How to squat correctly to protect your back
With reference to Back Mechanic by Dr. Stuart McGill
To correctly support your back while you squat, you must maintain a neutral spine as you move. The way to do this is to always hinge at the hip. Start off by standing up straight with feet shoulder width apart and your hand on your hips or straight out in front of you. Beginners can place their hands on the thighs until they are strong enough to move to hands on the hips. Think about starting with the hip, almost like you’re sticking your butt out first, then slowly bending your knees as you start to lower. Continue to exaggerate this motion of sticking your butt out while still maintaining a neutral spine, and continuing to lower to the lowest point. It feels as if you’re lowering yourself into a chair.
Examples of incorrect posture:
There should be no rounding of your back at any point. It helps to look straight ahead, focussing on a spot on the wall straight ahead, keeping your chin up and keeping your back straight. Keep your chest up and out. Think about “lifting your tail”. Your torso muscles (both front and back) should be engaged so support the lower back. Dr. McGill refers to this as the abdominal brace. The muscles should not be “sucked in” or loose, just slightly tight to provide enough support.
As you lower down into the squat position, the weight of your body should be back into your heals. So much in fact, that you should be able to lift your toes up off the floor while still maintaining this position. When you are at your lowest point, your knees should be in line with your feet and not in front of your toes. Only go down as low as you can comfortably go. Do not allow your spine to curve during any part of this motion. As you practice this over time, you will strengthen your muscles and increase range of motion. It is more important to practice good form over range.
When you push back up to a standing position, use your glutes to help you push back up. Always maintain the abdominal brace to support your back. Even if your back is not sore, it is good to keep these muscles engaged to support your spine to prevent any injuries.
Use a mirror to watch your form. Once you have perfected this motion, you can begin to add weights, holding them in your hands up at shoulder height or hanging straight down at your sides. But always err on the side of lighter weight to maintain good form and a comfortable range of motion.
Fitness Blender’s video: How to Squat
See also Good Standing Posture