How To Squat

How To Squat

From excellent postings section at AskScooby Forum by user Nicky

The Squat


1. Quick Introduction
2. Description of the back squat and weaknesses
3. Depth, stances and bar position
4. Common mistakes
5. Equipment
6. Squat variations

1. Quick Introduction

The squat, an exercise known for such a long time and probably the most famous of them all.

You may wonder why it’s so famous but that’s really a no-brainer, it’s because it’s one of the most effective exercise that one can do. Whether it’s for strength, coordination, cardio or hypertrophy and even rehabilitation, the squat is one of the most important tools in your tool box. The vast majority of the most successful world athletes swear by the name of the squat, it’s an exercise that every healthy Human on this planet should do.
Why you ask? Besides the arguments I gave you above I’ll add the following:
– Hormonal booster[1]
– Burns insane amount of calories[2]
– Works on the largest groups of muscles in your body, not to mention that legs are half of your body[1&3]
– Prevent osteoporosis for women[3]
– Gets you a strong and functional core[4]

We’ll talk about one of the most important exercise that exists in the sports world so tighten up your seatbelts and enjoy the ride!

(Rush of adrenaline you say? The squats will give you more than you can handle)

2. Description of the back squat

What is a squat? It’s a natural movement that even babies do

(Ain’t that cute?!)

To do back squats, you need a rack, end of the question.
I don’t want to hear anyone doing back squats using some weird methods, that’s just irresponsible and asking for serious injuries.
If you don’t have a rack, we’ll talk later about the different variations.

That being cleared I’d like to answer another frequently asked question:
In which circumstances a person cannot do squats?

Only if your knees wereseriouslydamaged. How serious? I’m talking about torn ligaments, busted patella into smithereens, compound fractures, etc.
In some cases, squats could be used as a rehabilitation exercise but that depends on the type of injury one had.
What about lower back problems?
I honestly don’t think there’s an injury that serious so that it won’t allow you to squat – except rare cases.
Let’s not forget that squatting can strengthen the surrounding muscles (aka erector spinae), a lot of people reported that their lower back problems went away after including squats in their routine.

Okay so the bar is racked and waits for you, what to do?

Step 1.Unrack the bar
Get under the bar and perform a ¼ squat with the bar on your traps to lock it up. Yes, on your traps and NOT your neck/spine – unless you’re a masochist and enjoy pain.

Step 2.After unracking the bar
Always step back and not forward!
Why? Imagine yourself after a heavy and exhausting set having to walk BACKWARDS to rack it. See what I did there? Good, so always step backwards after you unrack it.

Step 3.Squat!

So let’s see how it’s done:

–      Look forward!
–      Your shoulder-blades are squeezed together for a tight upper back
–      Wrists are straight with a thumb-less grip, your back is supposed to support the weight not your wrists, keep them in line with your forearms
–      Push your elbows backwards and don’t let them come forward
–      The chest is up during all the movement, never let your chest down
–      Never round your lower back and keep a certain arch
–      Toes pointing at 30° and knees following them on the way down. On the way up, do not let your knees buckle in, Keep them out!
–      Sit back! (You initiate the movement with your hips and your knees simultaneously, people tend to lean forward because they forgot the hips)
–      Push through your heels on the way up – if you have some problems with that, just curl your toes up. Do not let your heels coming off the ground!

WARNING: Neglecting those above may result in permanent injuries.  


There are multiple weaknesses that a trainee can encounter, the first being flexibility. What do to in that case? Except stretches, you don’t want to try other weird methods, your flexibility will increase with time thanks to stretches and deep squatting (or as deep as you can – we’ll talk about depth in a bit).

What other weaknesses can you encounter? Let’s say that you can squat down but are unable to go back up, who’s fault is it? The answer is quite simple, it means that your quadriceps are too strong compared to your posterior chain (especially hamstrings and glutes). Alright so we spotted the problem, now what to do? Strengthen them! Here are some exercises that can aid you:
– Glute Ham Raises
– Romanian Deadlifts / Stiff legged Deadlift (please, don’t mix up the 2, they are 2 different exercises)
– Pelvic tilt
– Reverse hyperextensions

What if you can’t squat down even though your form is good? That, my friend, is because you’re not strong enough. Work your way up young grass hoper!

Now that we cleared that, what about the foot stance stances and depth? What’s the position of the bar on your traps?

3. Depth, stances and bar position

3.1 Depth

Does squatting high have the same effects that squatting low? Of course not.

If you care about your knees you will go below 90° no matter what stance you use. The tension on your patella is at it’s greatest when you squat high, you want all that tension to be transferred to your glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors. You’ll achieve that by doing deep squats.

What about at parallel level? Is it deep enough?
Some will say it’s bad, others will say it’s good – just like for egg yolks.
Personally, I always want to break parallel but obviously some reps will go a little higher thus hitting parallel – it didn’t kill me so far but I always consider them ½ rep.

Even though I may fail some reps, the general rule of thumb is: the lower you go, the better it is for your knees.

But what about quads hypertrophy?
If you’re looking for big quads, hitting parallel or going below doesn’t influence anything, the foot stance is what matters. We’ll talk about it right away!
The depth below parallel is there so that we can keep our knees healthy and activate the posterior chain at it’s maximum.
Even if there are a lot of trainees who always do parallel squats and get away without any knee issues, I for one don’t want to gamble with my knees.

3.2 Stances and bar position

The narrower your stance is, the more you emphasize your quadriceps – the wider it is, the more your adductors, hamstrings and back (in other words, the posteior chain) will get hammered.

