The barbell squat is one of the best leg exercises ever created. When done right, it can maximise muscle growth and increase overall muscle mass and strength.
However, it is also quite easy to get wrong, and the consequences of performing squats incorrectly can bring dire consequences.
In this article, we will take a look at proper barbell squat technique, the main benefits that come from performing barbell squats, as well as giving you some helpful tips to help you along the way.
What Is a Barbell Squat?
The barbell squat is a compound leg-building exercise that primarily targets the quads and glutes.
The great thing about squats is that it also hits many other muscles in the body – it even hits upper body muscles like the core and back.
This is why the squat is one of the best overall strength builders in the game, and you should include it in your routine if strength is important to you.
The barbell squat has a variety of applications.
Bodybuilders use it to increase muscle mass, it’s one of the three main lifts for powerlifters, it is used by athletes to increase athletic prowess, and it is also used by Olympic weightlifters as a strength-builder for similar exercises.
This should give you some idea of just how important squats are.
To do a barbell squat, you need a barbell rack, a barbell and weights.
Barbell squats are primarily done in gyms, but you can purchase a squat rack and make a home gym if you so desire.
One thing to note about barbell squats is that while they are one of the best muscle/strength-building exercises in the business, they can be somewhat difficult to master.
Many people squat with incorrect form, and because of the heavy weights that squatting facilitates, this can cause injury much easier than with other exercises.
This is why learning how to squat with proper form is vital before trying to increase weight.
Barbell Squat Instructions
Step 1: Find the Right Setup for the Barbell Squat — For Your Body
The first step to having perfect barbell squat form is to find the right setup for your body.
Different people have different limbs and tendencies, and what feels good for one person might not feel good for you.
The perfect squat should feel natural, and while you may feel some discomfort from staying tight, it shouldn’t feel too difficult to maintain perfect squat form.
Foot stance is highly controversial in the squatting world, with everyone having a different opinion.
This is because the correct foot stance for different individuals can vary so drastically.
As a starting point, you want to point your toes outwards at a 45-degree angle and keep your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
If this feels fine, then great! – this stance works for most people.
However, if not, then it’s time to slightly adjust until you find something that feels comfortable for you.
You may need to point your toes at a 20-degree angle, or you may even better with them facing straightforward.
Feel free to experiment until you find the perfect stance for you.
Bar And Hand Placement
Next, we need to focus on bar and hand placement.
Just as is the case with foot stance, bar and hand placement can also vary drastically from person to person.
Place the bar at the top of your back so it rests on your traps.
From here, grab the bar as close to your shoulders as you can.
For some, this may be right around shoulder width. For others, this could be right at the opposite ends of the bar.
You should try to get as close to your shoulders as comfortably possible, as this provides the most support with this variation of barbell squat.
How To Nail Your Walkout On The Barbell Squat
Once you are in position, it’s time for the walkout.
The best and safest way to take the bar off the rack is to stay tight and push your hips forward.
This takes all the pressure off your bones and joints.
Once the bar is off the squat rack, stay tight and take one or two steps back so you have enough room to squat without hitting the pegs.
Step 2: Create Whole Body Tension
Next, we need to create full-body tension.
Tense your back, abs, legs, and buttocks, and grip the bar firmly.
Make sure to keep this tension throughout the entire movement.
Step 3: Control Your Descent
Drop your knees and buttocks at the same time and begin the descent.
It is important that you do not completely drop and take away all of the tension – this can be extremely dangerous.
You need to control your descent by staying tight and going down in a controlled manner.
This can feel difficult at first – it feels much easier to just drop to the bottom position without any control.
However, you should avoid doing this at all costs.
How Deep Should You Go On The Barbell Squat?
As a general rule of thumb, you should try to at least get below parallel with your knees.
Unless you have a disability or malformed limb, you should be able to manage this.
Most people think they do not have the ability to go below parallel when in reality they can but don’t because it feels uncomfortable.
While it can feel uncomfortable to go below parallel (especially if you are particularly inflexible), it is important to do so if you want to get all of the benefits from squats.
Going below parallel will get easier with time, and it can also be made much easier with a good warm-up routine.
Knees Going Over The Toes On The Barbell Squat: Is This OK?
Yes, it is fine for knees to go over the toes when doing the barbell squat.
This is a common myth within the fitness industry.
Having your knees go over your toes can help you achieve a deeper squat, and as long as it is not too excessive, it can provide you with more stability.
