It’s easy to think you’re doing the right thing in the gym, but you may be dropping the ball. Certain exercises are more technically demanding than others, and learning their major cues once may not cut it in the grand scheme of things. Getting “comfortable” with certain movements can sometimes allow a lifter to “slip” into form that’s less than perfect. Not to worry, we've got your back. The Rookie Mistakes series serves as a call to action for lifters of all experience levels to practice perfect form on the road to achieving fitness success.

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Before the Rookie Mistakes series comes to a close, we're putting the king of lower-body exercises—the squat—under the spotlight. The barbell back squat trains every muscle group, not just the legs. What's more, squatting regularly can help release hormones needed for muscle development. Read on to make sure these mistakes aren't holding you back from getting the most out of the move.

MISTAKE 1: You’re using a “generic” shoulder-width stance
Having the feet shoulder-width apart works well for some people, but others may find a different width to be best. Some people’s hip sockets are placed toward the front of the pelvis and others' are placed more toward the back. Your stance should reflect this. Do a dynamic warmup, then test how deep you can bodyweight squat with a straight spine using varying foot stance widths. Use your best result as your loaded squat stance.

MISTAKE 2: You think knees can’t pass toes
Thinking about “universal cues” like not letting the knees pass over the toes may apply for some lifters, but it’s not too practical for lifters with long extremities. In order to keep proper geometry and balance, long-legged and short-trunked lifters need to let the knee pass the toes. This encourages proper depth and avoids a low back-dominant squat.

MISTAKE 3: You’re wearing the wrong shoes
Just like the deadlift, it’s important to wear proper foot attire while squatting to get the most out of the lift. If you’re an intermediate trainee, get a pair of Olympic weightlifting shoes. They have a rigid sole, stable ankle, and slightly elevated heel cups that promote a strong, safe, and deep squat. If you’re a novice lifter, focus on improving flexibility by squatting with heels flat. A pair of New Balance Minimus, bare feet, or Chuck Taylors will work just fine.

MISTAKE 4: You’re forgetting about your upper body
A strong barbell squat also involves the upper body. To add a few pounds to your lift right on the spot, tighten your core by attempting to squeeze the bar apart via creating outward tension on the bar with your hands. This added tension will engage the muscles of the upper back and translate into a much more rigid trunk. You’ll feel better in the bottom position and lower any injury risk to the spine in the process.

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