled out 30°, your knees should not be coming straight out in front of you. They should be following the direction of your toes. Ensure that your knees do not track past your toes. This will be achieved by keeping your mass over your heels. I frequently hear complaints that squats cause knee pain; this should never be the case! Knee pain occurs when squats are performed improperly. It is very important to achieve the proper depth when you’re squatting, and the proper depth can be described as when your hip joint is lower than your patella (knee cap). When squats are not performed to this depth, the quadriceps are more active than the hamstrings. This creates a shearing force through the knee, which leads to pain and injury. Another source of knee pain while squatting occurs when the knees do not follow the direction of the toes, leading to strain and patellar tracking issues.

3. Hips

The squatting motion should be generated from the hips. Before you can squat, you need to be able to ‘hip hinge’. Place your hands on your hips and then slide them forward so they rest along your groin. Next sit your butt back and let your stomach and quads move toward each other until your hands are sandwiched between them. This is a hip hinge, and this is the motion you need to squat!

4. Spine

While squatting, it is important to maintain a neutral spine. A neutral spine means that you are maintaining the natural curves of your spine, i.e. slight extension through the neck and low back. Recall, when you squat, the motion comes from the hips, and your spine will remain neutral. When this is achieved, your spine will come forward over your hips as a solid unit, as your hips move down and backward. Don’t worry about keeping your chest up. This is not important! Keeping the chest up shifts the centre of mass forward from the heels to the toes forcing the knees to track past the toes and creating excessive extension in the neck and low back, all in an effort to stop you from falling forward.

5. Putting it all together

Now to put it all together, to start, place a chair or a bench approximately 2 feet behind you, this will be your target.

  • Feet shoulder width apart, angled out 30°
  • Knees are tracking in the same direction as your toes
  • Hinge from the hips, keeping the spine neutral, and sit your butt back towards the chair or bench
  • Touch the chair or bench with your butt (don’t sit), and then return to the standing position by pushing your hips forward, and keeping your spine neutral
  • If you’re having trouble maintaining your balance, put your arms straight out in front of you

Practice this way until you feel confident and comfortable with your form. It may not be possible to achieve the proper depth this way, so please ensure that when you move on from this beginner step to a more advanced squat you focus on your depth. Once you have mastered your form, you will be ready to progress to body weight squats without the use of a target, and next with the addition of external weight.
Dr. Julia Callaghan, BSc (Hons), DC, ART®,
CSCS, Contemporary Medical Acupuncture

Spina, A. (2011). You don’t know squat?…teaching your patients proper squatting technique. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from Functional Anatomy Blog,

Baechle, T.R., & Earle, R.W. (2008). The Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. (3rd. ed.). Published

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