The barbell squat is a controversial exercise. Ask a trainer about his favorite lift, and he might tell you it is the squat. Question them about their least favorite exercise, the exercise they hate doing the most, and they might still reply with the squat.
The barbell squat is the king of all exercises and has stood the test of time. The squat is a compound (multi-joint) exercise and focuses on the quads and glutes. It also trains the hamstrings and calves as secondary movers. The core muscles also benefit from the barbell squat since they help stabilize the weight.
Although the squat has several benefits, it is one of the most challenging exercises. Most lifters have a pre-squat routine to psyche themselves for their workout. It is common for exercisers to feel completely exhausted after a few sets of squats at the beginning of their workout, and they end up dragging their feet through the rest of the training session.
The great thing about the squat is that it can be easily taught and is extremely effective for building big, strong legs and an iron will. You must perform this exercise with the correct form to maximize your results and reduce the risk of injury.
In this article, we go over the barbell squat in detail, including its benefits, perfect form, squatting cues, safety tips, progression plans, most common mistakes, and how to program it into your workouts. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, this article has something for you. So, sit tight and be a sponge.
- What is a Barbell Squat?
- How To Do Barbell Squat
- Different Barbell Positions in a Barbell Squat — Low Bar vs. High Bar Squat
- Choosing The Right Barbell Squat Setup For Your Body
- How To Warm Up For a Barbell Squat
- Muscles Worked During Barbell Squat
- Benefits of Barbell Squat
- Unracking and Walking Back During the Barbell Squat
- Bar Path During the Barbell Squat
- Barbell Squat Rep Tempo
- Fear of the Squat & Getting Out of the Hole
- Barbell Squat Sticking Point and Lock Out
- What To Do Between Squat Reps
- Finding the Correct Foot Placement
- Don’t Forget About Your Hands
- Check Your Elbows
- The Knees Over Toes Debate
- Best Squat Cues
- Correct Footwear For Squat
- The Most Important Aspect of Squat Progression
- Barbell Squat Safety Tips
- When To Get a Spotter?
- Most Common Pains Associated With Barbell Squat
- Common Mistakes While Performing Barbell Squat
- Equipped vs. Raw Barbell Squat
- Who Should Do the Barbell Squat?
- Who Should Avoid the Barbell Squat
- Barbell Squat Equipment
- How To Program Barbell Squat Into Your Workout
- How Often Should You Squat?
- How Heavy Should You Squat?
- Best Barbell Squat Progression Plan
- Popular Barbell Squat Programs
- Variations of Barbell Squat
- Alternatives of Barbell Squat
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Wrapping Up
What is a Barbell Squat?
The barbell squat is one of the three lifts in powerlifting; the other two are the deadlift and bench press. It is an incredibly effective exercise for building strength and muscle mass and improving overall functionality.
You can program this versatile exercise into your workout depending on your training objective. Furthermore, it has numerous variations suitable for people of different experience levels.
The conventional barbell back squat has a steep learning curve. It might take you a few weeks to master the movement mechanics. However, squatting with the perfect form will become second nature once you’ve drilled the movement.
A barbell squat involves placing a barbell on your shoulders and then lowering by bending your knees until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor. Although it might sound easy, performing a squat can be complex, as many variables are involved.
The squat is a heavy-duty exercise that can be taxing and exhausting when included in a high-volume and intensity training program. It is the reason many people substitute the squat with less-intensive movements, such as leg extension and leg press. Although these are effective exercises, they don’t provide the same full-body stimulation as the barbell back squat.
Your barbell back squat form will change slightly based on your training objective. For example, powerlifters place the bar lower on their back, compared to bodybuilders, who use a high bar position to target their quads and glutes.
Some people cannot do the barbell squat because of mobility issues or injuries. People with health issues must seek medical clearance before starting an exercise regimen.
The barbell squat has many variations (hack squat, goblet squat, and the Smith machine squat), which are great options for people that cannot perform the conventional barbell squat.
How To Do Barbell Squat
Performing the barbell squat with the correct form is crucial for maximizing results and minimizing the risk of injury. However, you have a critical decision to make before you unrack the bar. Will you do a high bar or low bar squat?
Powerlifters focus on lifting heavier and prefer resting the bar across their upper back and shoulders. In contrast, bodybuilders prioritize muscle hypertrophy and place the bar on top of their traps, which helps them focus on their quads and glutes.
For the sake of this demonstration, we will stick to the bodybuilding-style high-bar squat. Here is how to do a barbell squat with a picture-perfect form:
Step 1: Set-Up
The bar position in the squat rack is one of the most overlooked aspects of barbell squats. You must place the bar slightly below your shoulder height in the rack. The bar should be at a height so that you have to do minimal work to unrack it.
Pro Tip: Placing the bar too high will require you to get on your toes to unrack the bar, which can increase your risk of injury while lifting heavy. Conversely, setting the bar too low will require you to perform a partial squat to unrack it, leading to energy loss even before you begin your set.
Step 2: Get Under the Bar
Ensure that the center of the barbell, which could be marked by knurling or an empty space between knurling, should be in the middle of the J hooks. Step under the bar and position it across the top of your shoulders. Stand with a hip-width stance and grab the bar at a comfortable position.
Your knees should be slightly bent at this position, and your hips behind the bar. Brace your core, squeeze your butt, and unrack the bar by extending your knees and hips.
Pro Tip: Avoid using a staggered stance to unrack the bar. Keeping your feet and hips under the bar allows you to lift heavier and reduces the risk of lower back sprains.
Step 3: Walk Back
After unracking the bar, take a step back so that you are clear of the rack. Get into a hip with stance. Readjust your feet and get into a comfortable position. Most lifters find turning out their toes 30 degrees to be the most optimal for squatting.
Take a deep breath and brace your core. Notice your torso position; be mindful of this position, as this should be your upper body stance throughout the exercise. Keep your head, neck, and upper body neutral. This will be your starting position.
Pro Tip: Avoid taking three or four steps back to get into position. You should get into position with a maximum of two steps. Limiting the number of steps you take will improve your stability. Plus, walking with a heavy bar on your back puts your spine in a vulnerable position.
Step 4: Squat!
Begin descending by bending your knees and pushing your hips back and down until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor. People doing the squat as an accessory lift in their Olympic weightlifting program should go as deep as possible — ass to the grass.
Although you are supposed to drive your hips back and down, avoid over-relying on this method, and instead, think about opening your knees and sitting between them. This is especially important for lifters doing high bar squats. Also, you must keep your chest proud, and shoulders pulled back and down throughout the range of motion.
Pro Tip: Avoid looking up, as it can lead to neck sprains. Keep your neck neutral throughout the range of motion. Beginners should perform the barbell squat with a spotter or with safety pins.
Step 5: Explode Back Up
Avoid spending too long in the ‘hole’ unless you are doing pause squats. Get ready to push off the floor as soon as you hit the bottom of the squat.
Drive through your whole foot and reverse the motion to stand up straight while breathing out sharply. Avoid pushing your hips back and lowering your torso during the concentric motion.
Pro Tip: Take a deep breath and push your gut against the weightlifting belt before starting the next rep. Do this with every rep to maximize force production.
Barbell Squat Tips
- Focus on your form while performing the squat. If you feel a strain on your lower back during the exercise, you are bending too much while lifting the weight.
- Do a couple of body weight squat sets to warm up before starting your working sets. After that, pyramid up to your working sets. This reduces your risk of injury.
- Whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, you should always have a spotter while attempting a one-rep max.
- Recreational lifters shouldn’t pledge their allegiance to a single squat variation. Alternate between the high bar and low bar squats to add variety to your training regimen and train your lower body from different angles.
- Use lifting accessories, such as a weightlifting belt, knee sleeves or wraps, and wrist wraps to improve your squatting performance.
In This Exercise
- Target Muscle Group: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Back
- Type: Strength
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Barbell
- Difficulty: Beginner
- Best Rep Range:
- Hypertrophy: 8-12
- Strength: 1-5
Different Barbell Positions in a Barbell Squat — Low Bar vs. High Bar Squat
You can use two barbell positions while squatting — low and high. Here is a brief on the two squat positions:
High Bar Squat
The high bar squat involves placing the barbell on top of your shoulders. You create a ‘shelf’ for the bar by squeezing your shoulder blades together. This bar placement also allows you to remain upright throughout the range of motion and helps you achieve a greater depth.
This bar position is perfect for Olympic weightlifters who use the squat as an accessory lift to improve their snatch and clean and jerk performance. On the other hand, this is an excellent setup for bodybuilders that want to maximize their glute, quad, and hamstring muscle fiber stimulation.
Low Bar Squat
This squat setup involves placing the barbell between your traps and rear deltoids. Since the bar is racked lower on your back, your hips will shoot back during the eccentric motion, and your torso will lean forward to keep the barbell moving over your mid-foot.
Since the distance between the bar and hips is relatively less on the low bar squat, it is preferred by powerlifters that use this leverage to lift as heavy as possible. Furthermore, your range of motion will also be relatively limited on the low bar squat, which allows for a better load distribution for heavier lifts.
Choosing The Right Barbell Squat Setup For Your Body
Selecting the right barbell squat setup depends on multiple factors, including:
Your height, weight, flexibility, and limb length can help determine your go-to squat setup. Taller people with longer limbs usually prefer the low bar setup as it reduces the distance the bar travels. Conversely, shorter athletes tend to choose the high bar as it better suits their biomechanics.
That said, some tall lifters prefer the high bar squatting setup as they find it more natural. You must choose a setup that minimizes friction and does not make you dread the exercise. Each setup has its pros and cons, and you must choose the one that works the best for you.
Your Training Objective
Your training goal can be a significant factor in choosing your squat setup. Olympic weightlifters must use the high bar set up and keep their torsos perpendicular to the floor throughout the range of motion. This setup will help improve their performance on the snatch and clean and jerk.
Conversely, powerlifters usually prefer the low bar setup as it reduces the distance the bar travels, allowing them to lift heavier weights.
Bodybuilders usually have it the best when choosing the barbell position. Bodybuilders prioritizing muscle gains can choose between the high bar or low-bar squats. However, they must perform 8-12 reps on the exercise to bias hypertrophy. On the other hand, lifting 80-100% of your one-rep max for 1-5 reps per set can help improve your strength gains. 
Notably, both squat setups come with a learning curve, and you must spend a considerable time mastering the moving pattern before you start lifting heavy on them. You’ll be leaving gains on the table by going too heavy too soon, and it will significantly increase your risk of injury.
How To Warm Up For a Barbell Squat
Warming up before a workout can improve your performance by pushing blood into the target muscles, improving your range of motion, and helping you establish a mind-muscle connection. It also significantly limits your risk of injury.
You should spend 5-10 minutes doing a mix of static and dynamic stretches to warm up for your workout. Performing scaled-down squats is also an excellent way to loosen up for your training session.
Best Stretches For Barbell Squat
Here are a few stretches to help you warm up for the barbell squat:
- Child pose
- Pigeon stretch
- Squat hold
- Standing quad stretch
- Kneeling quad stretch
Muscles Worked During Barbell Squat
The squat engages the following muscle groups:
The glutes are the biggest and strongest muscle group in the body. Squats primarily target the glutes and quadriceps. However, you must ensure a full range of motion to target your lower body optimally.
