There’s nothing more frustrating than missing a squat or not even being able to begin training a squat because you consistently lose your balance.
Here are 10 ways to fix losing balance while squatting:
- Increase ankle mobility
- Wear squat shoes
- Improve hip mobility
- Learn to brace
- Slow down your reps
- Do pause squats
- Adjust your stance
- Practice your walkout
- Do goblet squats
- Use a low box
While not all of the above strategies may be necessary to help you out, it’s likely that the right one applied consistently will make some serious improvements in your performance. It will just depend on what exactly is causing you to lose balance and in what way it is manifesting.
In this article I will go over the reasons you may be losing balance while squatting as well as delve deeper into the tips for fixing this issue and moving forward with a more confident squat.
Why Do You Lose Balance When Squatting?
When it comes to why people lose balance it can be summed up as poor mobility, poor positioning, poor mechanics or any combination of the three.
Poor mobility essentially means that your joints are not moving within the range of motion that is required by a squat and ankle and hip mobility are one of the worst culprits for making squatting a challenge for some.
Without the ability to move at the hips and ankle freely, you will struggle to hit depth with full strength and as a result will descend in a way that will make you either fall back on your heels or lean too far forward and cause you to tip.
Poor positioning can, in some ways, go hand in hand with poor mechanics or mobility and it can even be the underlying cause for some of those restrictions. You may have the right mobility for a squat but if you are not positioned in the right way that may be what is limiting you and causing you to lose balance.
If the base of the squat (i.e. your feet, centre of balance) are not solid and consistent, your squat most definitely won’t be either.
Poor mechanics can just be the result of being too new to the movement. It definitely will take some time to start feeling the right muscles at the right time and to move in the most efficient way possible; however, losing balance can be troubling especially if you are holding weight on your back.
Therefore, set yourself up for success right from the start and work on ironing out any weaknesses like sitting too far back into your hips, bending your knees too far forward, not bracing well or not opening up the hips.
Losing balance because you’re leaning too far forward? You’ll want to check out this article: How To Fix Leaning Forward When Squatting (5 Solutions)
10 Tips to Being Balanced When Squatting
1. Increase Ankle Mobility
If you think your issue when it comes to keeping your balance is lack of depth due to ankle mobility restrictions, addressing those restrictions will be crucial for your success.
Ankle mobility restrictions can be grouped into 2 categories, those with very tight calf muscles and those with actual joint limitations likely due to past injury. There are some tests you can do to check for why your ankles are having a tough time moving like the knee to wall test or a lateral tibial glide.
You’ll want to add some mobility drills or exercises to your pre-squat warm up including foam rolling the calves, some heel/calf raises, and dynamic stretches like banded distractions.
For more information on assessing your ankles and the different exercises to help your ankle mobility, check out my article here: How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats: 13 Exercises
2. Wear Squat Shoes
Wearing squat shoes will help you maintain balance in your squat because they provide a sturdy and stiff base when compared to other shoe options and they make reaching depth easier for those with ankle restrictions.
Therefore, if your mobility routine isn’t enough to let you squat properly, elevating your heels with a good squat shoe may be the answer.
In addition, if you have decent mobility but are squatting in sneakers and find yourself rocking at the feet, squat shoes would help you out a lot because of their very firm design.
To find out more insight on this topic, including squat shoe recommendations, check out any of the following articles:
- Best Squat Shoes: Buying Guide & Reviews
- Squatting In Running Shoes: Should You Do It? (No, Here’s Why)
- Heel or Flat Shoe While Squatting: 6 Things To Consider
3. Improve Hip Mobility
Besides ankles, hip mobility is one of the most important elements in a good squat and lacking it may cause you to go off balance.
In order to sink into a full depth squat that goes beyond parallel you must have both adequate external hip rotation and internal hip rotation. This will allow you to comfortably sit into your hips and will help you avoid leaning too far forward in the squat or sitting too far back and upright.
For a more in-depth look at hip mobility for squats, definitely check out: How To Increase Hip Mobility For Squats: 13 Drills To Follow
4. Learn to Brace
Bracing is a crucial element to lifting all weights in all types of ways, but especially important when it comes to squats. Lacking a good brace may be contributing to you losing balance in the squat because it is what keeps your entire torso locked into place and should prevent swaying and tipping.
In order to create a solid brace, you will need to inhale while allowing your belly to expand in a 360 degree fashion. After you have inhaled, exhale by pushing your ribs down but still maintaining the pressure around your midsection. If someone were to poke you in the belly it should feel like your belly is poking right back at them.
If you’d like to take your brace up to the next level, you can also consider purchasing a lifting belt that will help you increase the intra-abdominal pressure you need, especially if you are only losing balance once the weights get heavy.
If you’re looking for more information on breathing and bracing during the squat, read more here: Proper Breathing Technique For Squats (Step-By-Step Guide)
5. Slow Down Your Teps (Tempo Squats)
If you suspect that your lack of balance in the squat is due to technical and mechanical errors, the best thing you can do for yourself is to slow down your reps.
Tempo squats, as they are often referred to, are a variation of squats where you take a certain number of seconds to descend and ascend, rather than doing both as fast as you can.
