How to Squat Effectively – Beginner Friendly Guide

If you’re looking to save time and make gains in the gym, the barbell squat should be at the top of your workout plan. This compound exercise is one of the most effective things you can do for your body. Actively targeting the quadriceps and glutes, as well as the hamstrings, calves and inner/outer thighs, there’s a reason why this cult classic move is loved by gym bunnies all around the world.

So, if you’re on the quest for buns of steel, keep reading and learn everything you need to know about barbell squats.

Why the Squat is the KING of all Lifts

Squats are often called the king of lifts and it’s a title that’s well deserved. Because this smart exercise works the largest muscle group in the body, the thighs, it stimulates serious growth in the lower body while also encouraging even more growth in the upper body.

Barbell squats target various muscle groups at the same time, delivering outstanding results, and allowing you  to truly maximise your time in the gym.

Benefits of Squatting

  • Time Efficient: By working out multiple muscles at once, you can save even more time on your workouts
  • Increase Entire Body Strength: Squats don’t only work the legs- every time you squat, you release testosterone and the human growth hormone, which promote body wide muscle building.
  • Burn Fat: Even after you’ve finished your squats, your body will continue to burn fat- even when you’re watching TV!
  • Build Core Strength: Every time you squat, you should contract your stomach muscles as you lower your body to the floor. This helps promote a stronger core that will benefit you in every area of your physical life.
  • Prevents Injury: Doing squats on a regular basis will help you to loosen your joints, and make your muscles more elastic, decreasing your chance of getting injuries from any other sports.

Squat Technique

Squat Stance

The perfect stance is the essential foundation for the perfect squat. Begin with your heels directly underneath your shoulders and just enough room between your legs for your belly to fit while you squat down. If you have long legs and a short torso, bring your feet in a little bit. Or, alternatively, if you have shorter legs and a longer torso, bring them out a little bit. Regardless of your own build, the golden rule is to make sure your heels are always, more or less, in line with your legs.

Feet and Toes

To allow space for your belly to fit between your legs, your knees must be sticking out when you drop down with your toes and anklesin a straight line. Because of this, it’s crucial that you position your feet out at a 30 degree angle. Not only will this protect your knee joints, it’ll make your squats even more effective, too.

Don’t Raise your Heels

Make sure your feet are completely flat on the floor. They should be shoulder width apart to improve both your balance and your squat technique.

Knees

Push your knees out in the same direction of your feet while you squat to engage your groin muscles and prevent twisting your knee joints.

Shins

If you’re squatting with proper form, by pushing your knees forward and hips back, your shins will naturally fall into the correct position. Your shins shouldn’t be perpendicular to the floor, but sticking out at a slight angle for the best squat technique. If you try to squat with vertical shins, you’ll tip your body forward more, which can increase your chances of back injury.

Hips

When you squat down, be sure to bend your knees and hips at the same time. On the way back up, push your hips up towards the ceiling, but ensure that they never come higher than your chest. Your chest and hips should be moving at exactly the same time for the best squat form.

Lower Back

Your back should maintain its natural curve when you’re squatting so be sure to remain in a neutral position.

Grip

Grip the bar in a similar way to how would when doing a bench press: keep your pinkies inside the ring marks and squeeze your shoulder blades together to support the bar with your upper back muscles.

Always be sure to grip the bar tightly when you squat for extra support and to build more strength.

You can choose between using a full grip or a thumbless grip. Although a full grip is more secure, it can cause your wrists to bend. A thumbless grip, on the other hand, allows your wrists to stay straight. If you’re suffering from wrist or elbow pain, try switching to a thumbless grip.

One of the most important things to remember, though, is that the weight of the bar should be  completely supported by your back and not your hands. So, yes, you should be holding the correctly, but the brunt of the work should be in your back.

Bar Position

There are two ways to position the bar while you squat, either high on your shoulders at the nape of your neck, or lower down. In both positions, be sure to have the bar centred evenly across your back. Let us take you through both positions.

High Bar Position

A high bar position will see you squatting with the bar at the nape of your neck. When squatting high bar, be sure to keep your torso vertical to keep yourself balanced. In a high bar squat position, your knees will come more forward, and your hips less back.

Low Bar Position

Alternatively, you can squat in a low bar position which involves putting the bar between your traps and rear shoulders at the top of your shoulder blades, and squeezing your shoulders to support the bar. Opposite to the high bar position, your hips will move further back and your knees will come less forward to keep you balanced.