The glutes consist of three muscles — gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus — and the barbell squat targets all of them. Your glutes help control the eccentric (downward) motion. They also help you power out of the hole.
Squats are arguably the most effective exercise for building the glutes. Controlling and tweaking your rep tempo (eccentric and concentric) can help ignite new muscle tissue growth. You can tweak your glute and quad engagement using lifting accessories like a resistance band and squat wedge.
The quadriceps are a group of four muscles (vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris) at the front of your upper thigh. Squats can help build overall size in your quads.
You can target your quads from different angles by changing your foot placement. A wide stance will target the vastus lateralis and adductors. In contrast, a narrow foot placement will target the rectus femoris and vastus medialis, helping improve the appearance of your quad sweep. A hip-width stance improves your overall quad size and strength.
Stronger quads can improve your overall functionality and reduce your risk of injury. You must focus on contracting your quads throughout the range of motion for optimal muscle fiber recruitment and results.
The semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris make up the hamstrings. The hamstrings play a supporting role in the squat. They assist the hips during the eccentric motion and support the glutes during the concentrics.
The hamstrings are engaged to a greater degree during the low bar squat, which requires you to maintain a slightly bent-over position. You must, however, remember that bending forward too much during the squat can put your lower back in a delicate position, increasing your risk of injury. Find the sweet spot where your glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings do most of the work.
Squat variations that involve a wider-than-hip-width stance, such as the sumo squat, lead to greater hamstrings engagement. That said, wider squats require better lower body mobility than the conventional barbell squat.
The spinal erectors are the lower back muscles. These muscles lie on each side of the vertebral column and extend alongside the spine’s lumbar, thoracic, and cervical sections. They help maintain an upright torso during the barbell squat.
The erector spinae helps you maintain an upright stance during the squat for optimal quad and glute engagement. However, leaning forward excessively during the squat will stress the erector spinae unnecessarily, increasing your risk of injury. Your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings can handle much more weight than the erector spinae.
People that want minimum lower back engagement during their squat should opt for the high bar variation. Furthermore, the front squat is a great squat variation to restrict lower back engagement.
Contrary to what most people think, the core is not limited to your abs. The erector spinae, rectus abdominis, obliques, quadratus lumborum, transversus abdominis, multifidi, and pelvic floor muscles collectively form the core.
You must keep your core engaged throughout the squat for optimal force generation. It will also help you maintain your balance. Besides improving your squat performance, keeping your midline braced while squatting will boost your core strength.
High bar back squats are more effective at recruiting your core muscles, as you must keep your torso upright. Wearing a weightlifting belt and pushing against it will help you generate thoracic power and reduce your risk of lower back strain.
Those who say the barbell squat doesn’t work the lower legs clearly haven’t done this exercise for higher volume. Perform north of 20 reps on the barbell squat, and you will feel an intense pump in your calves.
Your calves comprise two muscles — the gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles play a stabilizing role during the squat. Squats involve dorsiflexion as you lower into a squat and your shins are at an incline. The concentric (upward) motion involves plantar flexion that returns the shins to the starting position.
This constant dorsiflexion and plantar flexion will result in gastrocnemius and soleus recruitment. That said, you shouldn’t expect to turn your pencil calves into full-grown bulls just by sticking to the squat. You’ll have to put in some concentrated work if you want calves that look like inverted hearts.
Most people overlook the role of arms in a squat. However, squatting without holding onto the bar is almost impossible for most people. Your arms, along with your upper back, help stabilize the bar on your shoulders (or back).
Furthermore, your upper back and shoulder mobility will dictate your grip on the bar during squats. People with poor upper back and shoulder flexibility usually grab the bar with a wide grip, whereas people with good mobility hold it just outside their shoulders. Holding the bar with a narrow grip allows you to generate more force.
Many lifters report that squeezing the bar while squatting helps them generate more power, making getting out of the hole easier. You can choose between an overhand or a false grip, depending on your mobility.
Benefits of Barbell Squat
“Squats are bad for your knees,” “Squatting can cause lower back pain,” and “Squats are the riskiest exercise” are some of the most common excuses people make to escape squatting. However, the real reason most people shy away from squats is because they are difficult. Folks that skip the squat leave gains on the table. Many people experience fast results when they make the difficult decision of adding the squat to their exercise regimen.
Here are 10 advantages of adding the barbell squat to your exercise program:
Builds Size and Strength
Known as the ‘king of all exercises,’ squats are among the best exercises to build muscle mass and strength. You must program the squat into your workout program as per your training objective.
Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps with 60% to 80% of your one-rep max to induce hypertrophy. On the other hand, you should do 3-6 sets of 1-5 reps with 80% to 100% of your one-repetition maximum to build strength. 
The squat engages all the muscles in your lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors, abductors, and calves, which helps you move much more weight than in isolation exercises, such as the leg extension and leg curl.
You can decide your squatting frequency according to your experience level, training objective, and recovery times. That said, you must allow your body at least 48 hours of rest between training sessions for optimal recovery and strength and muscle gains.
The barbell squat is one of the seven fundamental human movements, the other six being pull, push, lunge, hinge, rotation, and gait. Adding the barbell squat to your exercise arsenal can help improve your performance in daily activities and aid in getting more done in less time.
Furthermore, you squat knowingly or unknowingly throughout the day. Sitting on a chair or getting up or lifting something off the floor by lowering down are forms of squat. Training the squat can help keep the leg and knee pain at bay.
Squatting can also strengthen your back and erector spinae muscles, which can improve your overall posture. Squats are especially useful for folks with desk jobs or those that spend most of their days hunched over a computer or phone. It can help undo a lot of damage done by staying in a poor posture for an extended period.
Whether you are a hobbyist lifter, a powerlifter, or an athlete, squatting can help boost your overall performance by developing strength, explosive power, and endurance. This is the reason most sports training facilities emphasize the squat. 
Squat variations such as the box jump squat, banded barbell squat, and box squat can help boost your power. Plus, squats strengthen your legs and improve your endurance, which can help you run faster for longer.
Improve Overall Fitness
Adding the squat to your training regimen can boost your fitness markers. It increases your balance, coordination, power production, sprint speed, and vertical jumping, resulting in better overall fitness levels.
If you have ever challenged yourself on the squat, you would know it can push your heart rate through the roof. Besides being a great exercise for your muscles, the squat can also take your cardiovascular system for a spin.
Squats can improve your stamina and endurance, which can improve your performance in daily activities like climbing the stairs and walking or running a mile.
Enhances Bone Density and Joint Health
Your bones are under constant tension (compression) during a squat, which helps them grow stronger. Squats can also improve bone density, lowering the risk of fractures, falls, and osteoporosis.
Also, contrary to popular opinion, squats don’t stunt the growth in children. Squatting with proper form using an appropriate weight can help boost a child’s physical development and strengthen their bones.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (6-foot-2) starting lifted weights at the age of 15. Lifting weights at a young age worked out fine for the Governator. There is no reason why it will do the opposite for your child.
Squats strengthen the muscles around your joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. It improves your overall joint health, reducing the chances of joint pains down the line.
Boosts Testosterone Levels
Compound movements such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press increase anabolic hormone release (testosterone and growth hormone). These hormones can expedite your strength and muscle mass gains.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone, which helps build muscle and strength. That said, squats won’t boost the testosterone levels in women over the natural limits, which could be a concern for some ladies. Conversely, squatting can help a woman tone her figure and build a sculpted butt.
Improves Lower Back Health and Lower Risk of Injury
Squatting with the correct form can improve your lower back health and lower the risk of aches, pains, and injuries. If you have trouble maintaining an upright back while performing the barbell squat, you should switch to variations like the goblet squat or the Smith machine squat to alleviate the stress on your lower back and focus on the target muscles. Plus, you must include mobility drills into your training regimen to improve your upper and lower body flexibility.
Once you have discovered a trouble area, you should work on it and fix your shortcomings. Pushing a weakness under the rug allows it to multiply over time and increases your risk of injury in the future.
Burns a Lot of Calories
The barbell squat is a compound exercise with several moving parts, making it one of the most energy-intensive exercises. Squats also increase your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), boosting your metabolism and helping your burn calories throughout the day, even when you are physically inactive. 
That said, if your primary objective is to lose weight, you must enter a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit involves expending more calories in a day than you consume. Although you don’t necessarily need to exercise to enter a calorie deficit, it can help speed up your weight loss progress. Check out this neat calculator to determine how many calories you can burn while squatting.
Furthermore, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective at burning calories than conventional strength training that involves performing 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps of an exercise. Perform circuit training to fast-track your weight loss progress.
You must keep your core engaged while performing a squat to maintain a steady form. A loose core is one of the main reasons your heels or toes lift off the floor during a squat. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes if you lose balance during the exercise.
Building up to a bigger squat can help improve your core strength and overall balance, which can carry over to other exercises. This compound exercise also improves your hand-eye coordination and mind-muscle connection.
Remember, squatting on a hack squat or Smith machine does not have the same benefit as the conventional barbell squat, as these variations eliminate your core muscles. Slow down your rep cadence to further improve your balance and core stability.
Builds Mental Resilience
Squats are arguably the most psychologically challenging. No, you don’t need to solve a complex maths problem to enter a squat rack. However, you need an iron will and a big heart to train to failure on a heavy set of squats.
Furthermore, not skipping a leg day and squatting in each lower body training session will make you more disciplined. To push your limits, try hitting a squat one-rep max every few weeks. However, make sure you have a spotter to assist you if things go south.
It is common for lifters to stop their squatting session after failing a rep on the squat. However, this is the true test of mental strength. If you still have reps left in the program, rerack the bar and try squatting the same weight again. Remember, do it with safety pins engaged or with a spotter to ensure your safety.
Unracking and Walking Back During the Barbell Squat
Most people focus on the eccentric and concentric and forget about mastering the process of getting into the perfect squatting position every time.
The squat begins before you enter the squat rack. You will waste a ridiculous amount of energy before you even get into the squat position if the barbell is set at an incorrect height or if you use the wrong form to lift off the weight. Hence, you must master unracking and walking back to maximize your squatting potential.
How To Unrack
While doing the high bar squat, you should set the barbell slightly below your shoulder level. Remember, setting the bar slightly lower is always better than setting it a little too high. You must avoid getting on the ball of your feet to unrack a heavy bar.
After the bar is set at an appropriate height and centered, place the center of your feet directly under it while your chest rests against it. Remember, you must always unrack the bar with a hip-width stance. Never use a staggered stance to unrack the bar, as it can put your knees, ankles, and lower back in a vulnerable position.
Grab the bar at a comfortable position. I recommend holding it as close to your body as possible. Pass under the bar and place the bar on the top of your shoulders. Your knees and hips should be slightly bent in this position. Brace your core, tighten your back, and squeeze your glutes. Take a deep breath and unrack the bar by extending your knees and hips.
You must keep your core engaged after you unrack the barbell and during the walk back. Your goal should be to get into the squatting position within two steps. Drill this part of the lift so that you can get into position with a maximum of 1.5 steps. Another benefit of staying close to the squat rack is that it makes reracking the bar easier when you are close to failure.
Also, avoid taking big steps. Although big steps might not be a big deal while lifting light, they can throw off your center of gravity and increase your risk of injury while lifting heavy.
