If you want big legs you have to squat.
For the first few years of your training you should squat, squat and squat some more.
A good goal is to squat double bodyweight.
I’m talking about real, full squats, at least to parallel.
Read on and you’ll learn exactly how to squat properly.
Before we get into technique I have to tell that the one thing I recommend to 99% of people out there is a good pair of high quality squat shoes.
These will make a TREMENDOUS difference in your form and keep you safer. Guys usually benefit more from these than females do but anyone with a minor tuck can usually eliminate it instantly with a pair of these.
On with the squatting lesson…
The Set Up
Grab the bar with an even grip, wider than shoulder width and be sure to squeeze it as hard as you can. You should be making white knuckled fists and the tension should radiate from your forearms to your upper arms and all across your back.
Everything must be drum tight.
Duck under the bar and jam your shoulder blades as far back as you can. This should be uncomfortable.
The bar should sit on your traps, not the top of your spine or your neck.
By keeping your hands in a little closer you can create a bigger shelf for the bar to sit on.
By close I mean 6-10 inches wider than shoulder width. If you have shoulder problems, this is not an option and you will need to grab the bar wider.
Never grab the bar with an extremely close grip or extremely wide grip if you can help it. Moderate grip width is best. Try to get your elbows under the bar as much as possible. This will help keep you in a more upright position and prevent the lift from turning into a good morning. How far under the bar you can get your elbows will be determined by your shoulder mobility. Do the best you can without putting any excess stress on your shoulders.
Now, to engage your lats, pull down on the bar just a bit. You should feel your lats flare out to the side.
With your head straight, chest up and back arched, take a deep breath and hold it then unrack the weight and take two steps back.
Your feet should be a bit wider than shoulder width apart and rotated out about thirty degrees. Think of an athletic stance.
For example- the stance you would play linebacker in, or wait for a serve in beach volleyball or guard someone in basketball. That’s usually about the exact width you want your stance to be.
Before beginning your descent take a huge breath and fill your belly with air.
Hold the air in your abdomen, not your chest. Basically you want to push your abs out as far as you can while also bracing them like you’re going to take a punch.
If you wear a belt simply drive your abs out into the belt.
With your chest up and back arched, you are now going to push out on the sides of your feet like you are trying to spread the floor. This doesn’t have to be dramatic; just enough to engage the hips and glutes.
To begin your descent, break at the hips by pushing your glutes back and then squatting down as low as you can go without allowing your lower back to round or butt to tuck under.
If your butt tucks under and you go into spinal flexion the injury risk increases dramatically and you lose a lot of strength. You need to maintain a neutral spine throughout.
If you can’t you need to seriously work on your flexibility and mobility.
The goal is to be able to break parallel while maintaining a neutral spine.
One thing you need to remember is to keep your knees tracking your toes.
So on the way down you need to consciously drive your knees out. Probably the best coaching cue I have heard that makes this easy to remember and grasp is that squatting takes place BETWEEN the legs, not above them. So really open up the knees as much as you can. Doing this makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine in the bottom.
Getting Out of the Hole
When you can get to parallel without spinal flexion the fun is just beginning. Now you have to get back up.
When coming out of the hole be sure to lead with your head, driving backward into the bar but NOT looking up.
In other words you drive straight back into the bar but keep staring straight ahead. Don’t cock your neck back.
This will make you weaker and throw off your form.
The chest should be high and you should drive your elbows forward and under the bar and push your hips forward while consciously engaging the glutes.
On the way up you need to keep that deep breath held until you are at least half way up. At that point you can start hissing the air out as if you’re blowing it through a straw.
Never let your air out before that or let all of it out before reaching the top position.
Pause at the top, let all your air out, gather yourself, go through the checklist, take another huge breath and do your next rep.
Do not do piston style pump reps when squatting unless you’re very experienced and are doing a light, higher rep back-off set.
Now you know how to squat properly.
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How to Do a Proper Squat
Before you load up your squats with weights, master the bodyweight squat. Here’s how to do squats properly:
- Stand tall with your hands by your sides, feet shoulder-width apart, and toes pointed forward.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. You want to “sit” into the exercise, pushing your butt back like you’re lowering yourself onto a chair or bench. Never bend forward at your waist — that will only increase the stress on your spine and throw you off balance.
- Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
Benefits of Squats
Squats target two of your body’s biggest muscles (quads and glutes), and enlist the help of your hamstrings and calves to get the job done. And that’s just what it does below the waist. When you do a squat properly, you also engage stabilizing muscles throughout your core. Plus, it can be done with little equipment (or even no equipment in the case of a bodyweight squat), and it only requires a few square feet of space to perform. To maximize its benefits, however, weave multiple squat variations into your weekly routine, like the ones found below.
Common Questions About Squats
If you’re new to squats, it’s normal to have some questions on the best way to add them into your routine. Here are a few commonly asked questions about squats to help you out.
- How many squats do you need to do in a given workout? That depends entirely on your goals. If you’re trying to build strength, you should focus on doing fewer reps (up to six per set) with heavier weights. If you’re trying to build endurance, it’s in your interest to do more reps (at least 12 per set) with lighter weights. If your focus is muscle growth, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for three sets of 8 to 10 reps using a weight that challenges you to complete them, while still maintaining perfect form.
- How much should you be able to squat? Strength standards are generally defined in terms of a one repetition maximum (1RM), which is the amount of weight you can lift with perfect form one time. Squatting the equivalent of your bodyweight is average. Squatting 1.25 times your bodyweight is good. And squatting 1.5 times your bodyweight is excellent. Of course, you would never do single rep sets during a workout, so you should focus on lifting the maximum amount of weight that will allow you to complete all of your reps in every set.
- How should you start doing squats? Master the bodyweight squat before you even think about adding weights into the equation. Once you’ve nailed the movement pattern and developed the mobility to perform the bodyweight squat with perfect form, you’re ready to load it. Just be careful not to overload yourself right off the bat. Begin with a light weight, and increase the amount you lift gradually as your strength improves. It’s also a good idea to try different squat variations (like the Bulgarian split squat, jump squat, front squat, etc) to avoid hitting a plateau. But take the same approach with each new variation – ease into it until you you can do the move with perfect form, then add weight.
7 Ways to do Squats with Weights
Once you know how to do a proper squat in its most basic form, you can start switching things up a bit. Variation spurs adaptation, which in the context of strength training is another term for muscle growth. Keep the classic barbell back squat in your exercise library, but also try any or all of these seven squat variations with weights to keep your routine fresh and to keep adapting.
1. Dumbbell squat
- Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then push yourself back up to the starting position.
2. Bulgarian split squat
- Stand facing away from a bench, holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides. Place the toes of your left foot on the bench behind you.
- Keeping your torso upright, lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground (don’t let your left knee touch it).
- Pause, and then push back up to the starting position. Do equal reps on both legs.
3. Dumbbell goblet squat
- Grab a dumbbell and hold it vertically in front of your chest, cupping the top end in both hands. Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back flat and elbows pointed down, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the ground (your elbows should touch the insides of your knees).
- Pause, and then slowly push yourself back up to the starting position.
4. Dumbbell jump squats
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your chest up and core braced, push your hips back and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Rise back up explosively, jumping straight up.
- Land softly, and immediately lower yourself into your next rep.
5. Curtsy squat
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell (or sandbag) in front of your left shoulder with both hands. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your back flat and your core engaged, step your left foot back and to the right so that your left leg crosses behind your right. At the same time, lower the dumbbell across your body to the outside of your right thigh.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Do all of your reps, switch sides, and repeat.
6. Lateral squats
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at arm’s length by your sides, palms in.
- Keeping your right leg straight and right foot on the floor, push your hips back and take a big step to your left with your left leg. Lower the weights between your legs and your body until your left thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.
- Do all of your reps, and then repeat to your other side.
7. Releve plié squats
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out, holding a dumbbell with both hands in front of your thighs.
- Rise up on to the balls of your feet so your heels are lifted high off the ground.
- Keeping your chest up, bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor, lowering the weight between your legs.
- Come halfway up, and then lower again until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Continue pulsing up and down, staying high on the balls of your feet.
4 Squat Variations Without Weights
You don’t need weights to get in a good squat workout. Here are four ways to do squats without weights that will still leave your legs shaking at the end of a few sets.
1. Sumo squat
- Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, hands by your sides, and turn your feet outwards slightly.
- Keeping your chest up, abs engaged, and weight on your heels, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body as far as you can. As you squat down, bring your hands together in front of your chest.
- Return to the starting position, lowering your hands back to your sides, and repeat.
2. Wall squats with stability ball
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a stability ball between the middle of your back and a wall. You should be leaning back slightly. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your knees aligned with your toes, bend your knees to roll your body down the ball until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then press through your heels to return to starting position.
