Whether you are still building your strength before adding weights to your squat, or you are just warming up before moving to the squat rack, correct bodyweight-only squat technique is important, and part of that is understanding what to do with your arms.
Complete beginners and those in the early stages of rehabilitation can often be seen reaching far forwards with their arms whilst performing bodyweight squats. This forward reach allows the person to sit the hips back very far and yet not fall over backwards since the arms act as a counterbalance. This is usually because the person lacks sufficient quad, hip and upper back strength to keep the torso from falling into excessive forward lean. If this is seems like you, please take a look at our series on how to maintain your balance during squats. Reaching forwards with your arms is not the answer.
Correct bodyweight squat arm position
Instead of reaching forwards, a better arm position for bodyweight squats is to keep your elbows down and in close to the sides of your body. Keeping them there will make it obvious to you if they start creeping forwards. As for your forearms, it is best to externally rotate from your shoulders so your hands are out a little wider than your elbows. This is a good way to set your shoulders since keeping them externally rotated makes it easier to keep a tall upper back position. You don’t have to, but if you then turn your palms up to the ceiling you will note that this arm position is very similar to the position of the Buddha’s arms – this should be reassuring to know as it brings a bit of ancient wisdom to your squat training.
For the aforementioned people who find it necessary to reach forwards for counterbalance, the answer is to assume the correct arm position and cease your descent at the point that you feel you need to reach forwards. This will ensure you only squat to a true depth, representative of your current strength level. Over time, and through studying the balance series, you will eventually be able to get to better depth.