8 Tips to Conquer the Squat Challenge Like a Champ

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A few expert-approved tips can help you perfect your squat form and nail your reps throughout this 30-day plan.
Image Credit: Fhitting Room

When we created the LIVESTRONG.com 30-Day Squat Challenge, we tried to make things as simple as possible: Do your squats every day and throw in a few rest days so you don't burn out. But just because things are straightforward doesn't make them easy (50 squats is still 50 squats).

Before you dive into Week 1 with our team of experts led by Ben Lauder-Dykes, trainer at Fhitting Room, keep a few things in mind that can help you crush each day's reps, leaving you feeling stronger and more confident.

Remember: It may not be easy, but it'll be worth it.

1. Master Proper Squat Form

The single most important thing during this challenge is to maintain proper form when doing your squats. If you get tired in the middle of a set and your form starts to break down, pause and reset. Even 10 squats with good form is better than 50 with bad form.

Lauder-Dykes outlines the five steps to the perfect squat:

  1. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart.
  2. Simultaneously bend your knees, keeping them in line with your toes, and hinge your hips backward to create space for your torso while you lower your hips toward the floor.
  3. During the descent, keep your weight evenly distributed from your big toe to your heel and keep your back flat.
  4. At the bottom of your squat, the angle from your ankles to your knees should be the same as the angle from your hips to your shoulders.
  5. As you stand, push the floor away to powerfully extend at the knees and then the hips to return back to your starting position.

Tip

"The most common mistake I see with the squat is too much of a hinge without a bend in the knees," Lauder-Dykes says. "Other mistakes are shifting your weight either into the forefoot, which reaches the knees too far forward, or shifting the weight back into the heel, which will limit the amount of ankle flexion, which you need to get your hips lower while keeping your back flat."

2. Modify Your Squats as Needed

Some people have the hip mobility to squat all the way until their butt touches the ground. But if that's not you yet — either because of your fitness level or injury status — go easy on yourself.

"You can modify the squat by performing an isometric hold, also known as a 'wall sit,' so that you get some load through those muscle groups," Lauder-Dykes says. You can also adjust how fast you do your reps or add a partial rep (sometimes called a pulse) to the bottom of your squat, he says.

And contrary to popular belief, squats can actually help strengthen your knees, depending on the type of knee issues you have. As long as your doctor or physical therapist has given you the OK and you don't have a lot of pain while squatting, join us!

"Focus on emphasizing the eccentric or lowering portion of the movement," Lauder-Dykes says. "Doing this will create more continuous tension to help strengthen the tendons and ligaments that connect the muscles to the joint, help improve overall strength and likely improve knee pain also."

3. Break Up the Total Into Smaller Sets

On Day 1, you hit the ground running with 50 total squats. If you're new to working out or it's been a while since your last sweat, that may seem intimidating.

Here's an easier way to do it: Take each day's total and break it into smaller sets. For example, on the first day, you can either do 5 sets of 10 squats all at once or 10 sets of 5 squats throughout the day. Experiment with any combination that works for you; just make sure you do all the squats each day.

4. Keep Things Interesting With Variations

Bored of the same old, same old? Work in some squat variations. You don't have to do the same ones for the full amount each day, but if it keeps you from getting bored, throw in a few different kinds of squats for fun.

Move 1: Jump Squat

  1. Start with feet hip-width apart and back straight.
  2. Squat back and down from your hips and bring your arms back behind you for momentum.
  3. Drive through your heels and jump straight up into the air from the bottom of your squat, arms swinging up overhead or at your sides.
  4. Land with your knees bent to absorb the impact and go straight into your next squat jump.

Move 2: Single-Leg Squat

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing forward.
  2. Slowly shift your weight to your right foot until your left foot is completely off the ground.
  3. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees to squat down, keeping all your weight in your right leg.
  4. Press through your right foot and return to standing.
  5. Do the same number of reps on both sides.

Move 3: Heels-Elevated Squat

  1. Stand with your hips slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outward.
  2. Place a weight plate, book or other object of similar height under your heels. You can also stand on the end of a ramp.
  3. Push your hips back and bend your knees, keeping your back flat and chest up. Avoid driving your knees too far forward.
  4. Lower down until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  5. Pause for a moment, then press into your heels. Push your hips forward and return to standing.

Move 4: Foam Roller Hack Squat

  1. Stand about a foot away from a wall and place a foam roller between the wall and your lower back.
  2. Lean against the wall with either one heavy dumbbell held at your chest or a dumbbell in each hand held at your shoulders.
  3. Press into your feet and bend your knees as you lower into a squat, letting the foam roller help roll you down into the bottom of the squat.
  4. Lower down as far as you can, ideally below parallel.
  5. Pause for a moment, then press into your heels. Push your hips forward and return to standing.

5. Take Advantage of Rest Days

All work and no rest makes for some very sore and overworked quads and glutes. So, when you see "Rest Day" on your calendar, follow the schedule!

"Rest is important for two reasons," Lauder-Dykes says. "One is that rest helps us recover from fatigue so that when we work out again we can train at a high level. The other reason is that we need time for our bodies to go through the recovery stage to see adaptations."

Rest days are when your muscles actually get stronger. Working out causes micro tears in your muscle fibers, and taking time off allows them to repair and grow in the process.

On your off days, show your muscles some love by doing some stretches or foam rolling. And get the blood flowing by doing a little bit of light cardio. Walking, hiking, swimming and biking are all great options.

6. Keep Your Calendar Where You’ll See It

Stay accountable to yourself by keeping this calendar where you'll see it every day.
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Whether you print it out or save a digital copy to your phone or computer, keep the 30-Day Squat Challenge calendar where you'll see it every day and be reminded to do your squats. If you need an additional reminder, set an alarm on your phone for the same time every day so you never forget.

7. Take Before Photos

You're going to be doing a lot of squats in the coming month. By the end, you may notice changes to your lower body. It's often motivating to have a visual reminder of how far you've come and how your hard work has paid off.

Grab your phone and snap a selfie before you start the challenge. Then, after the challenge is complete, compare the photos and take pride in your efforts.

8. Join Our Facebook Group

If you're going to stick with this for the full 30 days, it helps to have a group of people cheering you on and keeping you accountable. That's exactly what the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Facebook group is all about.

You'll find tens of thousands of members just like you getting their squat on each and every day. We'll also be posting articles, answering your questions and supporting each other — regardless of fitness level or goals.

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