3. Squat pulse
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
- Keeping your back flat, chest up, and core braced, simultaneously lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor and bring your palms together in front of your chest in a “prayer position.”
- Pulse up and down in that low squat position, repeatedly raising and lowering your body a few inches. Continue for time.
4. Lateral resistance band squats
- Loop a resistance band around both legs just above your knees, and stand with your feet together.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Rise up slightly, step your right foot out to your right, and lower yourself back into a squat.
- Rise up slightly, step your left foot next to your right, and lower yourself back into a squat.
- Repeat to your left. Continue alternating directions.
The Parties Involved
Along with working all those joints, squats challenge a number of different muscles groups.
As we’ll see shortly, exactly which muscles get worked depends largely on which squat variation that you’re working with – since you can easily shift where the brunt of the resistance is being placed.
For now, let’s focus our attention on the basic, yet effective, bodyweight squat.
The target muscles – or the muscles doing most of the work during the bodyweight squat – are your quadriceps and your gluteus maximus.
Illustration of the muscles worked in the Squat exercise.
However, the muscles in your calves and butt both function as synergists – meaning that they assist the quads in performing the movement. At the same time, your hamstrings and core all contract to provide stabilization, which is how squats also work the abs.
Correct Squat Form Check
I hope I’ve made it clear just how useful the squat can be. But, like any other activity, squats need to be done with proper form to be sure that you’re getting the most out of your investment.
To help set the foundation for what’s to come, let’s deal with the bodyweight squat for now. Like many other bodyweight exercises, this variation on the squat is an ideal way to help you develop proper form with a minimal amount of risk if you make a mistake.
As an added benefit, the transition from bodyweight squats to weighted back squats is a very easy one to make since form for the two movements is almost identical.
How to do it:
- Stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly outward.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you for balance.
How to do it:
- Keeping your core tight and your back straight, drop your hips back toward the ground.
- At the same time, allow your knees to bend forward. Throughout the movement, keep your knees pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Descend, as if sitting back into a chair, until your thighs are at least parallel with the ground. If you can go deeper without rounding your back, go for it.
- Press into your heels and slowly straighten your legs to return to standing. Do not allow your heels to come up off the ground.
This is the basic squat form, which will hold true for just about any other version of the squat you may ever want to tackle.
It is possible, though, that the bodyweight squat is a bit of a challenge for you – generally due to a lack of flexibility. So, how do you work your way up to a perfect bodyweight squat?
Squats and Knees, Oh My!
In fact, by strengthening the quadriceps and other muscles that wrap around your knees, you are building their support system and giving them more thorough protection than they would otherwise have. But, what about depth? Doesn’t going too far past parallel put more stress on your knees?
To answer this question, in 2013 researchers reviewed the results of over 164 articles that all looked into the forces active on the knees during a squat (3). What the team found was surprising: While the stress on the knee gradually increases as the angle gets closer to 90 degrees, it only decreases from that point on.
At the end, the researchers made this comment:
“… deep squat presents an effective training exercise for protection against injuries and strengthening of the lower extremity.”
Another common safety tip you may hear when it comes to squats is that you should never let your knees go beyond your toes. This is actually a kind of tricky one to untangle.
For most people, this is an easy tip to remember and apply. And for many, it’s true. But many individualized and largely genetic factors can influence where the knee ends up even during an otherwise flawless squat (4).
For example, the length of the bones involved or the mobility of the ankle and hip can all control where the knee is supposed to be in relation to the toes. A person with long bones in their shins or thighs, for example may not be able to keep their knees back without sacrificing form in another way.
Even more important, though, there is no evidence to suggest that allowing the knees to go past the toes is always going to cause problems. If your knees naturally extend out that far, however, trying to change that could put excess stress on the joint.
Rather than trying to apply a rigid rule to everyone, a much better approach would be to listen to your body. When you perform a bodyweight squat, do your knees pass your toes without pain? Then let them be. Just make sure you’re doing your best to sit back on your heels as if you were sitting down into a chair.
Working Your Way Up
With all of that knowledge how can you string it together and progress toward a powerful, effective squat? Here’s a progression, using a few of the variations discussed above, to will help you build both the strength and mobility needed to safely pull off a weighted back squat.
For each exercise, work until you can perform 3 sets of 12 reps with perfect form, going as deep as you can. While working on the bodyweight squat especially, your goal should be to lower your butt as close to the ground as possible.
