#5. Using the Smith Machine
Here’s a new rule: never squat in the Smith machine! Why? Simply because the squatting movement is rather complex and the Smith machine locks you into a two-dimensional plane, which of course results with unnatural movement patterns, failing to train your body in all planes.
Additionally, it prevents you from getting the full benefits of the squat by stabilizing the weight, thus reducing the load on your muscles. And one of the main points of squatting is teaching your body to maintain balance and stability and increasing the strength of crucial core muscles that support the spine and assist during the performance of almost all movements.
The last nail on the coffin comes from a Canadian study which found that free-weight squats allow around 43% more muscular activation than Smith-machine squats, which means that squatting in the Smith machine is literally a waste of your time and energy.
#6. Using the Same Squat Variation
Doing only one type of squat on each workout will rob you of a chance to progress faster and increase your chance of hitting a plateau. And why should you do that, when there are so many amazing squats variations that are highly effective for targeting different muscles and giving your body an exciting variety of stimuli for growth?
Once you master the traditional squat, don’t stay there – experiment! Try alternating your back squats with goblet squats every couple of weeks to enhance core activation, reduce the stress on the lower back and engage your quads from a different angle. The overhead squat can be an extremely effective way to train your lower body while developing tremendous balance and mobility.
The Anderson squat, which is a fairly underused squat variation, will help you eliminate momentum and prevent bouncing and improve the quality of your other squats. And Bulgarian split squats will allow you to improve imbalances between sides and overload the muscles without having to use heavy weights. Cycling through the dozens of variations will set the road to truly admirable results.
#7. Not Using the Safety Bars
When you squat in a power rack, always use the safety bars. The safety squat bar will help strengthen your back, increase trunk stability and strength, prevent your chest from caving in and preserve your shoulders and accelerate their recovery, especially if overhead presses are your thing. There are many types of specialized squat bars besides the standard straight bar and all of them offer cool advantages, yet their basic purpose is to help you keep your upper back stabilized and tight throughout the squat.
Set the safety bars in the power rack to a height just below where the barbell would be when you reach the bottom of your squat to avoid slamming your barbell on them with every rep.
#8. Poor Muscle Activation and Bad Timing
One of the main reasons why people perform squats is gluteal development. And performing a proper squat means striving to achieve maximal engagement of your glutes, not just going through the motion. How else will they grow and strengthen? To ensure this, as you drive up, imagine spreading the ground apart with your feet to activate your glutes, then squeeze them hard to completely extend your hips at the finish.
Another often overlooked problem when squatting is raising the hips faster than the chest and shoulders, which can excessively stress your lumbar spine as you extend the lower back, so make a mental note to always raise your hips and shoulders at the same time, just as you bend your hips and knees at the same time on your way down. Also, remember to keep your upper back tight and the bar over your mid-foot. As you come out of the squat, the bar must move up in a vertical line over your mid-foot.
No pitfall is completely harmless, and some of them can seriously compromise your health and muscle building results, so practice good form to stay safe and build the most powerful body you can. Good luck!