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The supermove series: squat

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.

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders, toes turned slightly out. Bend your elbows and clasp hands in front of chest. Sit back and bend your knees until thighs are just below parallel to the floor, then rise up to the starting position.

Place a stability ball on the floor against a wall. Get on all fours facing away from the wall with your feet squeezing the ball and hands aligned under your shoulders. Keeping arms and back straight, push hips back, increasing the bend in your knees. Push hips forward to return to the starting position. (When you can successfully touch your butt to the ball while keeping your back straight, move on to the next exercise.)

Loop a light resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees, and stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders, toes turned slightly out. Extend arms at shoulder height in front of you, palms facing the floor. Sit back and bend your knees until thighs are just below parallel to the floor, then rise up to the starting position.

Position a bar at chest height and stand facing it with feet wide and toes turned slightly out. Grasp the bar with hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you, elbows bent. Bend your knees, squatting as you extend arms. Rise up to starting position.

Place a large medicine ball on the floor and stand in front of it, feet slightly wider than shoulders and ball centered between them. Hold an end of a ViPR at chest height in front of you, elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other. Sit back and bend your knees until your butt touches the ball, then rise up to the starting position.

Hold a kettlebell in each hand in front of shoulders, elbows pointing toward the floor and palms facing each other; stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders and toes turned slightly out. Sit back and bend your knees until thighs are just below parallel to the floor, then rise up to the starting position.

Hold a barbell on your upper back with hands wide and palms facing away from you. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulders, toes turned slightly out. Sit back and bend your knees until thighs are just below parallel to the floor, then rise up to the starting position.