Step 4: Ascent Out Of The Hole
The final step of the barbell squat is the accession.
To ascend out of the hole (the bottom position of the squat), explode upwards by trying to push away the floor as hard as you can with your entire foot, maintaining tightness throughout your entire body.
Focus on pushing your chest outwards and upwards, guaranteeing that you maintain the right position throughout the entire ascent.
How to Do a Barbell Squat with Proper Form
Even if you know the exact mechanics of how the squat works, it can still be difficult to put it into practice.
This is why cues are so important.
Cues are select things that you can do/look out for when squatting to ensure that you are doing everything correctly, and they can be a huge help if you feel like your form is way off.
So, what are some of the best cues?
Well, the first and most important thing you need to do is to stay tight everywhere.
Make sure the barbell is firmly placed on your traps and tighten your back, abs, buttocks, and legs.
Another cue is to push your knees outwards when descending down.
This ensures that your knees follow the direction of your toes, which helps to keep you tight and reduce injury.
Lastly, once you are at the bottom of the movement, explode upwards with your entire foot (not just the back of your foot like some others suggest) and focus on pushing your chest upwards and outwards.
If you follow these three cues, you will squat perfectly every time.
Improved Leg Growth
One of the most prominent barbell squats benefits is improved leg growth.
Squats are incredible for building big legs – EMG (electromyography) studies have shown that they are by far the most effective when it comes to overall muscle growth.
They also target all muscles in the leg, and while they might not hit the calves and hamstrings optimally, they still build muscle even in areas that are not directly targeted.
Better Overall Strength
Another benefit to barbell squats is better overall strength.
If you wanted to be strong and could only pick one exercise, your best bet would be squats.
Squats can build muscle all over the body, making them THE best compound exercise in the world.
They also briefly increase testosterone, meaning they may have a slight advantage over other exercises that incorporate fewer muscle groups and use less weight.
Increased Bone Density
Interestingly enough, squats can actually improve the size and strength of our bones.
This isn’t something that is strictly relegated to squats – all strength-building exercises tend to improve bone size and density.
However, because of the fact that barbell squats often allow for much heavier weights to be used and incorporate a ton of different muscle groups, squats happen to be one of the best exercises for building strong bones.
How to Work Out Safely and Avoid Injury
The most important thing to do when it comes to squatting safely is to only increase weight once you have perfected your technique.
If you begin increasing weight with bad form, your bad habits may stay with you throughout your journey, and they could end up causing serious problems way down the line.
If you do think you have bad form, do not be afraid to lower the weight and just focus on form.
It can be difficult to drop weight after months of training – it can almost seem like you are going backwards.
However, you must realise that having good squat form is essential if you want to work out safely in the long term.
Plus, having good form will also allow you to lift more weight way down the line – having good form gives you a better base to push from.
Whatever you do it for, make sure you prioritise form over everything else.
Until you have mastered the barbell squat, you should hold off on increasing weight.
Barbell Squat – FAQs
What Happens if You Do the Barbell Squat Wrong?
If you do the barbell squat wrong, you increase the chance of injury significantly.
Squats can be particularly dangerous when done with bad form, as barbell squats usually allow for much higher weights than other exercises.
How to Do Barbell Squats?
To do barbell squats, approach a barbell rack and position yourself under the bar so the bar is resting on your traps.
Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and point your toes out slightly.
From here, tense your entire body and lower yourself down to the bottom position.
Once in the bottom position, drive upwards by trying to push the floor away from you and push your chest up.
What Are Some Alternatives to a Barbell Back Squat?
The best barbell squat alternative is the leg press.
The leg press works all the same muscles as the squat without putting as much stress on the body.
Some other good alternatives are hack squats, assisted squats, and slow-tempo squats.
What Muscles Does a Barbell Squat Work?
Squats work a ton of muscles in the body, but they primarily work the glutes and quads.
The truth is, questions like “barbell squat muscles worked” and “barbell back squat muscles worked” are hard to answer – it would be easier to list the muscles that the squat doesn’t work.
What Are the Barbell Squat Teaching Points?
The best barbell squat teaching points are to tense your core, push your knees outwards when you squat down, and push up with your entire foot when coming back up.
We hope we have been able to give you a better insight into the wonderful world of barbell squats.
Learning how to barbell squat properly is essential for growing a strong and capable body, and without it, you will be hindering your potential drastically.
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