Barbell Squat

Exercise Name:
Name: Barbell Squat
Also Called: High Bar Squat, Olympic Squat, Full Squat, Ass-to-Grass Squat
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Quadriceps
Secondary: Calves, Glutes, Hamstrings, Spinal Erectors
Function: Strength
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Push
Main: Barbell
Ancillary: Power Rack
Optional: Lifting Belt, Barbell Pad, Knee Wraps
Experience: Beginner
Rep Range: 3-20
Training Tempo: 2 – 0 – 1 – 0
Related Exercises:
Variations: Low Bar Squat, Front Squat, Box Squat, Chain Squat, Band Squat, Partial Squat
Alternatives: Leg Press, Hack Squat, Lunge, Split Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat, Step Up, Hip Belt Squat

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures comings soon!

1. Starting Position

Use a high bar squat position:

  • Hold the barbell with a wide, overhand grip.
  • Get under bar and position it on upper traps
  • Pinch scapulae together to flex upper back muscles.
  • Unrack bar and take a step away from the pins.
  • Assume a hip width stance, with toes pointing out.
  • Slightly arch lower back and extend thoracic spine.
  • Put chest up and look forward so torso is as upright as possible.

2. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex knees and hips to squat down as far as possible; thighs below parallel to floor.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause at the bottom of the rep. Transition immediately to the concentric.

4. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend knees and hips to squat up, until you’re back in the starting position.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the motion until the set is complete.
  • A 5-10 rep range is ideal for most lifters’ goals. However, the squat is versatile. Three or fewer reps, or up to 15 reps, can be highly effective for different purposes.

Common Barbell Squat Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Buttwink “Buttwink” refers to lower back rounding at the bottom of the rep. This isn’t bad, per se. It’s your spine correcting for excessive extension, which is the result of not being upright. The fix? Push your knees out. This enables proper hip alignment, and therefore a more upright torso.
Insufficient squat depth Since this is usually due to poor hip, knee and/or ankle flexibility, the solution is to do stretches for the affected joints. You may be able to immediately increase your depth by turning your toes out and pushing your knees out.
Leaning torso forward Make sure your hips never rise faster, or descend slower, than your shoulders. Drop hips down; not back.
Going onto toes Stay upright (see above) and drive through the mid-foot. Wear hard-soled shoes; preferably weightlifting shoes with a raised heel.
Relaxing at bottom of rep Do not pause at the bottom. Just transition smoothly from the eccentric into the concentric repetition. Keep your abs tight and remain upright. To relax at the bottom is to ask for a lower back injury (I know from experience).
Bar against spine Retract shoulder blades and tighten the surrounding muscles. This provides cushion and stability for the bar, which should set atop the upper trapezius. If you can’t get this right, use a barbell pad until you can.
Knees buckling in Keep your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes (which should be point outward). Actively push your knees out when coming out of the hole, to counteract the tendency of your knees to move inward.

Barbell Squat Tips

  1. Maintain the same upright back angle throughout the lift. How upright? Obviously not, since that’s biomechanically impossible. But you should be as upright as is practical; aim to maintain at least a 60° back angle.
  2. Use the Valsalva maneuver breathing technique when doing the barbell squat. It provides crucial lower back protection, and even helps you squat a bit heavier.
  3. Keep your entire musculature tense, especially the abs. The load is on your vertical axis. So, relaxing one muscle group means another must compensate to support the load; causing a breakdown in form and a higher injury risk.
  4. Push your knees out at the bottom of the rep. This maximizes squat depth and enables explosiveness out of the hole. But it only works if your feet are turned out enough.
  5. Push through the middle of your feet. Not your heels. And definitely not the balls of your feet or your toes. If you’re not pushing through the mid-foot, you’re off balance (probably from not being upright).
  6. If you tend to have slightly hunched posture, focus on thoracic spine extension to counteract this tendency. Don’t take it to the extreme by hyperextending. Extend only as far as is needed to maintain a straight back and upright torso.
  7. Got poor flexibility? Not a problem. Raising your heels 0.25-0.5 inchesoff the floor allows you to hit full squat depth with ease.
    • The best method is to wear Olympic weightlifting shoes (hard sole, raised heel).
    • Squat with your heels up on an flat, wooden plank.
    • Squat with a 5 lb. plate under each heel.
  8. Do warm up stretchesto improve the mobility and flexibility of the most important body regions for squats.
  9. Do assistance movementsto help develop and reinforce various parts of the barbell squat technique.
  10. Do a complete warm up routine:
    • 5-10 minutes of lower body-focused cardio (e.g. jogging)
    • 5 minutes of flexibility and mobility work (e.g. stretching, foam roller exercises).
    • 3-5+ squat warm up sets (increase weight/decrease reps on each set to avoid fatigue).
  11. Get a second opinion. If you are not sure how to squat properly, seek the help of a strength coach or someone at your gym who actually knows how to squat. Another option is to videotape yourself doing squats, upload it to YouTube, post it on a reliable fitness forum, and ask for feedback.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The barbell squat is great for everyone, from beginners to advanced lifters.

If you’re a beginner, it should be central to your weight lifting routine (unless you’ve got a legitimate reason not to do it).

If you’re experienced, you should most likely do barbell squats regularly. However, it ultimately depends on your needs…

…For example, the Bulgarian split squat may serve you better if you need to focus on balancing the strenghth between your left and right leg. Or, you may want do a pulling movement to improve your posterior chain strength.

Consider avoiding the high bar squat if you:

  • Have a lower back injury
  • Are training to be a powerlifter. Do the low bar squat instead.
  • Are excessively quad-dominant and aren’t doing posterior chain exercises to prevent further imbalance.
  • Can’t get the hang of it, despite a couple weeks of concerted effort. You might be built better for low bar squats (or no squats).

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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