Proper Squat Form: 5 Mistakes You May Not Know You’re Making. (video)

proper squat form

Squats are one of the most fundamental exercises, yet it’s surprising how many people think they have a proper squat form, yet they don’t.

I’ve been wanting to do this video and article for a while, since I’ve included quite a bit of squats both in Exercise Bliss, my habit-building 8-week course, and in Flat Belly Firm Butt in 16 minutes, my fitness program for busy people.

And even though I show people the proper form, I know how easy it is to get sucked into doing these mistakes if you’re not aware of them.

How do you do a proper squat?

Most people kind of know how to perform a squat because they don’t really know they end up making at least one of the five squat mistakes I outline below, including:

  • Hips and knees don’t bend at the same time.
  • Knees go in front of the toes.
  • Heels lift off the floor.
  • Knees collapse inward.
  • Tailbone is tucked in.

So today I’ll go over the 5 most common squat for mistakes that you may, or may not, know you’re making.

I’ll also give you suggestions to improve your form. Let’s go!

Like squats but are not really exercising? Sign up for the Mini Habit Week that starts on Monday and start out building your baby exercise habit with 2 squats daily. Habit-building instructions here.

If you’re making any of these squat form mistakes, don’t take it personally. You’re NOT stupid!

I’ve taught proper squat method again and again and I’ve come to realize that “getting” the right form is not dependent on intelligence. Really. That’s true even if you have a background in medicine and feel like you should “get it” faster.

Whether you quickly understand how to do it right, or whether you need practice to get there, depends mostly on your body awareness.

So please don’t think you’re stupid. Whether it’s easy for you to do squats properly or not is not a metric of intelligence!

Proper Squat Form: 5 Mistakes You May Not Know You’re Making.

Here’s a summary of the 5 squat technique mistakes I discussed in the video above.

1. Proper Squat Form: Hips and knees should bend concurrently.

Bend knees and hips concurrently proper squat form
If you’re used to picking stuff from the floor by bending your waist, rather than bending your knees, then you may be prone to this mistake.

You’ll start “squatting” by bending your hips first and after a second or two you’ll start bending your knees.

You’ll be creating the illusion that you’re getting your seat closer to the floor, while in reality you’re mostly bending your waist, and by the way, bending your knees just a bit.

Most importantly, because you’re used to bending over to pick stuff up, you may not even realize you’re making this mistake when practicing squats.

This mistake can be more pronounced sometimes but some other times it may also be subtle. Check the image above for example; I’m purposefully bending my waist, while my knees have only just started to bend.

How to fix and practice proper squat form:

Watch the video and then watch yourself in the mirror squating to check whether you’re making this proper squat form mistake or not.

2. Proper Squat Form: Knees should not go in front of toes (but there are exceptions).

(exceptions: unless you’re really tall or go really deep, more than 90 degrees deep)

proper squat form knees in front of your toes

If your knees go in front of your toes then you risk straining your knees. That’s why you should focus on getting your seat to the back, as if you were sitting on a chair. This way, you’ll avoid pushing your knees to the front.

Now if you’re tall, it may make sense for you to have your knees slightly exceed your toes. By making this simple adjustment you’ll actually be relieving some pressure from your low back.

Same thing if you’re doing a super deep squat where your seat is just slightly above the ground – your knees will need to go in front of your toes for you to maintain balance.

But if you don’t have quite long legs and/or if you’re not doing a full range of motion squat, then the “knees don’t go in front of your toes” rule applies – and it’s a very common mistake.

But why do people place their knees in front of their toes when squatting?

A big reason behind this is fear of falling. If you’re afraid that you’ll fall to the back as you squat, then you’ll shift your weight to the front to avoid this from happening.

How to fix and practice proper squat form:

Some people only make this mistake because they’re unaware of the right form. Once they learn how they should do it, then bam, they do it.

Others need practice first, especially if fear of falling is in place. There are two things you can do:

  • The Wall Sit
  • Practice Squatting on a chair

Here’s the Wall Sit:

Practice the Wall Sit first to learn proper squat form

And here’s squatting on a chair:

Practice squatting on a chair to master proper form

3. Proper Squat Form: Heels should never lift off the floor.

proper squat form Heels should never lift off the floor

So you’re shifting your weight forward, lifting your heels off the floor as a result.

You may be doing this out of lack of knowledge, fear of falling, or lack of ankle mobility (meaning your ankles need stretching so that they let you do it.)

Lack of knowledge about the proper squat form was just fixed; we covered fear of falling right above; so let’s cover ankle mobility.

How to fix and practice proper squat form if ankle mobility is an issue:

  • Do an ankle stretch
  • Practice an ankle squat

Here’s an Ankle Stretch (mind you, it works better if you press your toes against a wall rather than the leg of a chair.) You should feel your ankle getting a stretch.

Stretch your ankles to increase mobility on squats

Here’s the Ankle Squat. If your ankles are tight you won’t be able to put your heels on the floor, which is fine. With time and practice you’ll get there.

Practice an ankle squat to increase ankle mobility

4. Proper Squat Form: Knees should not collapse to the midline.

squat properly - Knees should not collapse to the midline

This image shows knees collapsing in an exaggerated form. In reality, this mistake can be subtle. Both knees or just one of the knees may be collapsing.

The reason behind this may be lack of knowledge on proper squat form (solved!) It may also be weak abductors (these are your outer thighs.) So here’s what we can do to fix that:

  • Practice squatting with a band
  • Foam roll your outer thighs

How to fix and practice proper squat form:

Wear a band right above your knees. The band will force you to use your abductors, which will prevent your knees from collapsing.

how to squat properly avoid collapsing knees on squats

If you’re collapsing your knees then it’s highly likely that your outer thighs need some foam rolling love. Foam rolling will help release the tightness of these muscles.

foam roll thighs

5. Proper Squat Form: Keep neutral spine.

Proper squat Don't tuck your tailbone in
Some people tuck their tailbone in as they bring their seat to the floor. It’s best to avoid this, especially if you have incontinence issues.

Incontinence, or leaking a bit of urine, is very common yet very rarely discussed. Tucking your tailbone in increases the pressure in your cyst, which increases the likelihood of leaking.

How to fix and practice proper squat form if leaking is an issue:

Try keeping your spine in a neutral position and avoid the “butt wink.” Avoid going to the other extreme though and arching your back.

Proper Squat Form: Are you making any of these mistakes?

It’s quite common to see people do not just one, but a number of these mistakes at the same time. E.g., a friend of mine does #1 (bending hips first) and also #4 (collapses one knee.) A relative lifts his heels off the floor (and of course his knees get in front of his toes.)

Leave a comment and let us know about your experience with proper squat form!

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  1. I love this! I work put alone at home, and squats are the thing I’ve needed guidance with.

    The distance to the camera, in a reverberant room, make it hard to hear you. Maybe you could consider investing in a wireless clip-on microphone (aka a Cavaliers mic) so we can hear you better. (I produce videos for a living so I notice this more than most people. I can research mics for you if you want!)

    Thanks again for the squat training!


    1. I’m actually using a Zoom H4n for sound and I do acknowledge the result is not perfect. What I don’t like about Lavaliere mics is that they rub on clothes as you exercise and it sounds terrible. Any advice?