(From the back you’d see the hamstrings getting from orange to red as you widden your stance)

The stances goes hand in hand with the position of the bar.

1) Usually, those with narrow to middle (narrower than shoulder-width) stance will have the bar higher on their traps to have more depth thus going ATG* –That’s an Olympic squat aka high bar squat.

*Ass-to-grass for those who don’t know.

(Damn, I’m mirin’)

Here we can clearly see the position of the bar being high on his traps as well as the narrow stance.

2) Those whom stance goes from middle (at shoulder-width) to ultra wide usually have the bar lower on their traps to engage more hip drive –That’s a Power Squat aka low bar squat

(Yep, mirin’ as well)

Notice the lower bar on her traps and her wide stance
On a side note: look at how the knees follow the toes, that’s exactly what a squat should be like.

To learn/get used to Power Squats faster, box squats are what you’re looking for.
How to do a box squat? That’s easy, you just need a stool that you can sit on (careful at choosing one that allows you to break parellel)

(Yes, even girls squat so you definitely should do it too)

Going ATG when doing a Power Squat?
Well if our body could easily handle it I wouldn’t mind but the problem is that our anatomy doesn’t let us achieve that – There are some exceptions but you need to have freaky flexibility in that case.
That’s because when you do a Power Squat, your torso is leaning forward and creates a certain hip-to-torso angle – Going lower than your natural limits allows is asking for trouble.

I won’t go into maths but watch the 3 different angles, those are the angles that you should reproduce before calling it a FULL power squat – everything above isn’t a full rep, end of the story.

So why high bar ATG squats are fine? Hmmm let’s see:

Look at the back angles of every picture: as the angle lowers you’ll find it harder and harder to hit ATG – It’s only natural, you’ll lose stability.
When doing high bar squats, that angle is still pretty high (45°ish compared power squat’s 30°ish) and allows you to go deeper while remaining stable.

Let me give you some programs that are sure to put you on the good track if you’re looking for strength – We’ll be going from novice* to intermediate** and finally to experienced***

1- Starting Strength*
2- Stronglifts 5×5*
3- Texas Method**
4- Bill Starr 5×5**
5- 20 rep squat**
6- Glenn Pendlay 5×5***
7- Westside Barbell***
8- Korte 3×3***
9- Smolov ***

(Look at her!! Even at her age, she still power squats – There are no excuses for not squatting except serious knee issues!!)

3.3 Hip drive

Hip drive? What in the world is that?
Well hip drive is really important for those who do Power squats because it lets you use your posterior chain thus giving you more power.
I’ll let our friend Rippetoe to do the talking:

Mark Rippetoe: Fixing the Squat: Hip Drive

The hip drive can be used when doing Olympic squats as well but it’s not near effective as when doing Power squats.

So Power squats or Olympic squats, which one to do?

Well it depends on your goals.
What is it that you want? Strength or leg hypertrophy?
The Olympic squats are more effective when it comes at hypertrophy just like Power squats are more effective for developing strength.

But why limiting yourself? Do both!

4. Common mistakes & consequences

1) The upper back tightness is non-existent
->You’ll lose power while sacrificing the form.
2) Not arching one’s lower back
->You’ll end up rounding your lower back.
3) Let the knees buckle in on the way up
->You’ll lose glute activation (thus losing power) and you risk to damage your knees
4) Not sitting back
->Your heels will end up coming off the ground.
5) Butt wink: You go too fast on the way down and it may be a flexibility issue (Control the rep on the weight down, don’t fall like a rock – if the the problem still persists, increase your flexibility)
->Puts your back in danger

Conclusion: Learning to squat with bad form can wipe out one’s career in the long run, so please do yourself a favour and get the form down before going heavy.
You may want to start squatting with the empty bar and use the progressive overload concept.

5. Equipment

1) Shoes

You definitely want shoes with flat soles so you won’t lose power – barefoot is also great if your gym allows it!

2) Belt
To use it or not to use it?
If you’re a beginner, I definitely encourage you to get rid of the belt and strengthen your core the natural way.

On the other hand if you’re experienced, never attempt PRs without one – you never know what can happen.
But isn’t it cheating? I get this question all the time!
NO, it’s not cheating, it’s for SECURITY, your PR won’t miraculously be 50lbs heavier (maybe a few pounds though).
What about when training?
Use it on your heavy sets only.

3) Knee wraps/sleeves

I can the say the same thing about knee wraps as well if you’re a beginner, ditch them.
What about experienced lifters?
Well I’d use it on heavy sets + PRs as well, don’t really care about what the others say, keeping that synovial liquid warm wouldn’t hurt at all – especially for the seniors.

Platform: Knee Wraps

4) Squat suit
Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter, forget about it.

6. Squat variations

So let’s say you don’t have a rack, can this stop you from squatting? Not a chance, here’s what Ruben thinks about it:

It’s just that back squats are out of the question but there are lots of variation you can do, some of them are really tough, even harder than back squats – Talking about zercher squats and even over head squats.

The front squat is also a nice variation that is really effective when it comes at developing those quads without hammering your lower back (and it will have less spinal compression due to the position of the bar)
It’ll even allow you to go ATG without any problem thus increasing your flexibility.
Personally, I use them for hypertrophy while using back squats for power.

Okay okay, I’ll stop praising those front squats and let you read that article in peaceTongue


I’ll conclude this article by posting the “So you think you can squat” series produced by EliteFitnessSystems: So You Think You Can Squat Part 1 So You Think You Can Squat Part 2 So You Think You Can Squat Part 3
So You Think You Can Squat Part 4
So You Think You Can Squat Part 5

Done reading? What are you waiting for then? GO SQUAT!

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