Squats (along with deadlifts) are one of the best possible exercises you can do for your body. Where you place them in your workout is a strategic decision. Including them in your workout is a must.
Step One: Improve your hinge technique.
The hinge is a key component to a good squat. If you do not get your butt back you will not be able to get low and then get back up from the hole. The hinge helps you with your hip drive and engages your hamstrings. Failure to master the hinge technique will give you great difficulties when trying to up the weight on your squat. So how do you improve your hinge technique? Practice! Stand with your heels against the wall. Move your hips back until your glutes touch the wall. Now move a few inches away from the wall and repeat the process. At some point you will feel your hamstrings engaging in the motion. Keep moving away from the wall further and further and control your descent with your hinge. Keep working on this technique.
Step Two: Stretch your hamstrings regularly.
One key element to the squat is hamstring flexibility. I know that when I first worked on my squat my hammies were my problem. They were far too tight. By using active stretching techniques you will see a major improvement in your hamstrings. Active stretching will require the help of a friend. Lay down on the ground with one leg bent and one straight. Lift the straight leg all the way up and have the partner lean against the leg pushing it slightly towards your head and torso. As your partner does this you will be pushing back against him/her. That will cause a stretch. Now relax and have your partner push your leg a little further. Repeat this 3 times then switch legs.
Step Three: Back off on the weight.
Ego is one of those things that gets in your way constantly. When it comes to having a great squat you need to check your ego at the door. At one point in time I was routinely hitting 315 lbs for repetitions. Then I learned that I was not squatting deeply enough. That is when I learned to check my ego at the door. I dropped the weight down to 135 lbs. and started working a 5 x 5 program for squats. I squatted 3 times a week and if I managed to complete 5 sets of 5 repetitions I added 5 lbs to the bar the next workout. I focused on getting very deep (below parallell). After working this program for more than 12 weeks I am now at the point where I can routinely squat 405 for good depth. I am now working on increasing that number. You can too!
Step Four: Vary the location of the squat in your workout.
Sometimes I start my leg workout with squats and other times I finish it with squats. Still other times squats are in the middle somewhere. It depends on what I am trying to accomplish that day. Always keep your body guessing. Avoid falling into patterns of behavior when it comes to training. You will be sorry if you start with a pattern.
Step Five: Squat, squat and squat again.
The best way to a great squat is to just do it. Get under the bar and push the weight. Work on getting very deep. Don’t accept anything less. Always think “butt back” and “knees out” as you squat. Just practice. It will get better the more you practice.