It may take several weeks for you to master each movement before you can comfortably move on to the next. That’s fine. The goal is to have a strong foundation before you end up at the back squat and each step in this progression will develop a different skill that you’ll need later on.
The weights recommended for the loaded exercises are intended to get you up to working with a standard Olympic bar, which weighs 45 pounds unloaded.
- Bodyweight squat
- Goblet squat (Progress when you can perform 3×12 with 20 pounds)
- Front squat (Progress when you can perform 3×12 with 45 pounds)
- Back squats (Start with 45 pounds)
Do You Even Squat? Yes!
As we’ve seen, the squat is a hugely important exercise. Not only is it a basic human movement that will help to increase your flexibility, mobility and strength but it can also burn through tons of fat all at once.
The key is to start slow, generally with bodyweight squats, and be sure that your form is perfect. From there you can gradually progress to some of the more challenging variations. Along the way, you can also use different squat exercises to tailor the workout to your specific needs, limitations and circumstances.
Move Your Muscles, Blast Fat
Nothing blasts fat like a resistance training circuit – and nothing’s quite more convenient than a bodyweight circuit. Put the two together and you have a winning combo workout you can do anywhere!
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- Rack should be slightly lower than shoulder height
- Step under bar and position it on upper trapezius muscles and back of shoulder
- Hands as close as possible to shoulders with elbows pointing down (Create a ‘W’position with your arms)
- Stand up and take one step backwards
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart OR shoulder width plus width of foot apart, head and chest up and eyes looking forward—NORMAL POSTURE
- Begin movement by bending at the hips and the knees, keeping the feet flat on the floor, head and chest up, body balanced and spine maintaining normal lordotic curve
- Descend as far as possible while keeping spine in neutral position (slight curve in back)
- Keep knees over toes and heels on the floor
- Reverse movement on way up maintaining correct posture at all times
- Heels lifting off floor—trying to keep back vertical (straight) by keeping the chest up and pushing through the heels
- Knees traveling excessively forward over toes
- Bending at waist and losing lordotic curve
- Head and chest dropping
|Joint||Action at each joint during the concentric phase||Main muscles performing the action at each joint||Exercise Classification|
|Ankle||Plantar Flexion (Passive)||Gastrocnemius
With this exercise there are more than 40 different variations, each recruiting different muscles and requiring a different technique. The most popular being:
- Body weight squat – same movement, but without any added weight
- Pistol squat (one-legged squat) – similar movement, but requiring balance. The leg that is not in use is pointed forward, to replicate the image of a pistol.
- Sumo squat – wide stance with toes pointed far out. The bottom position replicates how a sumo might crouch in a fight.
- Jump squat – using plyometric muscle recruitment, jump then lower into position, creating extra load
- Front barbell squat – instead of having the barbell resting on your back, you place the weight in front of your neck, resting on your shoulders. The movement requires you to sit back more to maintain balance, it is good for keeping the back more upright.
- Overhead squat – holding the weight high above your head, in the top position of the shoulder press, then squat like this. Requires more balance and stability.
- Goblet squat – holding a dumbbell vertically, like a goblet, in front of your chest. Adds weight in a different place to recruit different muscles.
Benefits of Squats
Natural Human Movement
The squat is a natural movement for the bod biomechanically. Unfortunately, as our societies get increasingly sedentary, we seem to have forgotten to squat. If you look at many developing countries, on the other hand, people still do a lot of manual labor and a full bodyweight squat is part of their daily activities.
The squat not only trains your muscles but it also trains a natural movement pattern. It is important to keep this movement pattern in our everyday lives to keep those muscles active.
Full Body Training
A full body training program is often recommended for most beginners. The squat is an integral part of any full-body training program because it works nearly all the muscles in the body.
Most people think of the squat as a leg movement but aa correct squat uses the quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings, hips, glutes, lower back, upper back and other smaller muscles to perform the movement.
Since the squat uses os many different muscles, it is a very efficient exercise. Instead of doing several isolation exercises to target each muscle group separately, you can perform 1 movement.
You can always perform isolation exercises in addition to the main compound exercises if necessary,
Lower Body Strength
Lower body strength is necessary for athletes and non-athletes. The squat increases lower body strength like no other exercise.
Muscle growth is known as Hypertrophy. When we put the body under stress, it adapts in preparation of the same stress in the future. When we lift weights, we put our bodies under stress and the body adapts by getting bigger and stronger.
