Ah, the body-weight squat. Or any squat really, but let's start with the bodyweight squat seeing as we're talking about learning from the beginner's perspective, shall we?
The more I train newcomers to the fitness game, the more I realize just how much those of us who have been doing them for any length of time take the difficulty of getting the form right on the body-weight squat for granted.
Oh, and before we start I want to share with you the theory about teaching yourself improper form so you know up front why learning proper form in your exercise routines is so very important. The theory is that it takes 500 reps to learn a move but if learned incorrectly the first time it takes 5,000 reps to unlearn and relearn a move correctly. And I believe it, because I've been through it with my push form (but I've covered that in a different article so I will not digress here). Let's just say it took me several weeks to get my form right after realizing I had it all wrong. And performing your moves with incorrect form could lead to injury so it really is important to get it right the first time and all the time.
Here's some simple tips to get your form nailed next time you're doing body-weight squats and avoid the dreaded 5,000 rep correction curse.
Stand up straight. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart and your toes are pointing forward. Bend at the hip and bend at the knee as you lower your upper body into a pseudo-sitting position. Nothing else except some ankle flexion should be happening. Your butt should be sticking out far in back, and make sure your nose stays over your hips and your knees do not cross in front of your toes. If you need to put a bench under where your butt would land if you really were sitting, so you know where you're aiming, do it. However, I've found that tend to make beginners want to stick their faces waaaaay out in front of them like they've trained them to do over the years when sitting down in a chair, so unless you're worried about falling on your butt I'd advise against that. It does not help with form.
Another thing to watch for is that your knees do not come together as you lower your body. I've even done myself doing that and I've been doing squats for years.
Okay, so now that you "think" you have it right, let's put it to the test. Go stand in front of a wall. Put your feet about three inches from the wall. Now squat. Did your nose, chin or knees hit the wall? If so, time for an adjustment or two. If you're doing them correctly you should be able to get all the way down and all the way back up without hitting the wall at all.
Practice that for a week or so. You'll have the form down solid once you've passed the "Wall Test". Before you know it you'll be squatting under a big ol 'barbell like a pro !!