High Bar vs Low Bar: Which is Better?

If you’re looking for the ultimate squat, low bar is the way to go. This position increases your squat power by 10-20%. However, it can be tiring on your wrists, elbows and shoulders. Rather than risk injury, switch to a high bar barbell squat if your shoulders start to hurt.

Elbows

When you’re squatting, avoid straightening your elbows and lifting them vertically. Instead, reach them behind your torso when you’re at the top of your squat. Keep them inline with your shoulders at the bottom of your squat.

Upper Back

To protect your spine, always squeeze your shoulder blades while squatting and let the bar rest on your upper back cushioning. Make sure to keep your upper back arched to keep the bar from moving, too.

Chest

Raise your chest at the top of every single rep to ensure that your upper back is staying arched. An easy way to encourage this is by breathing at the top of your squat and holding your breath on the way back down.

Head

Encourage your head to stay inline with your torso by focussing at a point on the wall in front of you. Be sure to never look up as this will put your neck at risk of injury and cause you to lift your chest, compromising your technique.

Back Angle

The angle of your back while squatting depends very much on your own build. If you have a short torso and long thighs, you’ll lean further forward, and vice versa. The most important thing is to keep yourself diagonal and ensure that the middle of your foot is your balance point.

Unracking

To unrack, ensure your feet are directly underneath your shoulders with the bar resting on your back. You should lower your body down to a half squat position then unrack when you squat back up. After unracking, walk backwards away from the bar.

Way Down

Squat down by bending your knees and hips at the same time, with the bar moving over your midfoot when you squat. Your lower back should be neutral and you should move with complete control.

Bottom

At the bottom of each squat, your knees should be higher than your hips- but your butt shouldn’t be touching the floor either: somewhere in between is perfect. After your hips have reached this position, quickly incline your body back up without pausing, for the ultimate in strength training.

Way Up

Squat back up by moving your hips up the way, not forward. The bar should be moving in a vertical line over your midfoot point and your chest and hips should be moving at the same time.

Between Reps

After every squat, lock your knees and hips, tighten up and get ready for your next squat!

Racking

Stand tall with your hips and knees locked and make sure that you’ve finished your full squat before racking. Walk forward until it hits the power rack and bend your legs to put it in place.

Bar Path

Your bar should always be moving in a vertical position while your squatting, with only your hips and knees moving forwards or backwards. Since your midfoot is your balance point, make sure that the bar is always inline with it.

Breathing

Take a huge breath at the top and hold it all the way down to the bottom. Exhale again at the top.

To read more about squat technique, visit https://stronglifts.com/squat/.

Equipment

The beauty of the squat is that it can be done virtually anywhere with no equipment but your own bodyweight. However, to perform a barbell squat, you’ll need access to a squat rack and barbell weight.

It’s also possible to perform a weighted squat with dumbbells or kettlebells.

Common Squat Mistakes and Useful Tips

Not Dropping Low Enough

If you’re hips aren’t dropping lower than your hips, you’re not breaking parallel or getting the full benefit of the squat. Ensure that the weight you’re trying to squat is light enough for you to perform the full range of the squat.

Knees Cave In

Your knees are one of the first places to check if you feel like your squat is going wrong. A common mistake that we often see is the knees caving in, which is caused by bad form. Ensure that you keep them straight and push them forwards while dropping.

Leaning Forward / Heels Come Up

If you’re leaning forwards or lifting your heels while squatting, it’s a sign that you’re losing balance. If your heels come up, even by a cm, rack the barbell and start again with a lower weight.

Losing Balance

To stay balanced while squatting, keep the bar inline with your midfoot and follow our above instructions for a correct squat technique.

Not Warming Up

Barbell squats work every muscle in the body, so it’s essential that you warm your body up properly before starting this intense exercise to avoid injuries.

Variations

Body Weight Squat

When doing a bodyweight squat, you should still follow the same technique as when doing a barbell squat. The main benefit of a bodyweight squat vs a barbell squat is that it helps build more flexibility, vs body mass.

Back Squat vs Front Squat

As an alternative to a back squat, hold the barbell in front of your chest for a front squat. While the back squat places more load on your glutes and hamstrings, the front squat focuses more on the quads as well as core control.

How to Squat Effectively: The Verdict

So, there you have it. With perfect form and perfect technique, you’ll be well on your way to having an envious rear. Simply follow our guide on how to do a barbell squat to avoid injuries and the ultimate in compound exercise.

If you have any questions at all, leave them in the comments!

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