Barbell Squat

The squats are one of the most important movements out there both for beginners and especially experienced trainers. The squats sometimes referred to as "the king of exercises", and for a good reason. It is a compound movement that strengthens your whole body, it works more and bigger muscles with heavier weight and a larger range of motion. All resulting in a greater release of anabolic muscle building hormones, leading to rapid muscle gains.

The main muscles targeted by the squats are the quadriceps and the glutes. But this exercise really work your whole body. Your legs work to lift your body up. The hamstrings and adductors assist the quads. The calves help to stabilize your body. The lower back and abs keep your spine neutral and safe under the weight of the bar, and the arms, shoulders and upper back work together to balance the bar on your back.

The squats will also help you burn fat by working many big muscles at once, it will strengthen the joints and bones, improve balance and flexibility, and increase overall fitness.

The squat can also be done as a bodyweight exercise. The squats are perfectly safe when done right, but it is easy to hurt your lower back and knees if you have bad form or technique. Make sure to master the squats with bodyweight and with a lighter bar first, and only then progress to using heavier weights.

By doing the squats right, you will actually strengthen the muscles that hold you spine and knee joint, making them less susceptible to injury during daily life and other athletic activities.

Exercise Video

How to do

  1. Load a barbell with the proper weight on a rack about mid-chest height. Place the barbell at your back and hold it with an overhand grip (palm facing down), make sure to hold the barbell on your back and shoulder muscles and not the neck.
  2. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold your shoulders down and back.
  3. Bend your knees and bring your hips down and back. Make sure to keep the knees from crossing the toes. Hold the chest and shoulders upright and the back straight.
  4. Lower your hips until they are at least on the same level as your knees, and the thighs are parallel to the floor. It is recommended to go a little lower than parallel if possible.
  5. Pause for a moment, then return to the starting position.

  6. You can go lower than parallel, just watch your knees. Going lower than knee height, also known as full squat, has many benefits. It will engage more muscle groups, especially the glutes and hamstrings that doesn't worked much with the quad-dominant partial squats, making this exercise much more effective. The full squat is a natural and safe movement as long as you do them correctly. But it might put a lot of stress on your knees and back if your form is wrong. Try to go as low as you can while still keeping a good form, and watch out for knee and back pains. Don't go lower if you feel pain in your joints.

    Use a weight you can handle. With the squats it is much more important to keep a good form than being able to lift more weight. Having a bad technique will result in a high risk for knee and lower back injury that might prevent you from being able to exercise for a long time. Make sure you have the proper form for the whole time. If your back begins to round, or knees drift in, use a lighter weight.

    Avoid training to failure. You don't want to get stuck under the bar during squats, this is very dangerous. Start another rep only if you're sure you can finish it with a good form. If you're new to this exercise, start with a very light weight, and have a spotter to assist you. In case you still want to train to failure, or not sure in your ability to squat safely, use a power rack to keep the bar from dropping too low. Squatting in the smith machine isn't recommended, it doesn't let you move the weight freely, and also requires you to rotate the bar to lock it of you fail, which is quite difficult to perform.

    Form Tips

    Push your hips back and don't let your knees pass your toes. A common mistake is to squat straight down, instead of pushing the hips back into a hip hinge pattern. This type of squat limits your mobility and puts the majority of the pressure on your quads and knees, neglecting the bigger hip muscles. Keep your hips back like you are sitting on a chair and knees out to the sides. Your knees should be over your toes at the bottom position, but its important not to pass the toes.

    Keep your back in a neutral position and hold your chest up. Don't round your back, this might potentially cause disc bulges, especially if you’re behind a desk all day. Don't curve the lower back too much either, overarching can damage the small stabilizing joints in your spinal column. Hold your core and abs tight to keep the back straight throughout the entire range of motion.

    The bar should be held over your mid-foot. Don’t let it move over your forefoot or it will pull you forward and out of balance. This will help you keep your back in a neutral position.

    Squeeze the glutes as you go up. By squeezing your butt you will activate the powerful glute muscles. This will not only allow you to squat more weight, but will also keep your knees safe by making most of the pressure go to your hips.

    Keep the knees out to the sides. Keep the knees from drifting inward, and don't squat with knees facing forward, but a little to the sides. Knees drifting in will decrease your strength and increase your risk of joint pain and injury. The knees should be facing a little to the sides as you go down. Turn your toes a little out to the sides (20-30 degrees) and retain the knees in the same direction.

    Push through the heels and keep the feet flat on the floor. No lifting your toes. The weight distribution will help keep the torso upright throughout the entire movement rather than causing you to teeter forward. It will also help keep the hips back and down.

    Look at the floor infront of you. Where you look influences the position of your head and neck - and ultimately the rest of your body. Find a spot on the floor about 10 feet in front of you. Gaze at this point for the entire duration of your set.

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