A big shoutout to people who have the monolift attachment in their squat rack. The monolift extension removes the need to walk back as the monolift system gets out of the way. That said, you will have to walk the bar into the rack if you don’t have a spotter who can re-engage the monolift after you complete your set.
You must rerack the bar after completing your set. Many lifters start walking toward the rack during the concentric motion of their final rep. However, this puts their lower back under unnecessary stress.
Brace your core after completing the final rep and before you walk into the squat rack. Consistently look at the J-hooks as you go in for the rerack. After you hit the rack, ensure the bar is placed safely in the J-hooks before walking away from the bar.
Avoid trying to put the bar directly into the J-hooks during the rerack. You can miss them and end up on the floor with the bar on your back. Always aim for the vertical posts of the squat rack. Hit the vertical posts, and after you have feedback of the bar hitting the poles, squat down to rack the bar.
You can also ask your training partner to ensure the bar is safely racked. Your lifting buddy can also guide the bar into the J-hooks during the walk back into the rack.
Bar Path During the Barbell Squat
The bar path is a topic of hot debate while discussing the squat. While some people emphasize the importance of following a strictly vertical bar path, others think the bar path is overrated.
So, where do I stand on this?
First, the bar path is extremely important, especially if you are a powerlifter or Strongman who wants to get from Point A to Point B most efficiently. Following a vertical bar path ensures the bar has to move along the shortest distance. On the flip side, letting the bar move at an angle not only increases the amount of work you have to do but it also increases your risk of injury by putting your joints and lower back in a vulnerable position.
The bar should ideally move in a vertical line above your mid-foot while performing a barbell squat. However, the position might change slightly depending on your biomechanics. Along with mastering a vertical bar path, you must prioritize mastering other things, such as the foot placement and bracing your core with every rep.
Following a straight bar path requires decent upper and lower body mobility. People who tend to bend forward during the eccentrics or concentrics cannot maintain a vertical bar path.
Barbell Squat Rep Tempo
Tweaking the rep tempo can completely change the barbell squat dynamics. Contrary to what most people believe, changing the barbell squat rep tempo shouldn’t be reserved for bodybuilders that train for hypertrophy. Switching up the rep cadence can be an incredibly effective tool for athletes trying to improve their explosiveness and power.
Most lifters generally follow the 2-1-1-1 rep tempo while doing the barbell back squat. Meaning, they spend two seconds on the eccentric (downward) motion, one second at the bottom, one second on the eccentric (upward) motion, and one second at the static contraction point at the top.
Slowing down the squat cadence can ignite muscle fiber recruitment by increasing your time under tension (TuT). Try the 3-1-2-2 rep tempo to shock your muscles while performing the barbell squat. Pause and squeeze your quads and glutes at the top of each rep.
You might notice your form deteriorate in the later reps while using the slower rep cadence. At this point, you should either stop your step or return to the conventional rep tempo. However, you must return to the slower rep tempo in the next set.
Feel free to ask your training partner for a spot during the eccentric or concentric motion as you increase the time under tension. This will help you train to failure, which has been shown to boost strength and muscle gains. 
Fear of the Squat & Getting Out of the Hole
What keeps most people from squatting is not a lack of mobility or joint pain but the fear of squat. Most lifters will refuse to accept it since a majority of us start lifting to look macho, but there is no running away from this truth.
Now that you know the real reason why most people run away from squatting, let’s talk about the scary part. Lifting a heavy barbell off the rack isn’t scary. You might feel some spine compression during the eccentric motion, but that is usually manageable.
Do you want to know about the terrifying part? Hitting the bottom and not being able to get out of the hole with a heavy bar on your back. Adding to the fear are the ‘gym fail’ videos we regularly see on Instagram and YouTube.
There is only one way to overcome this fear — squat more. It might sound counterintuitive, but getting a pep talk or watching Ronnie Coleman squatting videos will do you no good. You must get your hands dirty.
Initially, you don’t have to lift heavy or even use a barbell, for that matter. Master the air squat to drill the movement and get comfortable.
Tips For Eccentric Motion
You must keep your core engaged and think about sitting between your knees during the lowering motion. Folks training for hypertrophy should lower themselves until their thighs are at least parallel to the floor. On the other hand, powerlifters must ensure the top of their upper legs is below the top of their knees.
A slightly wider-than-shoulder-width stance reduces the distance you must travel to complete a rep. Furthermore, there should be enough space for your belly to move between your legs. Keeping your feet too close will force you to bend forward, which can strain your lower back.
If you can’t break parallel with a wide stance, it is a sign that you are lifting too heavy. Drop your ego, and switch to lighter weights. Partial squats lead to suboptimal gains. They engage your quads, but your hips and glutes are left waiting. Remember, a relatively light full squat is much better than a heavy partial squat.
The ‘hole’ can mean different things to different people. Before you think about something nasty, let me clarify. Bodybuilders might consider thighs parallel to the floor as the bottom. Powerlifters take it a step further and break parallel. However, Olympic weightlifters that train the squat as an accessory lift usually like to go “ass to the grass,” as it helps them prepare for catching a heavy bar in a deep squat.
That said, the amount of weight you can lift will depend on your squat depth. Folks wanting to hit a 1RM should use the powerlifting setup and aim to break parallel with the floor. Low bar squats reduce the distance the bar has to travel and put you in a strong position to get out of the hole.
Although getting to parallel might sound like the obvious choice for lifting heavy, it is not the case. Parallel squats don’t deliver the pop required to get out of the hole with a heavy barbell on your back. You must fight gravity in the parallel squat to get back up. Whereas hitting bottom in powerlifting and ass to the grass (ATG) squats can give deliver a pop, aiding in reversing the motion.
Remember, if your goal is to build muscle or strength, going below the powerlifting squatting standard height doesn’t improve your gains. Conversely, it will limit the weight you can lift, as getting out of the hole in an ATG squat is more difficult than rebounding from a not-so-deep squat.
DO NOT PAUSE AT THE BOTTOM
This heading is in all caps for a reason. I routinely see people pausing at the bottom of the squat. There are two main reasons why people pause at the bottom. First, they have no idea what they are doing. Second, they know exactly what they are doing. However, it tends to be the former in most cases.
Pausing at the bottom of a squat makes you look badass, for sure, but it is incredibly taxing on your muscles and joints. The longer you stay in the hole, the fewer reps you can do. Whether you are training for hypertrophy, powerlifting, or are in the catch position of a snatch, you must begin getting up as soon as you hit the bottom. The stretch reflex in your legs will help you get out of the hole.
That said, you shouldn’t completely cut off pause squats from your training regimen. There is a time and a place for that. Pause squats can be incredibly effective for building explosive strength. However, you must adjust your training intensity and volume to make the most of them.
A Word on the Jerking Motion
Many people try to make the squat as smooth as possible. They think that going down too hard and rebounding out of the hole can lead to injuries and cause knee, pelvic, and lower back pain. However, quickness is one of the key factors in successful heavy squats.
Watch pro powerlifters, weightlifters, and Strongemen train, and you’ll see them rep out squats as quickly as possible. The longer you have the bar on your back, the harder this exercise will be. Step in the squat rack with a vengeance and focus on getting in and out as quickly as possible.
Pro bodybuilder Tom ‘The Quadfather’ Platz arguably had the best legs in the industry. Watch him train his wheels, and you’ll see him cycle through heavy squat reps with a fast and consistent cadence.
Get into a squatting position with a bar on your back and lower quickly into a squat. Use the pop and the stretch reflex from ‘dropping’ into the bottom of the movement to get out of the hole and return to the starting position.
Make no mistake; this is not a free pass to lift heavier than you can handle safely. Besides working on building stronger and more muscular quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and calves, you should also focus on strengthening your knees, ankles, and pelvic muscles to perform the squat safely.
You must avoid squatting if you are dealing with joint or tendon pains and aches. Working through pains can worsen the situation and prolong your recovery time.
Barbell Squat Sticking Point and Lock Out
You are halfway through after rebounding out of the hole. However, it’s still not time to celebrate. Many lifters find what comes next to be the most grueling part of the squat. This section of the squat is known as the sticking point.
The sticking point of the squat is the area between the bottom of the range of motion and the midway point. It is also the area where most people fail on their squats.
You might be able to get out of the hole using the momentum from the eccentric motion and the stretch reflex; however, the only thing that can get you through the sticking point is your lower body strength.
How To Power Out of the Sticking Point
Getting out of the sticking point is all about maximizing muscle output. After you have an initial boost out of the bottom of the squat, you must focus on getting straight up by moving your hips in a vertical line of motion.
You must hold your breath during the eccentric motion. This, combined with pushing your belly against the weightlifting left, will help you generate thoracic pressure. To complete the lift, you must use this pent-up energy during the concentric motion. Exhale sharply through your mouth as soon as you are out of the hole, and imagine pushing the floor away with your whole feet. This is why you must take a deep breath with each rep and spend an extra second to brace your core and push against the belt.
Besides making the most of the thoracic pressure, you must consider a few other things, such as your back and head angle and knee position. Focus on extending your hips and raising your chest at the same time. Many lifters make the mistake of raising their hips first and following it up with straightening their torso. However, this mimics the good morning exercise, which places greater tension on the lower back and hamstrings than the glutes and quads.
You must keep your core braced during the explosive concentric motion. Letting your midsection loose can lead to an imbalance, putting you in a vulnerable position. Keep your core tight, and try moving the bar in a straight vertical line over your mid-foot.
What To Do Between Squat Reps
Much is said about what to do during the concentrics and eccentrics; however, most lifters overlook the static contraction point at the top. The time between reps is when the squats are won. It is the time when you can prepare to crush your next rep. This is what to do between reps:
Lock your knees at the top. I know what you are thinking. Your friendly neighborhood gym bro told you not to lock out your knees at the top to maintain constant tension on your quads. This might work when lifting between 60-80% of your one-rep max, but it is not the most optimal strategy while lifting 80-100% of your 1RM for five or more reps.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with stopping just before lockout at the top, and it does lead to greater tension in the quads. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove that locking out at the top is not as effective as maintaining a slight bend in your knees. Plus, locking out your knees at the top also allows you time to contract your quads and glutes, which can lead to greater muscle stimulation.
Besides, lifters that don’t extend their knees completely at the top tend to go right into the next rep, which, as we have discussed, might not be the most optimal approach.
You must use the time at the top of the range of motion to reset your squat setup. Take in a deep breath and push your belly against your belt. Tighten your grip as you lower into the next rep. Furthermore, use this time to regroup mentally. If the last rep didn’t go as you planned, you must brush it off and visualize what you want your next set to look like.
Doing all this with every rep might sound like a lot of work. However, it will become second nature after a few weeks of practice. Most lifters can do a squat reset within two seconds.
Finding the Correct Foot Placement
The correct foot position for you will depend on your biomechanics. People with good hip, glute, hamstring, quad, and ankle mobility can do an ATG squat with a narrow stance. However, folks that lack lower body mobility will need to take a wider stance.
Using at least a shoulder-wide stance while squatting is always recommended, as it creates enough room for your belly to pass between your legs.
A Note on Sumo Squats
Sumo squats, which consist of squatting with a wider-than-hip-width stance, is popular among lifters as it allows them to lift heavier than the conventional squat. However, wide-stance squats also considerably limit your range of motion, which can hamper your strength and muscle gains.
