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You're probably doing squats wrong — here's the most common mistake

a photo of a woman doing a squat
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Squats are a brilliant lower body exercise, helping to strengthen your hips, calves, hamstrings and obliques, but they’re easy to get wrong. If you’re experiencing pain in your lower back, knees, or ankles, you’re probably making one very common mistake. 

Let’s start by taking a look at how to squat with the correct form. To do a squat, stand with your feet a little further than shoulder-width apart. Imagine you’re standing on a clock-face, and point your toes to 11 o’clock and one o’clock. To start the squat, bend your knees and hips as if you’re sitting on a chair that’s directly beneath you. As you squat down, push your knees outwards so that they track directly over your middle toe. 

When you start to squat lower, push your chest out, and keep your eyes looking straight ahead to keep your back flat and avoid hunching or rounding your spine. Squat down as low as you can while keeping your knees in line with your feet and your back flat, then push with your feet to stand back up to your starting position.

Squats are a great lower body exercise to do if, like millions of other Americans, you find yourself sitting down all day. As you squat, you open your hips and loosen the lower body. You’re also working one of the biggest muscle groups in the body, therefore you’re getting a cardiovascular workout too. It’s also easy to make squats harder by adding weights or resistance bands (here’s how to do resistance band squats). Take a look at the best exercises to do if you sit down all day, plus the best exercises for strengthening your lower back here. 

The most common squat mistake you’re probably making 

But what if squats are causing you pain? According to fitness coach Mark Villena, one of the most common squat mistakes is your knee caving in as you lower into the squat. In a video shared on TikTok with over 3.5 million views, Villena explains that when the knee rolls in, it puts pressure on the arch of the foot. 

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So what is the fix? In his video, Villena explains that when you squat you should think about pushing your knee out as you lower your body down — “I want you to force the knee out, creating an external rotation.” This puts less pressure on the lower part of the leg, and force the glutes to work harder. 

Another common squat mistake includes the knee moving over your toes as you squat down. If your knees push past your toes in the lowest part of the squat, you might be risking injury to your knees or lower back. You also won’t be able to squat as low, which will be an issue if you’re into powerlifting. Your knees might be moving too far forward due to tighter hips, but think about being able to see your toes at all times during the movement. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? We’ve found the best ab workouts you can do for free, an exercise that’s better than squats at building your glutes, and one of the best arm exercises for building your arm muscles without weights

Jane McGuire
Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.