There are 3 types of stress you can put on your body with weight training.
- Mechanical Tension
- Metabolic Stress
- Muscle Damage
The squat is one of the movements that can potentially use all 3 mechanisms of Hypertrophy to give you the best results possible. One of the leading researchers on the subject of hypertrophy is Dr. Brad Schoenfeld. I highly recommend you check out his book and article on this topic.
In the long term, if you want to keep gaining muscle and strength, you need to add more weight to the bar or do more reps with it. The squat is one of the few movements that allows you to achieve progressive overload consistently.
With a lot of isolation movements, you will find it harder to keep getting stronger. With compound movements like the squat, which works multiple large muscles at the same time, you can get stronger faster. Progressive overload is one of the reasons That why the squat is a great muscle builder for the lower body.
Lot of Squat Variations
There are so many different types of squats you can do to train your muscles. Squats can also be done almost anywhere with minimal equipment. Most types of squats are
Compound exercises such as squats burn a lot of calories simply because they are so demanding in terms of muscles used and nervous system output. If you’re trying to lose weight, these exercises will help you burn a lot of calories. Another benefit of compound exercises is that your metabolic rate is elevated for several hours after you’re done training. This means that you will be burning more calories even when you sleep.
The Barbell Squat
The barbell is one of the most simple and versatile pieces of exercise equipment in the gym. You can train nearly any muscle group with a barbell. The barbell allows you to safely load heavy weights on to the bar and keep adding weight as you get stronger.
The barbell is also a standard piece of equipment that is universal to nearly any gym you go to. Machines, on the other hand, can differ greatly by make and model. If you train at different gyms, a standard Olympic barbell weights 20KG or 45 pounds.
This gives you the ability to standardize your training because most strength training programs are designed to make you stronger using a standard barbell.
Barbell movements are also standard. This means that you can learn the correct technique by watching others or by hiring a coach.
Squat Vs Other Lower Body Exercises
There are many great compound and isolation exercises you can do for your legs. Why is the squat considered as the king of all exercises? It’s because of the ability to load weight better than most exercises. This results in greater mechanical tension on the legs than most other exercises.
For example, the lunge is a great exercise but it is difficult to load it with heavy weights like squats.
Squats are also extremely versatile as there are so many variations depending on your goals and experience level. Squats can also be done virtually anywhere without the need for special equipment.
Primary Muscles Used in the Squat
The squat is commonly known as an exercise for training the quadriceps (thighs). Any style of squat will use the quads as the primary mover but that’s not all. Because squats are an isolation exercise, they also involve secondary muscles to move the weight and to maintain the correct positions needed to squat.
Different types of squats will prioritize which muscles get used more but all squat styles will be quad-dominant.
Primary Muscles used in Squats – Quadriceps (Thighs), Hamstrings and Glutes. These are the primary muscles at the knee and the hip joints.
The quads are used throughout the entire movement as the primary mover. The main function of the quads is knee extension.
The glutes have 2 main functions for the squat – Hip Extension and External Rotation.
Hip Extension: The glutes help bring the hip forward to finish the movement at the top. After you descend into the squat, the quads are maximally engaged at the bottom of the squat and the glutes help finish the movement at the top.
Hip external Rotation: The glutes are used to help keep your knees out and in line with your toes instead of collapsing in. This is very important if you want to avoid knee injuries.
Most people don’t think of the hamstring’s involvement in the squat. The hamstrings play 2 roles in the squat:
- Stretch Reflex: This is the ‘bounce’ at the bottom of the squat, which allows you to generate some momentum out of the hole. The hamstrings are stretched/lengthened at the hip. While the hamstrings are not maximally stretched in a squat, when timed correctly, it is possible to use the stretch off of the hamstrings.
- Hip Extension: One of the primary functions of the hamstrings.is to bring your leg behind the body and bring the hips forward.
Secondary Muscles Used in Squats
Even though the legs are moving the weight, the weight usually rests on the upper body for nearly all types of squats. The spinal erectors bear a lot of weight. Having strong spinal erectors is necessary to maintain the correct squat position.
Most people think of the abs as the core but the core consists of several muscles around the trunk that help support your spine. The core muscles include the Rectus Abdominus (abs), External and Internal Obliques, Transverse Abdominus and others.
Upper Back Muscles
In order to maintain the correct squat position, the barbell has to rest on a stable shelf. This requires the activation of upper back muscles includings the traps, rear delts, lats and more.