On top of that, sumo squats place excessive stress on your groin and can lead to pain or injuries. Professional lifters that perform wide stance squats in competitions usually wear squat suits that protect their groin. Avoid imitating these professional lifters unless you have a squat suit.
Your ankle mobility will dictate your foot angle. Folks with decent ankle flexibility can turn out their feet to 30 degrees. People with poor ankle mobility might need to turn out their feet a little more. However, avoid facing out your meet more than 45 degrees, as it can place your ankles under excessive stress while squatting.
Plus, you must ensure your feet are placed flat on the floor throughout the range of motion. Some lifters raise the outsides of their feet or the heels during the lowering motion, which can unnecessarily strain their feet, ankles, and lower legs.
People with limited mobility are often advised to place quarter plates under their heels while squatting to achieve an optimal depth. While squatting relatively lightweight might not be a problem with your heels placed on an elevated surface like a weight plate or a squat wedge, it increases your risk of injury as you progress to heavier weights.
Don’t Forget About Your Hands
What’s the most overlooked aspect of a squat? It easily the hands. Most people have no idea what to do with their hands during a squat. Some people think their squat would be so much better if they could balance the bar on their back without having to use their hands. However, this is one of the biggest misconceptions. Your hands can significantly improve your squatting performance. Sounds weird? Hear me out.
There are four types of grips used by lifters while squatting:
- Just outside shoulder-width.
- Between the shoulder and the bar’s neck, which is the area separating the shaft and the sleeve.
- At the bar’s neck.
- Placing the hand or grabbing the top of the weight plates.
Your squat grip can influence your performance. Holding the bar just outside your shoulder-width will create a big enough ‘shelf’ on your shoulders for the bar to rest comfortably. On the other hand, if you hold onto the weight plates, you are relying on wrapping your arms around the bar to keep it in place, which is uncomfortable and unsustainable for high-volume sets.
The irony is that most recreating lifters prefer the wider grips. This is mainly because of poor shoulder and upper body mobility. Most professional powerlifters and Olympic lifters use a narrow grip while squatting because of the stability.
Furthermore, if you grab the bar with a wide grip, it will consistently roll down because of a lack of shelf space. You will then have to focus on actively pushing the bar upward while squatting, which adds complexity.
You could choose between a full grip and a false (thumbless) grip. Now, there are pros and cons to both. To begin with, the full grip can be more demanding on your wrists, as you need to bend your wrists slightly to grab the bar, whereas you can keep your wrists straight using a thumbless grip. This is also the reason many powerlifters use wrist wraps while squatting.
That said, the full grip feels much more safe than a false grip. Furthermore, you can squeeze the bar harder using a full grip, which can help contract your upper body muscles and help you brace harder for your lift, improving your squatting performance.
Avoid Supporting The Bar On Your Hands
Many people tend to hold the bar on their hands while squatting as if doing a behind-the-neck shoulder press. Remember, the bar should be racked on your shoulders during a squat. And you must only grip it for safety purposes or grip on it to contract your upper body. At no point during the squat should the bar be supported by your arms.
You should switch to a false grip if you feel you are using your arm strength to support the bar. Wrapping your thumbs over the bar will push you to create a bigger shelf on your shoulders and use the correct posture.
Remember, finding the right grip for your biomechanics and the optimal bar position on your shoulders or upper back can take some trial and error. Do not expect to master the squatting set up in the first go. However, once you master the technique, your squatting performance will grow exponentially.
Check Your Elbows
Since your elbow position affects your arm angle and the shelf, it can impact your squat performance. There are three popular elbows positions while squatting:
Elbows Perpendicular To The Floor
In this position, a lifter’s upper arms are almost perpendicular to the floor, and his elbows are pointing toward the ground. This elbow position is not optimal for squatting as it creates no shelf on your back to rest the bar, and you must support it on your hands.
Elbows at a 45-Degree Angle With The Floor
This is the most optimal position for a barbell back squat. Here, your upper arms are at a 45-degree angle with the floor, which creates a nice shelf on your shoulders for the bar to rest on. However, you must actively push your shoulders behind your torso to maintain this position.
Upper Arms Almost Parallel To The Floor
Many people try taking the shelf created by holding their upper arms at a 45-degree to the next level by pushing their elbows toward the ceiling. However, this position is nonoptimal (and painful), and holding it for too long can cause cramps in your upper back, traps, or rhomboids.
The Knees Over Toes Debate
If you have been training for long enough, you have probably had someone tell you to keep your knees behind your toes during the squat. The reasoning behind this advice is that extending your knees over your toes puts them under greater stress and makes you susceptible to injury.
The notion that your knees should not extend over your toes during a squat mainly comes from a 1959 study that suggested a deeper squat exerted more pressure on the knees, which was interpreted as a greater injury risk. 
However, recent research has shown that letting the knees extend over the toes does not increase your risk of getting hurt. On the other hand, it can promote your knee health and improve your mobility. 
Furthermore, there are several ways to look at the 1959 and subsequent studies that advise against going below parallel on the barbell squat. (Going below parallel in a high bar setup is more likely to push your knees over your toes.)
First, most of the subjects in these studies already dealt with knee issues, and squatting below parallel caused more pain than partial squats. Now, if you are dealing with severe or chronic knee pain, you shouldn’t be squatting ATG anyways. Forget doing it with a heavy barbell on your back.
That said, if you do not have any knee pain and want to keep it that way, you must work your joints through their full range of motion to maintain optimal functionality.
Why is that, you ask?
Knees over toes (KOT) are a normal and functional component of everyday movements like walking down stairs, sprinting, or kneeling on the ground. You can avoid doing knee-over-toe squats, but you can’t avoid these daily movements. Can you?
Knees-Over-Toes in Squat
Keeping your knees behind your toes might not be possible in every squat form. For example, powerlifters and bodybuilders usually lower into a squat by pushing their hips back and down. Although this leads to a torso leaning forward posture, the lifter’s knees are usually behind his toes.
On the other hand, Olympic weightlifters drop straight down into a squat. Since they sit between their heels and keep an upright torso, their knees are bound to extend over their toes. Weightlifters have been squatting KOT for decades, and it is working well for them.
Best Squat Cues
The squat is a compound movement with multiple moving parts. Beginners or lifters trying to relearn the squat find checking all the boxes simultaneously intimidating. Here are a few squatting tips to make the exercise more comprehensible:
Be a Spring
As they say, “You can be anything you want.” I want you to be a spring when you squat. You must use controlled eccentrics as if someone is applying constant tension on your head. Explode back up like a spring once you hit the bottom as if the resistance is removed from the top.
Remember, you don’t have to move a millimeter each second on the eccentrics while mimicking a spring. Moving like a spring means that you must use a controlled cadence on the way down. Conversely, speed is your friend on the way up, and it will also help you power through the sticking point.
Keep Your Chest Proud
Although the squat is primarily a lower-body exercise, you cannot overlook the importance of your upper-body posture. Slacking on your upper body form can throw you off balance, leading to substandard performance on the squat.
You must keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down as you assume your position under the bar. Pulling back your shoulders will automatically lead to your chest popping out. Brace your core and maintain this upper body position throughout the exercise.
Letting your shoulders relax will make your chest cave in, leading to a rounding of the back and a poor squatting form. Keep your chest proud and your head neutral to avoid straining your lower back and neck.
Maintain The Natural Curve of Your Lower Back
If you’ve been training long enough, you’ve probably seen someone squat with a form that makes it look like they are a few seconds away from snapping their back. A bad upper body form can be the result of two things — rounding your back or spine overextension. Both these can hamper your squat performance.
At the same time, you must also keep your head neutral. Looking toward the ceiling or straight in front of you can cause your back to round or overextend. Ensure your head and neck align with your spine throughout the exercise.
Push Your Knees Out
Most people can lower to the floor while keeping their knees pointing straight or outward. However, things start to change during the concentrics. Many lifters tend to bring their knees together during the upward motion.
This knee caving in action can hamper your power output and can also lead to an imbalance, increasing your risk of injury. While I don’t recommend actively pushing out your knees during the concentrics, you must keep them steady for optimal performance.
Furthermore, bringing your knees together removes the adductors from the equation, putting most of the demand on your vastus lateralis and abductors. You want overall upper leg engagement on the squat to ensure optimal power output.
Consider It a Smith Machine Squat
Bar path is incredibly important for optimal squatting performance. Letting the bar move at an angle in any direction (front or back) can affect your power output. You’ll not be able to employ as much power if you have to push at a 45-degree angle as you can do if you have to push straight up. Furthermore, pushing at an angle requires significantly more stabilizer muscle recruitment and balance than squatting straight up and down.
You must mimic a Smith machine even while performing a free-weight barbell squat. Think about moving the bar straight up and down in line with your mid-foot. Feel free to drill the movement on a Smith machine before moving to the free weights.
Remember, you don’t have to master all these squatting tips from the get-go. Beginners can focus on one or two squat cues that work best for them and commit to mastering them. At the same time, you must channel your inner athlete. Imagine how Tom Brady would tackle learning a new exercise. Catch a couple of cues and be fast, agile, strong, and explosive. Everything else will take care of itself.
Correct Footwear For Squat
Do you squat barefoot, in socks, running shoes, trainers, or lifters? You probably never realized that you have so many options, but you do. That said, most people squat in the incorrect (read: inefficient) footwear.
Squatting barefoot, in socks, or in barefoot shoes is the same thing. Many lifters believe that squatting barefoot gives them a better grip on the floor and is the most stable option. These folks are partially correct. But is it the most optimal option? No.
On the other hand, if there is one footwear you should absolutely avoid while squatting, it is running shoes. Running shoes are cushioned, creating instability during a heavy squat and increasing your risk of injury. A squatting shoe’s midsole should not compress under pressure, meaning you can’t squat in your Pegasus or Air Maxes.
However, running shoes have one thing working in their favor — the heel-to-toe drop.
Although training shoes are cushioned, they generally have a much more stable outsole than running shoes. Training shoes are a hybrid between running shoes and lifters. Most shoe giants offer training shoes, and their popularity rose after 2015 when CrossFit started gaining traction.
Popular trainers, such as Nike Metcons, Nobulls, Reebok Nanos, and TYRs, work well for squatting. However, you need to take the next step if you are a weightlifter and need something very specific.
Most weightlifting shoes have a 3/4 inch or 19mm heel meaning the heel-to-toe drop is two to three times that of most running and cross-training shoes. Weightlifting shoes give you leverage. Wearing weightlifting shoes is like wearing a stable heel. The higher heel position while wearing a weightlifting shoe allows you a more upright torso position and a solid grip and base, allowing you to lift heavier.
Virtually every professional Olympic weightlifter lifts in weightlifting shoes. Nike Romaleos, Reebok Legacy Lifter, and Adidas Leistung are some of the most popular weightlifting shoes.
You’ve probably seen people squat with a squat wedge or a quarter plate under their heels. They do this to mimic a weightlifting shoe. However, these surfaces are highly unstable and do not provide the firm grip of a weightlifting shoe.
Weightlifting shoes are a must-have if you have the budget for them — quality lifters can burn a hole in your wallet. Besides squatting, snatching, or clean and jerking, you can use weightlifters for exercises like the leg press, lunge, or hack squat.
