The squat is by far one of the best exercises out there and you should be doing them. There is a good amount of controversy about how deep one should go, and many people believe squats are bad for your knees. The truth is, if done correctly, you can squat pain free and reduce the likelihood of knee injuries.
It all starts with your squat form. The squat is a hip dominant movement, meaning that the hips should be doing the majority of the bending as you descend with the bar. This requires a good amount of mobility in the hamstrings and glutes. As you begin your descent you should lengthen your hamstrings and sit your butt backwards to feel the weight in the back of the legs. Your quadriceps and hip flexors should be shortened as the hip and neutral spine trunk angle is tilted forward. This results in much less sheer force acting on the knee, and much more loading of the hip muscles in the back of your legs. If you have had no previous injuries you should be able to comfortably squat to a depth where your hips are parallel with your knees using proper technique.
To use your hips correctly the angle of your spine will be straight, but more horizontal than you might be imagining. If you fail to squat with your hips you are placing unnecessary damaging forces on your knees and spine. If you need help with your squat or have knee or back pain while squatting or even lunging try working with one of our trainers to correct your technique.