The Supermove Series: Squat

You eat superfoods, now perform supermoves. But first: Reinforce proper technique.

People have been lifting weight since the cavemen and cavewomen moved rocks, and yet, misinformation abounds. Though more exercisers are getting wise to the fact that strength training benefits all fitness goals, there's still some hesitation that certain movements may cause more harm than good. You've likely heard this before: Squatting is bad for your knees. 

In terms of fitness efficiency, you can’t beat the squat. “It’s a total-body exercise that builds strength, improves mobility, and has direct application to our everyday lives,” says Justin Jacobs, Tier 4 manager at Equinox's 92nd Street location. Yet many people avoid it, fearful of knee injuries. 

There is some validity to that concern: When you perform the simple movement incorrectly (as many people do) it shifts more of the workload to your knees. “Ninety percent of the people who feel pain during squats have mobility issues,” says Jacobs. “Because we don’t move as much as we age, we become stiff in our ankles and hips—and wobbly in the spine—which makes it tough to squat properly.”

Depth can also contribute to the discomfort factor. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that stress on the patellofemoral joint (the spot where your kneecap rests on your knee) increases as you bend deeper and add more weight. But not going low enough is equally harmful: “When you perform a quarter- or half-squat, the movement primarily comes from the knees, putting all the pressure from the load on that joint.” To hit the ideal squatting middle ground, your butt should be just a tad lower than your knees. 

Since squatting is such an effective exercise, Jacobs created this seven-move series to reinforce proper technique. Perform this series, beginning with the
 “squat test”—can you lower your hips until your thighs are just below parallel to the floor? If so, you’re all clear to do weighted squats like moves 5 and 6. If you can’t get your butt lower than your knees during the squat test, or you’re working your way back from an injury, incorporate move 1 into your regular warm-up every day; then gradually progress to moves 2, 3 and 4. Whichever version you do, aim to squat two or three times a week. In terms of reps, it's more about quality than quantity, but if you're consistently able to achieve 10 good reps, move on to the next move—stick with that movement/load until you get to 10 and then progress.