The Most Important Aspect of Squat Progression
Learning how to fail during a squat. Yes, you heard that right. You must learn how to bail on a squat if you want to get comfortable building a bigger squat. Most lifters are scared to lift heavy on the squat because they fear getting trapped under a heavy bar.
Safety is the most important factor to consider while training, and it applies to every exercise, not just squats. While squatting, you must ensure the safety pins are set at an appropriate height in case you fail. Alternatively, you must find an experienced spotter if you don’t have access to safety bars.
Besides this, you must learn how to safely get out of a squat if you are caught in the hole or at the sticking point. You must program bailout sessions in your leg day workouts until you are comfortable aborting a heavy squat. Like in any other resistance training exercise, you must employ progressive overload to grow stronger and get comfortable bailing on a heavy barbell. You can ditch the bail-out sessions when you are comfortable getting out of heavy squats.
Tip on Failing a Squat Safely
You should always squat in a power rack if you have access to it. Set the safety pins of the rack low enough that you don’t hit them on deep reps. They should be a few inches below your lowest ROM point. The safety pins should allow you to bail on a squat while you are still on your feet. They shouldn’t be so low that you have to slide on your knees to get out of trouble.
You can also squat in a squat rack with safety arms. However, you must adjust the arms at a height so that you don’t hit them at the bottom, as it can throw you off balance. You must use your warm-up sets to adjust the safety arms at an appropriate height. However, you must factor in the additional joint compression and depth you’ll achieve while using heavier weights to set the safety arm height.
The Key To Failing a Squat Safely
Whether you are squatting in a power rack or you’ve decided to go full-monty and not use any fail-safe, the technique you will use to bail on a squat will remain the same.
Failing in the Hole
Let’s say you are at the bottom of a squat and can’t get up; you must get out without hurting your back. Most lifters panic in this situation. However, it is the worst thing they can do. In this situation, you must keep your core braced and sit as upright as possible with your shoulder blades pulled back and down. This will keep your spine steady and safe.
Now from this position, in a single motion, explosively shrug your shoulders, push them back (in an arc), and use the momentum and your arms to push the bar off your shoulders behind you.
After you feel the bar’s weight come off your shoulders, you can hold onto the side rails or get on your knees before standing up and walking out.
Under no circumstances should you lean forward and try to rack the bar on the safety rails by lowering your torso between your legs. This puts your lower back in a vulnerable position and significantly increases your risk of injury.
Failing at the Sticking Point
Failing at the sticking point requires much more practice and patience than bailing out of a squat in the hole. Most lifters start panicking after they are out of the hole but can’t make it through the sticking point. This is also where many lose balance and start leaning forward in hopes of “good morning” their way of the squat. However, leaning forward and using your lower back increases your risk of injury.
If you don’t have a spotter to assist you through the sticking point, you must maintain your cool and lower back into the hole. Assuming that you were exhaling during the concentric motion, you must take a quick deep breath after returning to the hole and brace your core. After this, follow the steps mentioned in the “failing in the hole” section to get the bar off your back.
Using a Spotter
Remember, the biggest guy at your gym will not always be the best spotter. Spotting is an art and a science. A good spotter walks a thin line between being a motivator and a helping hand. He should know when to do what. If a spotter is motivating enough, you will probably never need a spot, assuming you are using an appropriate weight. However, things can go very wrong if you lose balance, and he has no idea how to control the situation.
Some spotters assist in the squat by holding onto the lifter’s chest, while others grab the barbell. Nonetheless, both techniques will be ineffective if he doesn’t know what to do if you can’t get out of the hole. Plus, the action steps for a spotter if a lifter is stuck in the hole are different than if a lifter is struggling at the sticking point.
I recommend always squatting in a power rack with the safety pins engaged. You can have a spotter on top of this to motivate you and as a backup.
Bailing on Smith Machine Squats
Since I told you about mastering the squat bar path on a Smith machine, I must also tell you how to bail on a Smith machine squat safely.
Bailing on a free-weight barbell squat differs greatly from getting out a failed rep on the Smith machine. Like in the free-weight barbell squats, you cannot shrug a Smith machine barbell behind you. Most Smith machine barbells have a fixed vertical movement trajectory, and bailing on the squat by leaning forward and expecting the safety pins to catch the bar at the bottom can be the worst thing you can do unless you are trying to pop your lower back, hip, or knee.
To bail on a Smith machine squat, you must rack it on the nearest safety pin by rotating the barbell and engaging the latches. However, you must be very careful while engaging the latches. Turning the bar with a lot of force can result in the hooks rebounding after hitting the pins. Hold the bar in latches engaged position until the bar is safely racked.
Also, you must hold the bar in a position so the latches aren’t engaged during your set. I recommend facing the safety pins while using a Smith machine, as lifters tend to pull the bar toward their back during the squat. Doing so in this position will ensure the latches stay disengaged.
Barbell Squat Safety Tips
Squats fail videos are arguably the most common type of gym fail clips you see on Instagram. There are several reasons behind this. Squats are one of the most badass exercises, and many people engage in ego lifting and lift heavier than they can handle safely. Some lifters jump the gun and lift relatively heavy before mastering the correct form. Furthermore, many exercisers do not take the necessary safety precautions while squatting, significantly increasing their risk of injury.
One scheme is prevalent in all this — injuries while squatting are mostly because of the fault of the lifter. However, as humans, we don’t like taking the blame and instead put it on the exercise. Here are a few barbell squat safety tips that will reduce the risk of injury:
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, you must always wear a weightlifting belt while squatting. Not only do weightlifting belts protect your lower back, but they can also help generate thoracic pressure, which can improve your squatting performance. That said, belts cannot prevent a lower back injury if you follow poor form. So, don’t expect to muscle your way out of a heavy squat with poor form unscratched.
In the next step, you must maintain the natural curvature of your spine throughout the exercise, which can be a little hard, especially with a heavy barbell on your back. Using a low-bar position is better for maintaining a straight back. Also, avoid looking up or straight ahead, as doing so can lead to overarching of the back or slouching of the shoulders, depending on your biomechanics.
A good cue to keep your back neutral throughout the exercise is mimicking a Smith machine squat. Moving the bar straight up and down will ensure you don’t try to use your lower back to lift it. Trying to ‘good morning’ the weight is one of the most common causes of poor back posture while squatting.
Also, you must limit pushing your hips back while squatting, as it can lead to excessively leaning forward of the torso. Think about pushing your hips out and sitting between your knees. Your hips will, of course, move back slightly, but it shouldn’t lead to an excessive leaning forward of the torso. At best, your torso could be at a 45-degree angle with the floor.
Depending on your knee health, you might find squats comfortable or painful. However, dismissing squats because of a slight discomfort will do you no good. According to a Duke University study, squatting can help develop hip, knee, and ankle musculature, which can help support your joints, tendons, and ligaments. 
Tights, knee sleeves, or wraps can also support your knees while squatting, reducing discomfort and pain. Ensure that you use accessories of the correct size. Using gear that doesn’t fit right can hamper your performance.
Your foot position during the squat can dictate the exercise’s impact on your knees. Pointing your feet directly ahead can put excessive stress on your knees. Rotating your toes outward to a comfortable angle can reduce the strain on your knees. You must ensure that your knees track over your toes. Pushing your knees directly ahead while your toes point outward at a 30-degree angle can hurt your knees and ankles.
You must also spread your knees as you lower into a squat. It will create enough space for your tummy to pass through between your legs and allow you to sit down without leaning forward excessively.
Avoid lowering into a squat by pushing your knees forward. The eccentric motion should result from a combination of pushing your hips back and spreading your knees slightly. Focus on using your entire upper leg musculature, including your quads, glutes, hips, and hamstrings, to perform a squat.
Many lifters, especially those with knee issues, prefer partial squats. Partial squats involve a limited range of motion. In this squat variation, a lifter reverses the motion before his upper legs are parallel to the floor.
Contrary to popular opinion, partial squats are not safe for your knees. Since you never break parallel during a partial squat, all the strain is consistently on your quads and knees. Your glutes and hamstrings are engaged when you hit parallel. Repping out partial reps can overwork your knees, which can worsen your joint pain.
Finally, to get the best bang for your buck in terms of strength and muscle gains, you must squat at least to parallel. Squatting to this depth might feel intimidating, but it is much more effective at building strength and muscle, protecting your joints, and improving your fitness and functionality.
Squat With a Spot
You must never squat without proper safety measures. You could use a spotter or safety pins (preferred), depending on where you train. Squatting in the squat rack is by far the safest of all. However, if you routinely get caught at the sticking point, you might do better with a spotter who can assist you through them. That said, you should use safety pins in a power rack even if you have your training partner spotting you.
Even if you squat in a squat rack and have a spotter, you must know how to bail on a squat safely. This will significantly reduce your risk of injury and boost your confidence while lifting heavier and setting PRs.
Re-read the “The Key To Failing a Squat Safely” section and practice failing a squat rep with a PVC pipe. You can then move on to an empty barbell when you feel more confident and comfortable.
If you are a visual learner, here is a useful YouTube video on how to bail on a squat safely:
When To Get a Spotter?
When it comes to having a spotter, there are two opposing groups. The first faction preacher always squatting with a spotter, whereas the other advises against ever using a spotter. Where do I stand? In the middle.
There is a time and a place for a spotter. However, nine out of 10 times, you should squat without a spotter. So, when do you use a spotter? It depends on your training objectives. You should get a spotter if you have hit a plateau and want to break through it. Here are a couple of advanced training principles where you can incorporate a spotter:
In a forced rep set, a spotter helps you complete a rep. Let’s say your program involves squatting 225 pounds for 12 reps, but you can manage only 10 reps. A spotter can come in on the 11th rep to help you complete the set.
Remember, the spotter is only allowed to assist you after you are in the hole. He can help you get out of the hole but must take away the assistance as soon as you gain control. He can then again come in if you struggle at the sticking point.
You must stop the set if you have to ask your spotter to help you with the eccentrics. Some people get a spotter from the first rep. Not only is this approach ineffective, but it also significantly increases your risk of injury.
This advanced training technique is incredibly effective for shocking your muscles. You use heavier weights than usual in this technique, and your main objective is to complete the eccentrics with a slow and controlled motion. You must take three to six seconds on the way down.
Your spotter will help you with the concentrics from the very first rep. However, he must not touch the bar (or you) during the eccentrics. Although your spotter will help you stand back up, you, too, must do your best during the concentrics.
Lifting heavier than usual will deliver additional stimulus to your muscles, which will help you build strength and muscle. Incorporating this technique into your workouts will prime your muscles to lift this weight unassisted within a few weeks.
Most Common Pains Associated With Barbell Squat
It’s common for lifters, especially newbies or people who lift with an incorrect form, to experience pains while squatting. You must analyze your squatting form if you are experiencing any of these pains:
Knee pain is usually the most common type of pain associated with squats. While some people avoid squatting because of knee pain, others complain of knee pain after squatting.
Knee pain after squatting is usually because of two reasons. Performing partial squats can keep constant tension on your knees and won’t let bigger muscles, such as glutes and hamstrings, step in, increasing your susceptibility to knee pain and injury. On the other hand, squatting with an incorrect form also increases your risk of knee issues.
Nonetheless, squatting with the correct form and using an appropriate progression program can help you build bulletproof knees. Ensure that your knees don’t cave in during squats. To minimize knee strain, focus on maintaining your upper and lower legs parallel while squatting.