Calves- The calf muscles including the soleus and gastrocnemius help maintain the correct foot position. Foot position is extremely important because ultimately all the weight including your body weight rests on your feet. The feet are the only point of contact between you and the ground.
Types of Squats
Any movement that involves hip flexion where the hips are lower than the knees can be considered as a squat. There are so many ways to achieve this. There are so many squat variations for nearly all experience levels.
That being said, this article will focus on the Barbell Squat and its variations. If you want to learn about other squat styles, I will be making more content around them.
These are great for complete beginners, sedentary individuals, older people and people with injuries. Beginners typically lack the motor skills needed to achieve full depth while maintaining balance. Using an external object or a resistance band, they can learn the correct technique without worrying about balance.
Some people may not even have the lower body strength to perform a full squat. Using some upper body muscles, it can take the load off the lower body. When you can perform 12- 15 repetitions comfortably, it’s time to move on to the next variation –bodyweight squats.
After getting used to assisted squats, the next squat progression is bodyweight squats. The technique is similar to assisted squats but you will not be holding on to anything for balance or assistance. It’s a good idea to have someone spot you in case you lose balance.
Once you can perform 12-15 reps comfortably, you can move on to weighted squats.
Some advanced trainees can even perform bodyweight squats on a single leg (pistol squats).
This is the easiest way to add weight for beginners. You can use a dumbbell or a kettlebell and hold it up in front of you. A great benefit of goblet squats is that the weight acts as a counterbalance. Many beginners have trouble maintaining balance and have a fear of falling back.
Start by using a light dumbbell and progress as that weight starts feeling easy.
A limitation of goblet squats is that eventually, you cannot add more weight because your upper body strength will be the limiting factor, not your legs. Your legs will eventually be strong enough to lift the weight but your upper body muscles may not be able to hold on to heavyweights. Plus, most gyms don’t have heavy enough dumbbells or kettlebells to keep up with your strength.
Barbell squat variations
Usually, on Barbell Squats, the weight is on your back. With front squats, the weight rests on your front delts (shoulders). In some ways, this is similar to goblet squats but you can load a lot more weight.
This is one of the best ways of introducing the barbell squat to a new trainee. Unlike goblet squats, barbell squats don’t have a counter balance to prevent you from falling back. To counteract this, you have to lean forward on barbell squats to stay balanced. This also means that you have to ‘sit back’ with your hips.
The best way to learn this without the fear of falling is to do boxed squats. You can start with an empty barbell which typically weighs 45 pounds/20 kilos. If this is too heavy, you can use a lighter bar if available.
The box squat will also allow you to slowly improve your depth. If you start with a high bod, you can progressively get deeper over time.
High Bar Squats
On a high bar squat, you place the barbell on your traps. This is the more commonly used variation of the barbell squat. Some people also refer to these as Olympic squats.
Low Bar Squats
On Low bar squats, the bar rests a bit lower on your rear delts. Most people can use more weight on low bar squats because of better leverage. These are also popularly known as Powerlifting squats because powerlifters want to squat the most weight possible. This requires the most efficient use of leverages.
High Bar vs Low Bar Squats
High Bar and Low Bar refer to the bar position on the back.
On a High Bar Squat, the bar rests on the top of the taps and below the neck. This is a stable shelf for the bar to rest.
On a Low-Bar Squat, the Bar rests a bit lower, on the rear delts.
Both types of squats have their benefits.
A High Bar Squat is how most people squat and is easier to learn for most people. A High Bar Squat focuses more quad-dominant.
A Low-Bar Squat allows you to use more weight because of more favorable leverages. For this reason, most powerlifters use the Low Bar Squat. The Low bar squat is slightly less quad dominant but uses more of your posterior chain, including the back, hips and hamstring.
High Bar vs Low Bar Squats: Which one is best for you?
Both are great variations of the barbell squat. You can definitely use both variations to get the best of both worlds.
If your goal is to lift the most weight possible, you may do better with a low bar squat.
If you’re training for general strength and fitness, a high bar squat may be easier to learn.
A post shared by Anand (@underdog.strength) on Nov 18, 2017 at 8:35am PST
Other Squat variations
- Single Leg Squats /Bulgarian Split Squats
- Zercher Squats
- Belt Squats
- Hack Squats
- Machine Hack Squats
- Safety Bar Squats
Proper Squat Technique
Performing a squat with proper form has 3 components
- Squat Depth – Range of Motion
Biomechanics simply refers to the ways our bodies are designed to move. This simply means that even though our individual leverages are slightly different, certain rules still apply.
