The Squat is one of the most important exercises, period. Everyone Squats. When you get in and out of a chair, when you crouch down to grab or lift something, when you help move a couch… It is an incredible full body exercise with a strong emphasis on the Adductors, Quads, Glutes and low back—but it works much more than that.
Having a powerful squat is not only essential to being a strong and well balanced athlete, but also greatly benefits your daily life.
Having a weak squat is not an option. What is an option though, is how you squat. Today we will be discussing the king of squats: the Barbell Back Squat.
That being said, maybe that movement doesn’t feel safe for you yet or doesn’t feel comfortable, and that’s fine, there are tons of alternatives such as box squats, safety bar squats, goblet squats, front squats, leg press, etc. Those will be discussed in a later article.
So how do you do it?
Well, as stated in the How To Deadlift article, for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter*. I say that with an asterisk so I don’t have my head chopped off, but it’s true: it doesn’t really matter. Squatting with a rounded back or your knees caving in is not any more likely to cause injury than squatting with a “flat” back (see my article on the subject here for more clarification). I know you may think I am literally insane, but it’s true. However, if you’ve always trained with a flat back, then you would be more likely to get injured with a rounded back or your knees caving in, provided the load stays the same, because you’ve never practiced it that way. And practicing something you’re not used to with super heavy loads is a recipe for disaster; it’s not smart! But if you are starting out squatting and you feel much stronger and more comfortable with a slight rounding of the low back or your knees caving in slightly, go for it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is safe, it is strong, and it may even be the more efficient way for you to lift.
That being said, performance matters. So don’t go lifting like this:
This next image however, while probably deemed by many as bad squat form, is often performed by high level, highly skilled athletes. Knees caving in may potentially feel stronger for many people, and isn’t inherently putting you at a higher risk of injury.
Now, I said for injury prevention, it doesn’t really matter. But for performance, form absolutely matters. You want to feel strong and powerful when you are lifting, and form is a part of that. It is impossible for me to give perfect guidance to everyone reading this, because everyone’s “perfect squat form” will differ. But what I can do is provide some general guidelines. So lets go over the squat:
1. Step up to the bar and put your hands outside shoulder width. How far outside, I cannot tell you; some people pefer close and tight, some people prefer far away on the bar. The best thing for you to do is try multiple grips and see what feels strong to you.
2. For a high bar squat: place the bar at the top of your traps.
3. For a low bar squat: place the bar lower down on your traps, over the shoulder blades at a depth that feels strong, tight and comfortable to you.
4. Lift the bar off the rack, and step back into position over the safety bars.
5. Foot positioning: start by placing your feet shoulder width apart with your toes slightly pointing outwards. If you find your feet twist outwards at the bottom and you keep putting them back in place after you complete a rep, your body is telling you that it wants to start with the toes turned out more. If you find you are putting all the weight onto your big toe/inner part of your foot, your toes may be pointing too far out, and you should bring them more toward the midline. Play around with different foot positioning and find a position that feels powerful for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to foot positioning. Either way, its good to practice different positions so your body builds resilience in multiple different loading patterns, reducing your risk of injury.
6. Keep your face and eyes forward, take a deep breath into your stomach, draw your rib cage down like you’re doing a mini crunch (if this doesn’t make sense, then forget that cue) and brace like someone is going to punch you.
7. Holding your breath, squat down until your hips get slightly below your knees (lower is also acceptable)--don’t worry if your knees go past your toes, this is an ancient suggestion that only applies in rare cases. Its perfectly safe and healthy for your knees.
8. Pause for a short time at the bottom (1 sec or less)
9. Stand back up hard, powering out of the bottom and breathing out forcefully.
10. Take a deep breath, brace and repeat.
11. Congratulate yourself, you just performed a barbell back squat.
Enjoy Squatting, I highly recommend it.
If you ever need more personalized instructions, don’t hesitate to contact me to inquire about Coaching. If you struggle with pain during the deadlift, I highly recommend booking a session with me in Physio. If you would like more reassurance or information on how I can help you, do not hesitate to contact me to book a free phone consultation.
Jordan Octeau is a Physiotherapist and Strength Coach with just shy of a decade of experience in the industry. Jordan is an expert in rehabilitation and programming for Barbell Athletes.