That said, folks dealing with knee pain shouldn’t begin a powerlifting program. You should ease into a squatting program and give your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments enough time to adjust to your new training routine. Doing too much too soon significantly increases your risk of injury.
Furthermore, using weightlifting accessories, such as knee sleeves and knee wraps, can help protect your joints. These tools provide your joints additional warmth, lubrication, compression, and support to get you through your workout without causing too much trouble.
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is usually the result of squatting with an incorrect form. Learning forward excessively during a squat puts significant stress on your lower back, causing pain and stiffness. Continuing to train through excessive pain can worsen the condition and increase your odds of injury.
Folks that overarch their back are more prone to lower back pain while squatting. Your body, from head to toe, should be in a straight line at the top to avoid overloading your spine and erector spinae muscles.
Conversely, rounding your back while squatting also puts your lower back in a vulnerable position. Your back should be neutral to avoid unnecessary strain during a barbell squat.
Lifters that do low bar squats with a rounded or overarched back are at a higher risk of hurting their lower back, as their torso is leaned forward throughout the range of motion. On the other hand, squatting with a high bar position incentivizes you to maintain an upright torso during this exercise.
Wearing a weightlifting belt can help reduce the risk of lower back pain while squatting. Keep your core braced and push your belly against the belt during the eccentric motion to generate thoracic pressure and keep your core safe.
Remember, using a belt doesn’t guarantee safety. You cannot overlook your form while squatting with a belt. Use a weight you feel comfortable with for the recommended number of sets and reps.
Furthermore, using specialty equipment, such as a safety barbell, can help minimize the risk of lower back pains while squatting. The safety bar mimics the front barbell squat position and forces you to be upright throughout the range of motion, effectively reducing the strain on your lower back.
Hip pain while squatting can result from poor form, overuse, or a lack of mobility and flexibility. Lifters that do not hit parallel on the squat usually complain of hip pain while squatting as their underdeveloped hips are not ready to handle the weights on the few reps they break parallel on.
Many people fail to hit parallel as they squat with a narrow foot placement that doesn’t allow enough space between their legs for their tummy to pass through.
Also, folks that spend most of their days seated usually have poor hip mobility, which can hamper their squatting performance. You must work on your mobility to improve your squat depth and boost your functionality. Spend 5-10 minutes before a workout performing mobility drills. Stretching for the same amount of time after your workout can also improve your flexibility and speed up your recovery.
People that don’t allow enough time for recovery between workouts are also prone to experiencing hip pain. You should rest for at least 48 hours before training your legs again. Training too frequently impairs your strength and muscle gains, increases your risk of injury, and can lead you to a plateau.
Soreness after a leg workout is common and expected. Expect DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) in your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves 24 to 48 hours after a leg workout. This soreness can last up to five days, and the muscle stiffness and pain will vary depending on your training intensity and volume.
However, you must immediately stop your workout if you hear a popping or tearing sound, which could indicate a muscle tear. Seek medical attention if the incident is followed by sharp and excruciating muscle pain.
People never expect wrist pain from squatting. However, this is a common phenomenon, especially among people with poor upper-body mobility. Beginners that support the weight on their hands are also susceptible to wrist pain while squatting.
Conversely, people that lift relatively heavy on the squat are also more likely to experience wrist pain from squatting. This is the reason most powerlifters use wrist wraps while squatting.
Avoid bending your wrists as you hold onto the bar for your squat. Many people tend to roll their wrists under the bar during the eccentric motion, which puts their wrists under undue stress. Switch from a full grip to a thumbless grip if you routinely experience wrist pain while squatting.
Many lifters tend to squat with a wide (read: sumo) stance, as it allows them to lift heavier. However, squatting with a wider-than-shoulder-width stance too often can lead to groin pain and injuries. Notably, groin pain and injuries take a long time to recover, and you must do everything in your power to avoid them.
Most professional powerlifters that squat with a sumo stance usually do so while wearing a multi-layered compression squat suit, which protects their groin. You should stick to the hip-width stance to reduce your risk of groin injuries.
Common Mistakes While Performing Barbell Squat
Here are the most common mistakes lifters commit during the barbell squat:
Pushing Through the Dominant Leg
Since the barbell squat is a bilateral exercise (uses both legs simultaneously), many lifters tend to use their dominant leg during the concentrics. How do you know you are overly reliant on a particular leg? The bar will be at an angle while you are standing back up.
You must make a conscious effort to use both your legs equally to ensure overall strength and muscle development. Also, add unilateral exercises, such as the lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and box step-ups, to eradicate imbalances.
“How much do you squat?” is one of the first questions gym bros throw at each other and is one of the biggest flex in the lifting circles. Many people tend to push themselves on the squat to make a statement. However, they open themselves up to an injury by disregarding their form and safety while trying to hit a PR.
Use a squat progression plan if you want to build a bigger squat. These programs take you through incremental gains, reducing your risk of injury. Also, you must squat with appropriate safety backups to prevent untoward incidents.
Lifting Your Heels Off the Floor
This incident is more common than most lifters admit. Although most people start the barbell squat with their feet planted on the floor, some of their heels come off during the eccentric motion. It is especially common in lifters with poor mobility and flexibility. People that let the bar move at an angle also face this issue.
Conversely, some people lift their heels off the ground during the concentrics to use momentum and make the exercise easier. However, it puts more pressure on their ankle joints and makes the lift unstable.
Many lifters are guilty of this mistake. Chances are, even you sneak it a few partial reps every time someone is not looking. Not hitting parallel on the squat puts undue stress on your joints, tendons, and ligaments, as it restricts the muscles recruited during the exercise.
Lowering yourself until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor ensures your quads, glutes, and hamstrings are involved, making the lift easier on your joints. It also biases hypertrophy and strength gains.
Most lifters perform the barbell squat to build thunder thighs. However, some people take it a step further and clap their thighs during the concentric motion. If your knees are caving in during squat concentrics, it is a sign that the weight is a little too heavy for you.
Your upper legs should be parallel throughout the range of motion. Plus, you must focus on pushing your knees outward during the squat to maximize muscle fiber recruitment and avoid losing balance.
Many lifters start with a straight back but round their back during the eccentrics, as it shortens the distance the bar has to travel. However, it puts significant stress on their lower back, increasing their odds of injury. Your head, neck, and back should be in a straight line throughout the squat.
“Push your hips back and down” is one of the most common cues for squatting. Although there is nothing wrong with this, most people take it too far. You must hinge your hips just enough so you can move the bar in a straight line over your mid-foot.
Think about driving your tummy between your legs and moving the bar straight down during the eccentrics to prevent your hips from shooting back.
Most lifters tend to look up during the eccentrics to prevent their torso from leaning forward excessively. However, this can be counterproductive and throw you off balance. Plus, it can strain the neck.
Not Using Accessories
You leave gains on the table by not using lifting accessories, such as lifting straps, weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, and wraps. Not only can these tools help you lift heavier, but they also significantly reduce your risk of injury.
Every lifter, irrespective of their lifting experience, should use a weightlifting belt. On the other hand, some tools can vary depending on an individual’s needs. For example, people that lack ankle mobility might need a squat wedge. Knee sleeves can be a great tool for people that want additional support to keep their joints safe.
Not Engaging Your Core & Breathing Incorrectly or Not Breathing at All
Your core plays a crucial role in your squatting performance. Squatting without bracing your midline can lead to instability and hamper your performance. At the top of the motion, take a deep breath and push your tummy against the weightlifting belt to maximize your core engagement during the lift. Hold your breath until you are at the bottom of the range of motion. Explode back up while breathing out.
Hips Shooting Up Too Soon
Allowing your hips to shoot up during the concentric motion can put your lower back under undue stress. You must begin the upward movement by driving your feet into the ground and extending your knees.
Drive your hips forward after your upper legs reach parallel to the floor. Since the glutes are the biggest and strongest muscle group in your body, many lifters tend to use their butt to get out of the hole. However, this is what causes the shooting up of the hips too soon.
Equipped vs. Raw Barbell Squat
Most powerlifting enthusiasts have probably heard of “equipped” and “raw” lifting competitions. Although equipped and raw powerlifters perform the same three big lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlifts) in a contest, the rules around these contests vary greatly.
Raw powerlifting contests comprise performing the three lifts with little to no equipment. However, most raw powerlifting federations allow weightlifting belts, knees and elbow sleeves, wrist wraps, and singlets to ensure athlete safety. The approved gear can vary depending on each federation, and an athlete must check with the league on their gear standards before using a piece of equipment in a contest.
Equipped powerlifting contests allow the use of equipment, such as single or multi-ply suits, to improve performance. Plus, athletes can use lifting straps and knee wraps. It goes without saying that equipped lifters can lift significantly more than raw lifters.
A raw squatter can use a weightlifting belt, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and a singlet. However, the list of allowed equipment can change depending on the federation and the organizers. On the other hand, on top of the equipment allowed for a raw squatter, equipped lifters can use multi-ply squat suits, knee wraps, and squat briefs. This equipment can add more than 100 pounds to a lifter’s squat.
That said, lifting raw and equipped have their own learning curves. Squatting in a multi-ply suit can be very uncomfortable and needs time to get used to. Plus, moving to a raw setup for an equipped athlete requires a lot of unlearning. This is why you don’t see many raw lifters lift in the equipped category and vice-versa.
Who Should Do the Barbell Squat?
Everybody. The squat is a foundational movement that an individual performs throughout their life. Adding barbell squats to your exercise regimen can improve your overall functionality and performance. Every healthy individual should squat (body weight or weighted) at least once a week.
Strength Sports Athletes
Squats are an irreplaceable part of the following strength sports:
The squat is one of the three main powerlifting events. Folks that aim to do well as powerlifters must get comfortable squatting in the low bar setup. Furthermore, your setup will change depending on whether you choose to compete in the raw or equipped category.
Bodybuilding judges look for muscle size, symmetry, quality, and balance. Although a bodybuilder doesn’t necessarily need to squat to build bigger and more aesthetically appealing legs, it is called the “king of lower body exercises” for a reason. The squat is a complete lower body developer, and no other exercise comes close to its strength and muscle-building potential.
Four of the nine fundamental CrossFit movements involve squats (air squat, front squat, overhead squat, and medicine ball clean). You must master the squat if you want to be a decent CrossFitter.
Snatch and clean and jerk are the two Olympic weightlifting movements. These lifts involve squatting with a bar overhead or in the front rack position. The barbell squat is an accessory lift in most weightlifters’ training regimens.
Squats are usually an event in most Strongman competitions. Strongmen might also have to squat odd implements. Furthermore, Strongman events, such as the yoke carry, also need a strong core and lower body, which can be developed through barbell squats.
Furthermore, people who play other sports, such as football, soccer, rugby, and basketball, can benefit significantly from adding the barbell squat to their training regimen.
Who Should Avoid the Barbell Squat
The squat is a safe exercise when performed with the correct form and appropriate weight. However, people with specific lower body injuries, joint issues, or mobility limitations should avoid doing the squat unless cleared by their healthcare provider.
It is normal to feel joint, muscle, tendon, ligament strain, or discomfort while performing the squat initially. Joint pops are also common while squatting. That said, you must immediately stop squatting if you hear a pop while squatting and a sharp, stabbing pain accompanies it. Consult a doctor immediately to minimize damage and start the recovery process.