An example of a tempo squat would be 4-0-1-0 which would translate to a 4 second lowering phase, no pause at the bottom of the squat, a 1 second upward phase and then no pause at the top of the lift. These numbers can be adjusted to serve your needs best, but a 3-4 second slow down is typical.
The reason for doing tempo squats is that it will force you to really break down your technique and will make any weaknesses much more obvious. You will be able to pinpoint exactly when and likely why you are losing balance and also help you figure out how to resist it from occurring.
You will need to use a lighter weight when doing tempo squats (around 50-65% of your 1 rep max for 3-6 reps), but that is expected because your time under tension will be greater and the point here is to perfect the movement more than anything.
For more information on tempo squats and why they are great, check out: 7 Reasons To Do Tempo Squats (Plus, How to Program It)
6. Do Pause Squats
In addition to the tempo squats I just mentioned, pause squats can be a great tool for solidifying good technique and strengthening your position at the bottom of the squat.
Especially if your weakness is that you lose balance while “in the hole” or right as you are coming up out of it, adding in a pause at the bottom of the squat will help you get comfortable there for a few seconds and will help train the muscles to keep you steady.
With pause squats, everything remains the same except that you stick around at the bottom of the squat for anywhere between 1-3 seconds. Make sure to lower the weight a bit as it will likely pose a challenge due to higher time under tension (about 5-10% less than what you would normally do).
For more insight on pause squats, check out: How To Pause Squat (Technique, Benefits, Muscles Worked)
7. Adjust Your Stance
A good squat starts with a good base and that base is your feet. If your feet are not placed in the most optimal position for your anatomy then it’s no surprise that you may be losing your balance and not able to squat comfortably.
It is a myth that everyone’s squat stance should look the exact same or that there is some sort of “ideal.” In fact, even among the best lifters in the world you will find variations of how they position their feet.
If you are finding your stance is restricting you from sinking low into the squat you can try to widen it and/or point your toes slightly outward.
It’s also possible you are trying to squat with a too wide stance where you can’t feel your legs and glutes firing anymore, and in that case bring your feet in slightly and play around with toes forward and toes outward to see what works best for you.
It will likely take some time to find your sweet spot, but once you find it, that will become the key to a strong and stable squat.
For more information regarding squatting with different stances, check out:
- Narrow Stance Squats: Pros, Cons, Should You Do It?
- Are Wide Squats Better For Powerlifting?
- Should Your Toes Be Pointed In or Out When Squatting?
8. Practice Your Walkout
The walkout is one of the most underrated portions of a barbell squat. It can often be overlooked because it happens before any squatting even begins, however it is what helps you set up in the right position and if you mess it up you may be finding yourself losing balance.
The only way to get your walkout right is by practicing a good walkout over and over again. Ideally lifters should only want to take 3 steps to get into position: the drag step, width step and corrective step.
Landing those steps in the right spot is most definitely a skill and may take some time, but definitely worth it as it will ensure you have a solid base for all your squats.
Check out this article I wrote to help you identify any mistakes your may be making as well as how to get the perfect walkout: Squat Walkout: 7 Common Mistakes Lifters Make
9. Do Goblet Squats
Goblet squats are one of the most beginner friendly squat variations because the dumbbell you hold at your chest acts as a counterweight and will prevent any tipping or excessive leaning forward.
Anecdotally, I was a terrible squatter when I first decided to try powerlifting and many hours of goblet squats are what got me to learn the proper form and stop tipping and losing balance in the bottom of the squat.
You can also make the goblet squats a paused or tempo variation to really hone in on the technique and work on your weaknesses. It is also easier to adjust things like your stance or practice a good brace while just holding a dumbbell at your chest versus holding a barbell on your back.
Goblet squats can also be used as a hip and ankle mobility drill if you use a relatively light weight and either hold the position for a static stretch or do some tiny dynamic movements at the ankles and hips while in the bottom position to get the joints warmed up.
10. Use a Low Box
Losing balance while squatting can also sometimes be a mental thing where your brain simply does not trust your body to be able to squat. This is quite common among novices and something I personally relate to.
The fear of “what if I squat down but can’t come up” is very real and as a result your muscles may hesitate to do their job and cause you to squat in a sloppy way that makes you lose your balance.
As a fix for this, find a low box, an upright dumbbell or really any object that can act as an external cue for adequate depth and reassurance. This is not the same as a box squat where you fully sit on the box, but rather just tap the box with your hips and go back up.
This small but effective tool will help you gain some confidence and help you squat with more control.
Tip: make sure to always squat with safeties in place to also instill more confidence and in case you can’t make it back up with the weight or you do truly lose balance.
Losing balance while squatting is nothing to be ashamed about and is likely an experience many lifters can relate to.
Thankfully, there are many ways in which you can address it from adjusting how you squat to adding in some mobility drills to using tools to help you feel more comfortable and confident.
Learning how to squat well is a marathon, not a race, and learning to maintain balance is a key facet of strength. Therefore, take the time you need to identify your weaknesses and use any of the 10 tips in this article to help you overcome them.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.