Regardless of your body type and squat style, the 1 rule that applies to all squats is that the weight, in this case the barbell has to be balanced. This balance is both, left to right and front to back.
Most people understand the right to left balance. Basically, you should be applying force evenly with both feet. There will always be a slight imbalance for most people but as long as we can minimize it, it’s should be fine.
Where most beginners struggle is with front to back balance. It is important to keep the barbell balanced over the midfoot area, which is your center of balance. If the weight shifts too far forward or backward, you could lose your balance and fall. Even if you don’t fall, it will unnecessarily make the movement harder.
Many beginners worry about the safety of performing the barbell squat. While everything has a risk to reward ratio, squats are generally safe if you perform them correctly.
There are many myths out there about squats being bad for the back or the knees. If you are healthy, this should only be an issue if you’re not squatting correctly A proper squat is not only safe but it can actually make your muscles and joints stronger and more resilient to injuries. To perform the squat safely, you should stay tight throughout the movement. This means that all the primary and secondary muscles have to work together at the same time.
For a squat to be considered as a Deep Squat, it usually means that you squat below parallel. Squatting below parallel simply refers to the angle of the femur (thigh) bone. When the femur is parallel to the floor the knees and the hips are at roughly the same height. In order to ‘break’ parallel, the hip joint has to be lower than the knee.
Squat depth is important because most beginners often struggle with hitting depth. As a result, if you go to most gyms, you will rarely see people squatting deep enough. You may have seen people lifting heavy weights while doing half or quarter reps. This is probably dangerous because it allows you to lift a lot more weight than you should and when you do half or quarter squats, you end up putting more stress on the knees.
On the other hand, performing deep squats distributes the load between your knees, hips and other smaller muscles. The increased range of motion is also more effective for building muscle and strength overall.
The squat, just like all major strength training exercises is a skill that is learned through repetition. A person’s ability to squat deep depends on their mobility, stability, balance and movement patterns.
If you take a sedentary person, they may not be able to squat deep because they usually lack the mobility required to squat deep and they may not be able to maintain their stability and balance in that range of motion. This is simply because their body is not used to those movement patterns.
On the other hand, if you take a physically active person, they may be able to learn squats relatively quickly.
If you’re having trouble with squatting deep, start with box squats. This will remove the fear of falling. Simply use a solid, stable box on which you can sit on. Start with a relatively high box and try to lower the height of the box over time until you can squat deep enough.
How To Squat Properly: Individual Differences
2 people can have proper squat technique but their squats may quite different. For example, a person with shorter legs will squat differently than a person with longer legs. I wrote a detailed article (with video) on this topic.
Check out the complete article: How To Squat Deeper with Long Femurs
Check out the interactive model at www.athleticdesign.se
Want more tips to learn you how to squat properly? Check out How to Squat: Top 5 Tips for Proper Squat Form
The Deep Squat: Great for Movement (But Not Necessarily Lifting)
The ATG fans are right about one thing: Being able to execute a full deep squat is a good thing. Doing the move requires a full range of motion at all four of the body’s major load-bearing joints (the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders) and proper mobility throughout the spine. Those joints, your muscles, and your brain all have to work together to achieve this position:
That demonstration comes from Georges Dagher, C.S.C.S, a chiropractor and strength coach based in Toronto. He likens the deep squat to brushing your teeth. “From my perspective, the deep squat movement is a toothbrush for our joints, ensuring they are all moving without any sticky or restricted areas,” Dagher writes in the Journal of Evolution and Health. Just as you brush your teeth every day, Dagher suggests performing at least one bodyweight squat per day, as deep as you can.
If you look at the photo above and think “no way,” don’t stress. Lots of people have strength or mobility issues that can make achieving a deep squat challenging—at least at first. The good news? By simply working on your deep bodyweight squat form, going as deep as you can with control and holding as long as you feel reasonably comfortable, you’ll help address and improve those issues.
“The positions we place our bodies in will have an effect on various elements such as muscles, which can improve our comfort in the squat,” Dagher says.
You can also get more comfortable by adjusting your stance. Somerset explains that the standard squatting position— “stand with your feet shoulder-width apart…” —doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s more of a general recommendation or an average, he says, not a hard-and-fast rule.
To help his clients reach a deeper, pain-free squat, Somerset has them experiment with different stances until they find one that feels right.