Barbell Squat Equipment
Getting the correct equipment can greatly improve your exercise performance. Folks that are in the process of building a home gym might find these helpful:
The squat is a full-body exercise that requires minimal equipment. Anyone with a basic home gym setup can perform this exercise effectively. The most important equipment for the squat is an Olympic barbell.
Get a seven-foot barbell with volcano knurling and at least two markings on either end. The markings can help you get into your squat position quickly. Do not hesitate to invest in a high-quality barbell. These things last you a lifetime.
Weight plates come in different shapes and sizes. You must choose the weight plates as per your lifting objectives. Bodybuilders and powerlifters can choose steel or cast iron plates, whereas CrossFitters and Olympic weightlifters should opt for bumper plates.
Since most weight plates are the same, you should choose the ones that fit your budget. However, avoid buying different types of plates, especially if you are building a home gym, and have space and budget for a limited number of plates.
Power racks are the most versatile piece of training equipment that you can get for your home gym. You can perform a multitude of exercises in a power rack, and they come with in-built adjustable safety pins to reduce your risk of injury.
You can also get squat racks or squat stands if you don’t have a budget for power racks. More expensive power racks come with cable pulley attachments that allow you to train for hypertrophy.
I probably sound like a broken record right now, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of a weightlifting belt while squatting. Not only does a lifting belt help protect your lower back, but it also improves your lifting ability.
Knee Sleeves or Knee Wraps
Knee sleeves and wraps are excellent tools to add to your gym bag. They provide the warmth, lubrication, support, and compression required to lift heavy while reducing the risk of injury. Notably, knee sleeves are allowed in most raw powerlifting competitions, whereas knee wraps aren’t.
Although often overlooked, your wrist health is crucial to your squatting performance. You need your hands to keep the bar in place while squatting. Painful wrists can make holding onto the bar more difficult, which can hamper your squat performance. Wrist wraps can keep your wrists straight, helping you develop a good squatting technique.
Weightlifting shoes have a better heel-to-toe drop than flat or running shoes, which help you achieve a better depth and remain upright throughout the range of motion. Plus, they are more stable than other shoes and deliver a stable surface to lift heavy.
The last thing you want while lifting heavy is for the weight plates to slide down the barbell’s sleeve, which can throw you off balance and lead to an injury. Barbell collars keep the plates in place while squatting, adding to your confidence.
How To Program Barbell Squat Into Your Workout
The barbell squat can help you achieve various training objectives. You must consider your training objectives, training goals, recovery capacity, and current fitness levels while programming the barbell squat into your workout.
It is common for folks to hit a plateau in their lower body strength and muscle mass because of following the same training program for an extended period. You must incorporate the progressive overload principle into your workout regimen to avoid hitting an overhead ceiling.
Here is how to program the barbell squat in your exercise regimen to achieve different training objectives:
Lifters that want to bias strength must use the powerlifting style training splits and the low bar squat position. The goal here is to lift as heavy as possible for a high number of sets per workout. This high-volume approach involves doing a low number of reps per set.
Lifting programs prioritizing strength involve lifting 80 to 90% of your one-rep max for three to six sets per workout. You can rest up to five minutes between sets to ensure optimal adenosine triphosphate (ATP) replenishment.
Although Olympic weightlifters use a high bar setup, they follow the powerlifter-style training workouts to improve their strength, as competition snatch and clean and jerk are one-rep max lifts.
However, you must ensure you don’t rest too long between sets, as it can lower your core body temperature and restrict blood flow to the target muscles. Folks that rest longer than five minutes between sets must warm up again before lifting heavy to limit their risk of injury.
People who want to build muscle must use the high bar position as it requires maintaining an upright torso, which results in better glute and quad engagement, allowing you to achieve a better depth.
To optimize hypertrophy, you must perform three to five sets of 8 to 12 reps of the barbell squat with 70 to 85% of your one-rep max. You must limit your rest duration to 60 to 120 seconds between sets to promote muscle growth.
You must use a controlled rep tempo to maximize hypertrophy. On the flip side, cadence takes a back seat while training for strength, as your main goal is to move the weight from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.
Doing more than 15 reps of the squat can build muscular endurance and stamina. CrossFitters usually perform more than 15 reps of the squat in a WOD (workout of the day) and need decent lower body stamina to make it through the training session.
Perform three to five sets of 15-20 reps of the squat with 50 to 70% of your one-rep max to improve muscular endurance. You must also limit your rest durations between sets to 60 seconds.
Beginners must take it slow on the squat and prioritize learning the correct form. Newbies should begin with the air squat and progress to the PVC pipe to drill the movement before moving on to the barbell squat.
How Often Should You Squat?
How often you squat will depend on multiple factors, including your training objectives, intensity, volume, and recovery capacity. Lifters training for hypertrophy usually train their lower bodies once or twice weekly. On the other hand, powerlifters that work on the three main lifts train the squat at least once weekly.
Beginners usually start their fitness journey with a full-body training regimen that involves exercising three to four times weekly. Since their lower body training intensity is usually not as high as the bodybuilders and powerlifters, newbies manage to train their legs at least thrice weekly.
Your legs are the biggest muscle group — they are virtually half your body. You might require 48 to 72 hours to recover from a high-intensity and volume workout; training your legs again before they are fully recovered not only hampers your recovery and growth but also significantly increases your risk of injury. 
Although there is no strict rule on how often you can train your legs, most people usually limit their lower body training to thrice a week. You can use muscle soreness as an indicator to determine your leg training frequency.
If you feel sore after a couple of leg training workouts, you should skip the third session and allow your lower body to recuperate from the madness. However, feel free to train your legs if you are not sore after your second workout.
You can also switch between high-rep and heavy-weight workouts to add variety to your training and develop strength, muscle mass, and endurance. Accessory lifts can also ensure overall development and eradicate muscle and strength imbalances.
How Heavy Should You Squat?
You are not alone if you always wonder how much weight you should put on the bar. The ideal weight on the barbell squat will differ depending on your training objectives and current fitness level. The ideal barbell squat weight for a bodybuilder will be different from that of a powerlifter.
Plus, you should never try to chase someone or ego lift, as biting off more than you can chew can increase your risk of injury.
As a rule of thumb, you should at least be able to squat with your body weight on the bar. For example, a 180-pound individual should be able to complete at least one rep with a 180-pound barbell on his shoulders.
Where he goes from here will depend on his training objectives. You can use progression plans or proven powerlifting programs to build a strong squat. Beginners must seek a personal trainer’s help to maximize their gains and limit the risk of injury.
Best Barbell Squat Progression Plan
The ideal squat progression plan for you will depend on your current fitness levels and training objective. That said, here is a sample four-week squat progression plan for an advanced lifter that uses the squat one-rep max to determine your training volume and intensity.
- Set 1: 65% of 1RM x 8 reps
- Set 2: 70% of 1RM x 6 reps
- Set 3: 75% of 1RM x 4 reps
- Set 4: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 5: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 1: 70% of 1RM x 6 reps
- Set 2: 75% of 1RM x 4 reps
- Set 3: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 4: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 5: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 70% of 1RM x 6 reps
- Set 2: 75% of 1RM x 4 reps
- Set 3: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 4: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 5: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 75% of 1RM x 4 reps
- Set 2: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 3: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 4: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 5: 95% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 75% of 1RM x 4 reps
- Set 2: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 3: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 4: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 5: 95% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 2: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 3: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 4: 95% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 5: 100% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 80% of 1RM x 3 reps
- Set 2: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 3: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 4: 95% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 5: 100% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 1: 85% of 1RM x 2 reps
- Set 2: 90% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 3: 95% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 4: 100% of 1RM x 1 rep
- Set 5: 105% of 1RM x 1 rep (attempt a new personal record)
Feel free to change the weight on the bar if you are not comfortable with the prescribed poundage. Learning to listen to your body is one of the most important aspects of ensuring longevity in this sport.
Popular Barbell Squat Programs
Given below are the most effective powerlifting programs to help you build an insanely strong squat:
For Beginners: Strong Lifts 5×5
The 5×5 training split is a time-tested powerlifting programming approach. It enables you to build a solid foundation, add strength and muscle mass, and lose fat. This program includes five exercises (squat, bench press, deadlift, barbell row, overhead press) and comprises alternating between two workouts three days a week.
For Intermediate Lifters: The Texas Method
The Texas method turns things up a notch and is programmed to help you lift heavier with every passing week. It comprises three weekly workouts. The first workout is high-volume, and the second is low-volume. You’ll go balls to the wall in the third workout, a heavy high-intensity session where you’ll push your five-rep max.
For Advanced Lifters: Madcow 5×5
If you have hit a plateau or want to set a new PR, the Madcow 5×5 is perfect for you. It is based on the same principles as the Strong Lifts 5×5 and involves lifting heavier in every successive training session. Madcow 5×5 aims to add 5 pounds to your squat weekly.
Variations of Barbell Squat
Add the following eight squat variations to your exercise arsenal to keep things interesting:
- Position the barbell in the squat rack just below shoulder height.
- Step under the bar with a shoulder-wide stance and place the bar on your shoulders in a high or low bar position.
- Unrack the barbell, walk back, and assume a hip-width stance.
- Take a deep breath and brace your core.
- Slowly lower into a squat until your upper legs are at least parallel to the floor.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
- Explode back to the starting position while breathing out sharply.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
The tempo squat mainly differs from the conventional barbell squat in the time it takes to complete the lift. The time under tension of the tempo squat is significantly greater than the standard barbell squat.
The rep tempo of the conventional squat is 1-1-1-1, meaning you take one second on the eccentric, one-second rest at the bottom, one second on the concentric, and a second’s pause at the top. In a tempo squat, you usually follow a 4-1-2-1 tempo, meaning four seconds on the descent, a one-second pause at the bottom, two seconds on the eccentric, and a second’s pause between reps.
- Adjust a hard plyo box in the center of your power rack’s safety pins.
- The edge of the box should be pointing forward. It makes sitting on the box more convenient.
- Unrack the barbell and position yourself so that the edge of the box is between your heels.
- Brace your core and slowly lower yourself until you are seated on the box.
- Keep your torso leaning forward slightly. Avoid lifting your feet off the floor as you sit on the box.
- Drive through your whole feet and extend your knees to get up.
- Lock out your knees at the top and squeeze your butt.
- Set the barbell at your waist height in the squat rack.
- Stand next to the bar with a hip-width stance.
- Extend your arms in front of your body and under the bar. Turn your palms toward the ceiling.
- Place the bar in your elbow pits and curl your lower arms as close to your torso as possible.
- Interlace your fingers for stability.
- Unrack the bar and walk back. Assume a wider-than-shoulder-width stance.
- Lower into a deep squat.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
- Stand over a barbell with your feet on either side of the bar.
- Your front foot should be facing forward, and your rear foot should be rotated at a 90-degree angle.
- Squat down and grab it using a mixed grip. Your hands should be at an equal distance from your body.
- Stand tall by driving through your whole feet. Drive your knees out during the concentric motion.
- Slowly return to the start position.
- This exercise requires decent hip mobility, and you might want to practice this lift using an empty barbell before adding weights to the bar.
- Set the barbell just below shoulder height.
- Position yourself under the bar with a hip-width stance.
