People are born to squat: babies do it. Athletes do it. In some parts of the world, adults do this while conversing or working, sometimes for hours.
But in first-world countries, most of us stop squatting when we reach adulthood, and that’s a shame, because the parallel squat is one of the most efficient, effective movements you can do, bar none.
It strengthens your legs and glutes, mobilizes your hips and ankles, and improves overall strength and athleticism.
However, there are a surprising number of ways to screw up this seemingly simple movement.
Read on for how to do a proper parallel squat every time.
Parallel Squat: Step-by-Step Instructions
Most of us squat to sit up multiple times a day but that doesn’t mean we’re always doing it correctly. Here’s how to use proper form when you’re parallel squatting at the gym:
- Stand with your feet hip- and shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward (slightly pointed is fine), arms extended in front of you.
- Keeping your chest up, look forward, feet flat and your lower back in a natural arch, bend at your hips and knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your knees should be tracking between your feet.
- Pause, and return to the starting position.
What is considered a parallel squat?
A true parallel squat is where the exerciser lowers their hips until the tops of their thighs are parallel to the floor and keeps their lower back flat and their chest up.
The parallel position is lower than you think, and most people—even long-time lifters—stop a few inches short of a true parallel position.
A hint: Think about lowering your hips until the crease of your hips is slightly lower than your knees.
Have you completed? Parallel to that. Nothing less.
Common parallel squat mistakes and how to fix them
1. Too much weight
Many exercisers put a bar on their back before mastering the bodyweight version of the move. That’s asking for injury.
How do you know if you are using too much weight? As you lower into the squat, “you want a parallel line between your shins and your spine,” says Cody Brown, CSCS.
Viewed from the side, in other words, your torso should not extend further than your lower leg.
If this happens (film yourself or have a friend check your form), take some weight off the bar, or lower the bar completely and slowly build up from there using picture perfect form on each rep.
2. Poor form due to lack of mobility
Other problems that arise in the parallel squat are not a lack of strength but rather a lack of mobility.
Because most of us sit in chairs rather than on the floor, we lack the ankle- and hip mobility necessary to sink into a parallel position.
As a result, many people round their lower back (instead of keeping it slightly arched), raise their heels (instead of keeping them flat on the floor), or collapse their knees inward (instead of tracking the transition between the legs) when they come from a squat. comes up
Here are a few solutions to try:
Place a pair of ten-pound weight plates (or a board up to one-inch-thick) under your heels.
This simple technique frees up the ankles, allowing most people to parallel squat without restriction or pain. This is a good tip to use when teaching or learning the bodyweight squat.
However, you should aggressively work on other exercises that help increase ankle mobility.
Suspension Trainer Squat
Lean back while holding the handles of a TRX (or equivalent). This change activates the spinal extensor muscles, which help you keep the torso straight throughout the movement.
It also helps people sit lower in squats because of the imbalance for weak glutes.
Change one or both to the depth at which you can perform with good form and without pain.
Over time, you’ll develop the mobility and strength needed to perform deep squats.
Can’t parallel? Don’t force it – just go with the depth you have.
Parallel squat variation
Once you’ve mastered the parallel squat using your body weight (15 to 20 reps is a good target rep range for beginners), you can start adding weight to the movement by first holding a dumbbell vertically in front of your chest (a goblet squat). , then with a pair of dumbbells at your side, and finally, if you prefer, with a barbell back or front squat.
Add weight gradually over time — and don’t lose the depth you’ve built while performing parallel bodyweight squats.
Are Parallel Squats Effective?
“Squats are one of the best exercises for assessing how the body moves, because it’s related to everyday movement, and requires activating the whole body,” says Brown. “It’s also a great full-body workout.”
Some lifters swear by heavy barbell squats as the ultimate leg-builder; For others, they are primarily the source of joint and back pain.
So keep the bodyweight version in your rotation — a warm-up, a thigh-building exercise, or both — but evaluate your own response to barbell varieties.
If this move leaves you with sore knees or a bad back for a few days – have a trainer or physical therapist check your form.
No pain or problems? Go full speed ahead.
What muscles does the parallel squat work?
Parallel squats are a terrific movement around the lower-body, focusing primarily on your front thighs (quadriceps), which extend your legs at the knee joint, and your glutes (butt muscles), which extend your hips.
Secondary players include your hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thighs), which help extend the hips, and your lower back and abdominal core muscles, which provide stability throughout the movement.