How To Barbell Back Squat
1) Approach a barbell that is in a rack at a height near your upper chest.
2) Take a medium grip on the bar and get under it while squeezing your shoulder blades together and slightly raising your elbows. Doing this forces your upper back muscles to become bunched up and creates a perfect shelf of muscle for the barbell to comfortably rest on.
3) For the most secure/comfortable position, place the barbell at the base of your traps just above your rear delts.
4) Unrack the barbell by doing a mini squat out of the rack with both feet underneath it. Do not Lunge the barbell out of the rack with one foot in front of the other!
5) Take 2 steps back to clear the rack pins and place your feet shoulder width apart.
6) Point your toes slightly out to engage your hip muscles and to make it easier to get depth at the bottom of the squat.
7) Take a big breath and push your stomach out as if you were about to get punched in the gut. This is called “bracing” your core. You should keep your core braced and breath held until you complete a rep and get back to the starting position. Do not breathe at the bottom of the squat.
8) Start the squat by bending your knees while shoving them out (open your groin/show your crotch) and push your hips back at the same time.
9) Squat down until your butt goes just below the crease of your knees and then come back up by driving your hips and butt up until you are standing straight again.
10) Repeat this process for your desired number of reps.
The biggest issue most people have with the barbell back squat is putting the bar in the correct position on their back.
Failure to put the barbell in the correct position will mess your form up from the beginning and lead to pain and injury.
See the pictures below to make sure you are putting the barbell in the correct place on your back.
Taking the correct stance is important if you want your squats to feel natural and remain pain-free. Look at the pictures below to make sure your feet are in the correct position every time.
Squatting with bent wrists is dangerous and will cause wrist and elbow pain at some point. Always keep your wrists straight by placing your thumbs on top of the barbell. See the pictures below.
Why Do Barbell Squats?
Build Muscle – Barbell squats are the best exercise you can do if your goal is to add many pounds of muscular bodyweight because they work all major muscle groups at the same time. Doing just one heavy set of multiple reps will have you tired and gasping for air. However, all the heavy breathing and muscle fatigue is totally worth it.
Burn Fat – The best way to lose body fat is by building as much muscle mass as possible. Since squats are the most effective mass building exercise in existence, they are also the best fat burning exercise that you can do.
Cardio – Nothing gets your heart pounding faster than completing a heavy set of squats. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to build overall physical fitness or “cardio” isn’t by running every day for endless miles. Instead, focus on building more muscle in your legs. Bigger and stronger leg muscles make each step you take easier which will increase your overall endurance. Think of it as adding a bigger more powerful engine to a car.
Flexibility – Today, most people in the western world lack the basic flexibility necessary to perform a simple unweighted air squat. This is because most people sit in an office all day and do no physical activity whatsoever during their day to day life. This way of living causes the human body to become weak and inflexible which greatly increases the risk of injury and poor quality of life. Performing barbell squats will be difficult at first, but once you knock the rust off of your body, you will become much stronger and more flexible than 99% of the population.
Strengthen Bones & Joints – Lifting weight does far more than build big shapely muscles all over your body. It also strengthens your bones and joints through the same process of adaptation. Stronger bones and joints make it harder for you to get hurt and become more and more important as you age.
Discipline – Barbell squats are hard work! Once you are using heavy poundages you will not only be challenged physically but also mentally. You will learn how to will yourself to do anything in life which will build a strong foundation of discipline that is essential for achieving future success in all areas of life.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
Squatting Once A Week – Squatting once a week is a sure fire way to constantly have sore leg muscles. The more you do an exercise the better you get at it and the less sore you become after a workout. You should be squatting at least twice a week MINUMUM to get the most benefit from the exercise and remain free from chronic muscle soreness.
Arching Your Lower Back – Do not arch your lower back when you unrack the barbell or at any time during your set. This will put tons of stress on your lower back and cause back pain. Keep a neutral spine by relaxing your back under the barbell as you would during your normal daily life.
Smith Machine – Never squat in a smith machine. They put your body on an unnatural fixed movement pattern which will cause stress on your joints that could lead to injury. Smith machines also leave out lots of important stabilizing muscles because the machine helps you do most of the lifting. Leave the smith machine for people that don’t know what they’re doing.
Knees Caving In – As you descend into the bottom of the squat make sure you push your knees out and open your groin/crotch area to the world. This will stop your knees from caving in and take all stress off of them.
Looking Up – Do not look up while you squat. Doing so will make it harder to drive your hips and butt up out of the bottom position and make you unbalanced. Instead, pick a spot on the floor in front of you and look slightly down. This little trick makes it much easier to drive out of the bottom and keeps you balanced during the set.
