Teaching the Often Dreaded Squat


Teaching squats can be challenging because many people simply hate doing them. However, squats are an excellent functional fitness exercise that we all need to build everyday strength. So teaching a squat should balance having fun while educating about the importance of this awesome exercise.

As a former dancer I did hours of movements similar to squats in dance classes. I have always loved squats or I probably would have not taken dance classes. I can appreciate that my feelings about squats are not necessarily shared by all but perhaps you will share my point of view if you understand how squats should be done and why squats are important. After all, if done correctly, squats are extremely effective in creating strong legs and glutes. Plus you can literally do them anywhere: at work, in a hotel, on an airplane. Ok that last one might be pushing it but…

How to Squat

With your feet parallel and directly beneath your hips, bend your ankles, knees, and hips into your squat. Your torso can hinge slightly forward from the hips to allow your pelvis to go lower and keep your center of gravity balanced over the center of your foot. Try to keep your weight evenly distributed across the toes, the heel, and the inside and outside lines of the foot. Keep your abdominals engaged throughout so that you feel them connect your ribs to your hips and pull inward toward your spine.

You can see when I cue one of my instructors through a series of squats in the above video what it looks like to have good form. When you lead your client or class through squats, you’ll want to watch for those basic alignment concepts.

As an instructor, you can also apply your Pilates principles to the squat to add even more to this universal exercise that can be done anywhere:

  1. Breath. Choose a breath pattern that suits what you want your client to work. Exhaling as they lower into their squat will accentuate the eccentric work of their quadriceps and calves, whereas exhaling when they push back to standing will accentuate the concentric work of the glutes and hamstrings. Conscious breathing with an exhale through pursed lips will help keep their abdominals and pelvic floor active throughout (and who doesn’t want a little side benefit of strong abs?)
  2. Pelvic Placement. As they squat down, their pelvis will tip slightly forward with their torso so they can keep a neutral spine throughout the squat. If they over recruit their abdominals and glutes on the way down, they can get pulled into a posterior pelvic tilt, which might bring unnecessary work into the lower back. Likewise, tipping the pelvis too far forward can mean that the abdominals are not working enough, or perhaps that the lower back muscles are taking over. As they stand back up, have them think about their glutes and hamstrings pulling the back of the pelvis down as the abdominals pull the front of the pelvis up so that they are activating the muscles to support a vertical neutral pelvis as soon as possible.
  3. Rib Cage Placement. Like pelvic placement above, the ribcage will move and respond to the work of the front and back sides of the body in order to stay neutral throughout the squat. Watch that they avoid popping the ribcage forward. Ribs jutting forward are a symptom of flattening or extension in the thoracic vertebrae. Thinking about rib cage placement is easiest in conjunction with pelvic placement and head and cervical alignment.
  4. Scapular Movement and Stabilization. In a basic squat, the arms are not actively moving, so the principle of scapular movement and stabilization would be applied to gently engage stabilization muscles and bring the arms into a neutral alignment that facilitates ease in the spine. Because your client’s arms aren’t integrally involved in a squat, you can add in challenges for the upper body with simple equipment like a medicine ball, hand weights, or even just the weight of the arms. Keep in mind when adding challenging arm movements that you want your client’s shoulder blades to glide along the rib cage without winging or tipping, staying within the line of scaption, and without compromising any of the other basic principles.
  5. Head and Cervical Placement. The head and neck should follow the line of the mid and upper back throughout a squat. Anatomically, that means the the anterior convex curve of the cervical spine should be maintained, and that the cervical spine can slightly extend, flex, rotate, and laterally flex with the thoracic spine. Like we mentioned in our previous article about Mastering the Gaze, your client’s head and cervical placement can be easily and successfully guided by gaze. When going into the squat, have their gaze travel down and out in front of them, so they’re looking a little over a yard out in front of their feet. As they stand back up, they should bring their gaze back up to the horizon.

Extra Challenges

  • Add plyometrics by slowly lowering into the squat with control and then pressing as quickly as possible back up. You can even take it a step further by adding a jump on the way up!
  • Add arm weights or a medicine ball!
  • Do squats on a bosu or stability cushion to add challenge to the hips, legs, ankles, feet, and proprioception!

Why to Squat

Squats are an essential functional exercise creating strength needed for everyday activities from standing up from a chair, climbing stairs and picking up something from the floor. (see our previous article about how to sit and stand) They are extremely versatile; you can do them as a warmup, coordination training, or for strength building. You can do them anywhere and in almost any kind of clothing.

Let’s get our squat on!
Leave us a comment and as always thank you for reading.


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