“Think of it like going to the optometrist, when they put the lens in front of your eyes and ask which one is better,” Somerset says. “There’s no one standard prescription. It’s about finding the right one for you.”
Here are the two main elements Somerset asks clients to adjust when they dial in their stances for ideal squat form:
- Direction of your toes: Try them pointing straight ahead first. Let’s call that 12 o’clock. Squat as deep as you can. Now turn your feet outward slightly – think left foot pointing at 11 o’clock, right foot pointing at 1. Try the deep squat again. Now angle them even farther outward, to 10 and 2. Squat again. Notice which position feels the most natural and allows you to sink the deepest.
- Width of your feet: Start with them set shoulder-width apart. Then, gradually try wider distances, giving each the bodyweight squat test and noticing which feels the most natural. One thing to note: The wider your stance is, the more the exercise will emphasize your glutes (the muscles in your butt), and the less work it’ll put on the quads (muscles of your upper leg around the knee).
Here’s more good news: Even if your range of motion is limited, you probably squat more throughout the day than you think. “Most of us can squat to at least a 90-degree angle,” says Dagher. “We do that every day, every time we climb into our car or get up from a chair.”
Each of those moments is an opportunity to practice lowering yourself into a 90-degree squat with control. Think of them as box squats you do throughout the day; don’t just plop onto the cushion, says Dagher. Doing this throughout the day can shore up your stability and make you a better squatter in the future.
Please keep in mind that in this blog post I’m talking about a powerlifting squat technique.
First let’s take a look at the squat as a movement and the biomechanics involved.
This is important because this will give you a solid understanding of the “why’s and how’s” in the answers to all these questions.
The squat consists out of 2 parts:
1. The eccentric phaseAlso known as the lowering phase. This part of the movement is a combination of knee and hip flexion.
The most important muscles involved while lowering during squats are the iliopsoas and quadriceps. The inner hip muscles are the primary muscles that allow you to lift the upper leg towards the body.
Which is exactly what is happening when you are squatting at good depth.
2. The concentric phaseAKA Standing back up again. This is a combination of knee and hip extension.
Knee extension is done by your quadriceps while hip extension is done by 3 different muscle groups. Your glutes, hamstrings and adductors.
These 3 muscle groups have more potential to move heavy weights than than just your quadriceps.
Maybe that’s how Ronnie Coleman came up with “heavy ass weights”. Who knows?
Anyway, as you can see it makes more sense to use your hip extensors as much as possible when coming out the hole.
Remember this. We’ll be talking about this more later in this blog post.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Grabbing the bar is the first thing you do when you are going to squat. Some lifters grab at the collars while others grab it as close to their shoulders as possible.
What is the best way? How Wide Should You Grab The Bar?
Before I say anything about this, I want you to do a little experiment. Stand up and put your feet in your squat stance width. Point your feet straight ahead or t turn your feet out for no more than 15 degrees.
Now “screw” your feet into the ground while pushing against the floor. Imagine your legs working like a corkscrew.
Now do this again with your feet pointing out 45 degrees and 90 degrees.
You will notice that the more your feet are turned out, the less you can squeeze your glutes.
As you know by now, the glutes are very important for squatting big weights. So less tension in the glutes can’t good.
Another experiment for you to try is to criss cross a mini or monster mini band across your knees and assume a bottom squat position. You will notice it’s easier to produce force against the band when your feet are point straight ahead.
You will also be more stable in the bottom position of the squat.
Ok, one more exercise: crisscross a band across your knees again and do a crab walk. Step side ways.
Try and tell me your feet weren’t pointing straight forward.
Keeping your feet straight enables you to put more tension in the right muscles for squatting. Which is good.
It’s true that keeping your feet straight makes it harder to reach proper depth. This is because you are putting your hip extensors and hip flexor in a very strong position for flexion.
If you are an experienced lifter and are squatting with your feet turned out then you are leaving pounds on the platform.
But like with squat stance width. Keeping your feet straight doesn’t mean jack if you can’t hit proper depth.
Just to be clear. When I mention your feet pointing straight ahead, I don’t mean as straight as a line pointing forward.
I actually mean that your feet are pointing anywhere from 0 degrees to max 15 degrees to the outside. This is natural and normal.
Right. So far we covered:
- Squat hand position
- Low bar or high bar
- Squat stance width
- Squat foot position
This last thing to discuss is a favorite amongst women. It’s shoes!