I worked out with Dakota Johnson's personal trainer. He showed me what I'd learned about squats in years of weight lifting was wrong.
- I thought I couldn't squat properly without raising my heels because I have long thigh bones.
- Personal trainer Luke Worthington showed me that's not true, I just need to push my knees forward.
Squats are widely considered to be one of the best, most efficient exercises a person can do, but the common advice to sit back when performing them is wrong for many people, celebrity personal trainer Luke Worthington told Insider. Instead, people like me need to push their knees forward, he said.
As they are compound exercises, squats engage multiple muscles in the body. They're also considered one of the best movements for building strength; and, alongside deadlifts and bench presses, form the three main tests in powerlifting.
Squats can be performed using bodyweight alone or while holding weights in various ways.
Every balanced workout program should include squats because they are one of the five key human movement patterns, alongside hinges, lunges, pushing, and pulling, Worthington, whose clients include Naomi Campbell, Dakota Johnson, and Munroe Bergdorf, said.
However, many people are given the incorrect cue to keep their knees over the heels, while keeping their torso upright and concentrating their weight in their heels, like they're back sitting on a toilet, Worthington recently told me when I trained with him.
Squats are full-body exercises which work the glutes, quads, and core, among other muscles, so this stance is thought to help engage them correctly. I had received this advice from other trainers, but this is only possible for people with certain proportions, such as those with longer bodies and shorter thighs, he said.
I thought I couldn't squat properly without modifying my stance, but Worthington, who is releasing a strength training app designed primarily for women in January 2023, showed me how.
I thought I couldn't squat properly without raising my heels
Squats look simple on the face of it, but performing them correctly can be challenging, particularly as everyone's body is different.
As personal trainer Eugene Teo explained in a YouTube video in July 2022, differently proportioned bodies will require slightly different squat positioning. If you have long femurs (thigh bones) and a shorter body, for example, you have to fold your body over to keep the bar over the center of the feet, he said.
I've been lifting weights for over five years and had come to the conclusion that because of my long femurs and believed lack of ankle mobility, I needed to raise my heels in order to perform a squat and not entirely bend my torso over.
I knew that I should be keeping my torso as upright as possible to avoid putting strain on my lower back but with my feet flat on the ground, I found myself having to bend over to stop myself falling backwards. Raising my heels by placing small weights underneath pushed my center of gravity forwards and allowed me to maintain what I thought was better form.
A few months ago I squatted 100 kilograms (220 pounds) for the first time, with raised heels. Teo said there's nothing wrong with raising the heels, it's just one way to essentially make the lower leg longer in relation to the upper leg, which makes it easier to keep the body more upright by changing the center of gravity.
Recently, I started to prefer front squats because having the weight further forward helped my keep my body upright.
However, when I asked Worthington to assess my technique recently, he showed me how I can in fact do a back squat with my torso more upright and my heels flat on the ground.
Pushing your knees forward in a squat can help keep the torso upright
After training with me and performing a mobility assessment, Worthington confidently told me there was no problem with my ankle mobility and, long femurs aside, I am able to perform a squat, with an upright enough torso, without raising my heels.
I was skeptical but intrigued.
First, Worthington had me practice holding a kettlebell in a front-rack position (holding it in front of my chest). The first thing he told me was to push my knees forward, which went against everything I'd previously been taught about squatting.
Worthington told me that, contrary to popular belief, the knees have to go over the toes, and I should think about breaking at the hips and the knees at the same time.
Next, we tried with an empty barbell. Before lifting the barbell out from the squat rack, Worthington told me to engage my lats by pulling down on the bar almost like I was doing a pull-up, keeping my elbows pointing down.
By pushing my knees forward, I was able to squat down and up, keeping my center of gravity over my feet, and my feet flat on the floor.
Teo echoes Worthington's point, saying that the more a person can bend at the ankle and push the knees over the toes, the more they'll be able to keep their body upright.
I couldn't believe it: I really don't have a problem with ankle mobility. I'd just been pushing my body weight too far back. After five years of lifting weights, I know now how to squat.
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