The Science of Squats: Investigating Three Common Myths

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The squat is one of the most challenging — and rewarding — strength moves. It can do wonders for your knees, hips, and posterior muscle chain. But if you perform them with poor technique, you're only setting yourself up for injury. Thankfully, a new study from Northwestern University has uncovered several factors that affect your form, and exposed one that doesn't matter at all.

First off, there's no one perfect stance for planting your feet. "Based on this study, the best way to perform a squat is to choose the most comfortable starting foot position," says Dr. Monica Rho, lead investigator and assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "This will ensure that there's symmetrical loading of both legs during the squat."

The men and women in the study performed double-legged squats with their feet pointing forward at a fixed distance, in a mixed position with their feet at a fixed distance but in a self-selected position, and in a free position where subjects chose feet position and distance themselves.

As for how low you should go, Rho says, "There is a trade-off when it comes to deep squats. They tend to engage different muscles the further down you go, however, the end knee and hip flexion can be detrimental to the joints over time."

Finally, Rho and her team observed whether squatting in front of a mirror helped the subject weight their legs equally. They found that with or without a mirror, healthy individuals don't tend to favor one leg during squats. The only time a mirror might help with loading, says Rho, is when you're recovering from a leg injury. People have a tendency to then favor their healthy leg, she adds, but that just leads to more injury.