Half Reps – Your butt must go slightly below the crease in your knees on every rep. Anything higher is a half rep and is not a proper squat. Most people do half reps and get knee pain and other injuries as a result. This is why squats get a bad rep. Make sure you hit proper depth on every rep.
Going Too Low – If your butt is hitting your hamstrings in the bottom position of the squat you are going to low and doing full squats. This is bad because it will take tension off your glutes and hamstrings (the most powerful muscles in your body) and limit the amount of weight you can use. Squat just below parallel and you will be good to go.
Back Angle – For some reason, people think that back squats should be performed with a verticle back angle. This is flat out wrong and impossible. Your torso will always be at an angle when you back squat because your body knows that it must constantly adjust itself to keep the weight over your center of gravity (midfoot). Let your torso lean forward naturally and everything will be fine.
Chest – Do not let your chest cave in under the barbell. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, raise your elbows slightly, and squeeze your chest up while unracking the barbell. Keep your chest up during the entire set. If you get to a weight that forces your upper back and chest to cave in, you need to deload some weight and do more reps until you gain enough strength to remain chest up.
Best Way To Improve Your Squat Form
Filming your exercises is the second best thing you can do next to hiring a strength coach.
You will never perfect your form if you don’t know what you look like.
Anyone can easily film themselves by using the built-in camera on their smartphone.
If you don’t have anyone that can film for you, buy a smartphone tripod.
Debunking Common Myths
Squats Are Bad For The Knees
Listen guy, if squats are negatively affecting your knees in any way, you are doing something disastrously wrong.
Here are the two main reasons why people experience knee pain while performing the barbell squat.
1) You are shifting your weight to your toes – instead of keeping it over your midfoot when you are in the bottom position of your squat. As you descend into the bottom position of the squat, your torso is going to naturally bend over to keep the weight over your center of gravity (middle of your feet). Please let this happen! Back squats are not supposed to be done with a verticle spine.
2) Knees not tracking the toes – If you fail to push your knees out and open your groin while you descend into the bottom position of the squat, your knees will not remain in line with your toes. This will cause unnatural stress on your knee joint and result in nagging knee pain. Remember to shove your knees out and show your crotch on the way down.
3) Inflexibility – Some people have damaged their body over many years by doing limited physical activity, thus making a complex exercise such as the squat nearly impossible to perform. If this describes you, you must practice staying in a squat for an extended period of time. See the picture below.
Start by holding the bottom position of the squat for 5 seconds at a time for 5 reps. Once that is easy, add another 5 seconds etc.
By the time you can hold this position for 30 seconds at a time without any problem, you will be much better off.
You can also do bench squats to train yourself to sit back with your butt and hips while keeping the weight over your midfoot.
Squats Are Dangerous
Squats carry no more risk than any other exercise that is performed in the gym. Like anything else, if you do them with correct form, you will not get hurt.
If you really want to get into talking about dangerous lifts, then let’s talk about the bench press. That lift kills more people in gyms every year than anything else.
Nothing like dropping 225 pounds on your throat…
The Leg Press Is Just As Good
While the leg press does a good job of targeting your leg muscles, they are NOT a substitute for barbell squats.
The leg press machine won’t train your back muscles, core, and discipline. Anyone who can do a proper barbell squat needs to ditch the leg press for life. Machines were invented for people that are rehabbing injuries, not normal healthy adults.
The absolute best and safest way to squat is in a power rack. They eliminate the need for a spotter and allow you to push your sets to the limit without worrying about getting stuck under the bar. As long as you adjust the safety pins to the correct height you’ll be fine.
You can find power racks at most commercial gyms and barbell clubs. If you don’t have any gyms near you, I suggest investing in a power rack of your own.
If You Aren’t Squatting You Aren’t Training
Any program that doesn’t involve barbell squats can immediately be placed into the shitty program category.
When I do see programs posted by people that completely leave out squats, I know 2 things right away…
1. They don’t know what they’re talking about
2. They are a pussy
People leave squats out of their programs because they are difficult to do. Nowadays, people don’t like doing anything difficult and find any excuse they can to get out of doing hard work.
If you want to achieve success in life you can’t be one of these lazy people. Train yourself to overcome the fear of being uncomfortable and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
How Often Should I Squat?
As stated above, you should be squatting at least twice a week, but you can definitely squat more.
I have been squatting 3 times a week on average for the last 8 years and built lots of strong dense muscle all over my body as a result.
Just make sure to cycle heavy and light days as you get stronger to avoid overtraining. Squatting heavy multiple times a week will cause you to burn out fast.
Strength Goals For The Squat
You need to get to a point where you can squat at least 1.5 times your bodyweight for one good rep.
If you are a 200-pound guy, you should be squatting 300 pounds within a year of proper training.
However, any normal intact male can get their squat up to 405 pounds without issue if they just train consistently.
From The Man Himself –