- Push your shoulders forward to create a ‘shelf.’ Place the bar on the shelf.
- Grab the bar with a full grip as close to your shoulders as possible.
- Unrack the bar, walk back, and take a shoulder-wide stance.
- While focusing on pushing your elbows up and keeping your torso upright, lower into a squat.
- Explode back to the start position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
- Get into a conventional high bar squat position and stand upright with a slightly wider-than-hip-width stance.
- Slide your hands wide across the barbell so they are on the inner edge of the end of the knurling.
- Perform a behind-the-neck press or push press to get the bar in an overhead position.
- Push the bar slightly behind your head and your head forward. The bar should be roughly over your heels.
- Lock out your elbows and shrug your shoulders for stability.
- Brace your core, and push your hips back and down.
- Focus on sitting between your legs.
- Use your quads and glute to explode out of the hole.
- Repeat for reps.
- Place one end of a barbell in a landmine attachment or the corner of a room.
- Load the other end with an appropriate weight.
- Stand facing the other edge of the barbell.
- Interlace your fingers under the edge of the free end’s sleeve and lift it to your shoulder level.
- The bar should rest in your palms at the starting position.
- While holding the bar in front of your chest, slowly lower into a squat.
- Keep your torso upright throughout the range of motion.
- Return to the starting position.
- Rinse and repeat.
Alternatives of Barbell Squat
Here are the best alternatives to the barbell squat and how to perform them correctly:
- Stand upright with a shoulder-wide stance.
- Place your hands on your hips. Alternatively, you could hold your hands at your sides.
- Take a step forward with your right foot.
- Slowly lower toward the floor until your rear knee touches the floor.
- Stand up straight by extending your knees.
- Take a step with your left foot.
- Alternate between sides for the recommended reps.
- You can use a barbell or dumbbells for this exercise as you gain more experience.
Bulgarian Split Squat
- Stand in front of an elevated surface, such as a flat bench or a plyo box.
- Face away from the bench and place your left foot on the bench while the right stays grounded.
- Your front foot should be far enough from the bench to complete a lunge.
- Slowly lower into a lunge until your front leg is parallel to the floor. Keep your shoulder pulled back and down throughout the range of motion.
- Advanced lifters can lower until the rear knee touches the floor.
- Explode back to the starting position.
- Repeat for recommended reps before switching sides.
- Position yourself on the leg press machine so your back is flat against the machine’s pad.
- Your butt should be placed on the machine’s seat. If your bum is raised off the cushion, it will result in your lower back coming off the back pad during the exercise.
- Place your feet in the center of the machine’s foot platform at a shoulder-wide distance.
- Turn out your toes slightly to get into a comfortable position.
- Push through your whole feet but stop before locking out your knees.
- Unlock the safety pins.
- Slowly bring your knees as close to your chest as possible.
- Repeat for reps.
- Stand in front of an elevated surface, such as a plyo box or a flat bench.
- Place your left foot on the elevated surface while your right foot is grounded.
- Drive your left foot into the box and extend your knee to lift yourself off the floor.
- Your right foot should be next to your left at the top of the motion.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat on the same side for recommended reps or alternate between legs.
- Advanced lifters can hold onto dumbbells while performing this exercise.
Lying Leg Curl
- Lie prone on a leg curl machine. The curl pad should be just above the back of your ankles.
- Your body, from head to knees, should be in a straight line. This position helps reduce your glute engagement while performing leg curls.
- Squeeze your hamstrings and curl the pad to your hips by bending your knees.
- Pause and contract your hamstrings at the top.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
- Stand upright with a hip-wide stance while holding a barbell in front of your thighs with a shoulder-wide double-overhand grip.
- While maintaining a slight bend in your knees, slowly lower the bar toward the floor by hinging at your hips and driving them behind you.
- The bar should be below your knees at the bottom of the movement. Pause and contract your hamstrings and glutes at this position.
- Return to the starting position.
- Rinse and repeat.
- Hold a barbell in a high bar position on your shoulders and stand upright with a hip-width stance.
- While maintaining a slight bend in your knees, lower your torso toward the floor while driving your hips toward the wall behind you.
- Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor at the bottom of the range of motion. Pause and contract your glutes and hamstrings at this position.
- Return to the starting position.
- Avoid extending your hips completely at the top of the range of motion.
- Repeat for reps.
Banded Lateral Walk
- Tie a loop resistance band at the bottom of your upper thighs.
- Stand upright with a wider-than-shoulder-width stance.
- The band should be taut at the starting position.
- Bend your knees slightly and lean forward. Place your hands on your hips for stability. Alternatively, you can hold them in front of your chest
- Lift your right foot off the floor and take as big a step as possible to your right side.
- After planting your right foot on the floor. Step to your right with your left foot. The band should stay engaged throughout the exercise.
- Repeat on one side for the recommended reps or alternate between sides.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should avoid barbell squats?
Barbell squat is a compound exercise that can improve overall functionality and build muscle mass and strength. However, they are not for everyone. People dealing with knee or joint pain or undergoing rehabilitation should seek medical clearance before starting a new training or diet program.
That said, there will be days when you might not feel 100 percent in your joints or experience muscle twitches, aches, or pains. You should avoid pushing yourself too hard in such conditions. These signs indicate that your body needs more time to recover from your workouts.
Is knee popping during a squat common?
Many people experience knee pops while squatting. However, some individuals stop squatting after regular knee popping, fearing arthritis. The knee pops result from gas bubbles popping in your joints because of a change in pressure due to knee flexion. You might also experience a pop in your upper back or shoulders for the same reason. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove that knee popping while squatting can lead to arthritis or hamper your joint health.
That said, not all pops are the same. You must stop exercising if you experience sharp pain after a knee, lower body muscle, or lower back pop. The pop could be a sign of a muscle, tendon, ligament tear, or pulled muscle. Pushing through this pain can deteriorate the condition.
Should beginners do barbell squats?
Squats are one of the seven foundational movements. You mimic the squatting movement throughout the day. For example, sitting on a chair and getting up, climbing stairs, and sitting down to tie your shoelaces are all forms of squats.
Adding barbell squats to your exercise regimen will not only help you get bigger and stronger, but it will also improve your overall functionality. Beginners should start with air squats and add the barbell squat to their fitness routine after drilling the movement. Smith machine squats are an excellent way of learning the correct bar movement pattern.
How can you build a bigger squat?
There are no shortcuts to building a bigger squat. You must begin by mastering the squat form. Here are a few tips for squatting more weight:
- Wear lifting shoes with elevated heels. Squatting barefoot, in flats, or running shoes is not optimal and might work against your biomechanics. Shoes with stable heels and a decent heel-to-toe drop offer leverage, allowing you to lift heavier weights more safely.
- Switch to a powerlifting form. The low-bar squat is the go-to for people that want to lift heavy. Placing the bar lower on your back reduces the distance it travels, helping you lift relatively heavier than the high bar squat position.
- Incorporate advanced training principles in your training regimen. Using supersets, dropsets, intra-set stretching, and paused sets can boost strength gains and hypertrophy, allowing you to lift heavier weights over time.
- Use a progressional plan to avoid hitting a plateau. Remember, you must only choose programs with a proven track record. Don’t pick anything off the internet and expect it to work wonders.
- Be safe. You cannot underestimate the effect of perceived safety on your squatting performance. You are more likely to attempt (and complete) a heavy squat in a power rack with safety pins than trying a 1RM without any fail-safe. Furthermore, having a spotter can also be a big motivation boost.
What is a 1RM squat?
Many people confuse one-rep max (1RM) and personal best (PB). Your 1RM is the maximum weight you can lift on a particular exercise for a single. However, you don’t have to lift that weight to establish a 1RM. You can determine your 1RM using a calculator by inputting your most recent performance on the lift. These calculators ask you for the weights you lifted and the number of reps you performed and spit out the prospective 1RM.
On the other hand, your personal best is the maximum amount of weight you have lifted on a particular lift. You can also track your personal best for a double, triceps, quadruples, or as many reps as you want.
Must Read: What Does PR Mean in Gym?
Are barbell squats the same as machine hack squats?
No. Although barbell squats and machine hack squats target the same muscle groups, they are not the same. Barbell squats are a free-weight movement, whereas the hack squat machine has a fixed movement trajectory as it moves along rails. As a result, the barbell squat recruits your core and stabilizer muscles, whereas Smith machine squats don’t.
Although barbell squats should be the go-to exercise in your training regimen, you shouldn’t dismiss machine hack squats, as they are incredibly effective at biasing your quadriceps and glutes.
Can I substitute the barbell squat with the leg press?
Like the machine hack squat, the leg press moves along a fixed trajectory, eliminating core and stabilizer engagement. Furthermore, the barbell squat is a full-body exercise, whereas the leg press only works on your lower body.
Most people can lift heavier on the leg press than the barbell squat; however, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are more effective than the conventional squat. Folks training for hypertrophy should include both exercises in their exercise regimen for optimal results.
How can I improve my squat mobility?
Mobility can be a major limiter when performing full-body compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, snatch, and clean and jerk. There are several ways to improve your mobility, depending on your starting position, goals, and timelines.
Doing mobility exercises before a workout can significantly increase your range of motion and flexibility. Furthermore, ending your workouts with mobility drills can also reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), muscle stiffness, and inflammation, which can promote better functionality.
Finally, regularly practicing the exercises on which you want to improve your mobility is also an excellent way to boost your performance. It will help loosen your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Can I build a bigger butt by doing more squats?
Squats are one of the best exercises to build a bigger butt. In recent years, many lifters, especially the ladies, have started favoring isolation exercises like the barbell hip thrust. However, squats remain the king of lower body exercises.
Whether you perform bodybuilding-style squats where your upper legs are parallel to the floor, powerlifting-style, where your hip crease is below your knee crease at the bottom, or Olympic lifting-style ATG squats, you are bound to build a bigger booty. Stay consistent with your training regimen, and you will see favorable results.
Will my butt get wider by doing more squats?
Squats can help you build a rounder and more muscular butt and lead to overall muscle growth in the lower body. However, butt width largely depends on your bone structure and cannot be altered. You will get a little wider as you employ progressive overload techniques in your squats, but it will hit the ceiling at some point as you do not have muscles at the sides of your hips. Beyond this point, you will only build a thicker lower body.
Should I squat with knee pain?
It depends on the type and degree of pain you are experiencing. On a scale of zero to 10, where zero is no pain at all, and 10 represents excruciating pain, you can squat if you are in the zero to four range. Use lifting accessories, such as knee sleeves or wraps, to protect your knees. However, you should seek medical clearance to ensure your safety.
Squatting can strengthen your knees, which can help get rid of aches and pains in your joints. Folks in the five and above range should not exercise without consulting their healthcare provider.
Also, you must progress slowly to ensure you give your joints enough time to adjust to the new load. Lifting too heavy too soon can catch your joints off-guard, leading to joint pains and injuries.
Congratulations on making it this far in this article. It shows your determination to master the barbell squat, and I highly appreciate you taking the time to watch me geek out over this foundational movement.
This article covers everything you need to master the squat. Use the progression plan and the popular powerlifting squat programs to build toward a bigger squat. So, what are you waiting for? Position that barbell on your shoulders, and get squatting. Best of luck!
If you have questions about the barbell squat, drop them in the comments section below, and I’ll be happy to help.
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