How to do a Back Squat

Have you seen people or athletes with lifting big numbers on the Back Squat? And you asked yourself if you could do the same?

My answer is, from what I have seen everyone can have a big Back Squat if you understand how to do a Back Squat and how to apply the Back Squat technique in your strength training and Back Squat workout.

This article answers the questions:

How to do a Back Squat in one minute

If you are interested to get a quick overview of the technical key points of the Back Squat technique and you have one minute, please check out this animated tutorial (the longer video will be a bit further down)

Back Squat technique

As easy as a Back Squat looks, it’s actually not that easy to perform. You need to invest time to learn the Back Squat technique in order to perform it with heavy loads at a later point.

I have had the luck to work with athletes, that when we started out, we purely focused on learning the Back Squat technique and a few years later, they are able to Back Squat double their body weight.

Keep in mind we are talking about a full, deep Back Squat, where the knee angle is at 60 degrees or the crease of the hip is lower than the knees. Check out the differences between a Full Squat, Half Squat, and Quarter Squat.

Regardless of squat depth, the Back Squat technique goes through different phases, which I discuss in detail further down, in the section ‘the phases of Back Squat technique’

  • start position
  • descent
  • bottom position
  • ascent
  • end position

Back Squat set-up

Before you start your first repetition, there are a few important considerations regarding the set-up of the Back Squat.

Approaching the Bar

Before you get started, make sure the bar is on the right height in the rack.

What is the right height?

I advise having the bar on the height of your sternum. This will allow you to unrack the bar later through a squatting movement, rather than going onto your toes.

Once the bar is on the right height, you need to find the right grip/hand position. The distance between the hands depends on the bar position on the back, I have outlined the differences between a High Bar Back Squat and Low Bar Back Squat in the articles

The stronger you get, the more important is to approach the bar with full commitment and focus. This part shouldn’t be underestimated, as it goes wrong too often.

Over time, you need to find your own ritual on how to approach the bar.

Bar Position

Not many topics lead to a more heated discussion than the bar position, and whether a Low Bar Squat is better than a High Bar Squat, or vice versa.

I tend to look at it a bit more objectively, in the end, it’s just a different bar position resulting in different kinematics of the squatting movement.

Both squat variations have their unique benefits, which I have outlined in the articles

In the following, I will discuss the High Bar position, as I use this variation more frequently.

The bar is set across your shoulders on the top of your traps. The closer grip combined with squeezing your shoulders will contract your traps and create a shelf for the bar to lie on.

Grip

Usually you would consider the grip before the bar position, however, as different bar positions (low bar vs high bar) lead to different grip-width, I wanted to mention first, that all the following advice is based on a high bar position.

What is the right grip-width for the Back Squat?

When the bar rests on your upper traps, and the elbows are pointing (fairly) straight down, the forearms should be parallel to eachother. This is your right grip.

Unracking the Bar

This simple maneuver can make or break your squat and you.

Once you have your hands positioned on the bar, place your feet directly under the bar, you want to unrack the bar with a squat movement, not a good morning movement. Preferably the feet are parallel, not staggered.

Keep your chest up and the elbows pointing down.

Breath in deeply, hold your breath and brace.

As mentioned earlier, unrack the bar through a squatting movement, not good morning movement or calf raise.

Step out of the rack, some people are very adamant on the 3-step walk-out, I wouldn’t be too dogmatic about it, some athletes need two steps, some more than three. However, I would not advise of excessively walking backwards with the bar.

Once you found the right spot, adjust your feet.

Stance and Feet Position

The stance and foot position is one of the most important factors to consider.

The right foot position will allow you to transfer the forces from the ground effectively into the bar
The right foot position is individual and varies from athlete to athlete. As a rule of thumb, the feet should be hip-width to shoulder width apart and the feet turned out slightly.

What is turned out slightly?

Good question, if you imagine the feet are the hand of a clock, they should be on ‘5-minutes-to-one’ or ‘5-minutes-past-eleven’.

To find the right foot position, you can play around with your stance until you found a stance you are comfortable with, or you could use altitude landings as a means to find your right squat stance. Check out the tutorial I have done with one of my athletes Jeffrey Hoogland (Track Cyclist, double world champion 2018 & Olympian 2016)

Check out the article full article Tip: Altitude Landings to Improve Squatting Mechanics

Head position

Decades ago bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Platz postulated to look up and hyper-extend your neck. The reason was, that this action is supposed to extend the lower back and prevents the buttwink.

On the contrary recent trends advise to tuck your chin, like making a double-chin, and have the head aligned with the rest of the spine, which results is looking down at a point half a meter in front of you.

Whilst an excessive overextension of the neck isn’t desirable, so is making a double-chin and the head should be kept neutral.

A simple cue I use is to advise the athletes to look into their own eyes (if they are using a mirror) throughout the entire movement.

Also, check the post from Catalystathletics on the correct head and neck position.

The phases of the Back Squat technique

In the following I am going to describe the phases for the high bar Back Squat, the Back Squat technique for the low bar Back Squat is slightly different.

Start position:

  • the bar is high on your shoulders / traps
  • the grip should be as wide that the forearms are parallel (there are acceptable and individual variations as you can see in the video)
  • the elbows point straight down
  • the feet are shoulder width apart and the feet slightly turned out

Descent:

  • the movement is initiated by breaking simultaneously from the hip and knees
  • the hip moves backward
  • the descent ends, when the crease of the hip is lower than the knees

Bottom position:

  • eyes focused straight ahead
  • chest is up
  • back is flat
  • the bar is over the mid-foot (if you would draw a vertical line from the bar to the ground, the bar would be right over the mid-foot)

Ascent:

  • reverse the movement of the descent
  • the chest stays up (a cue could be to lead with the chest, this avoids shooting up the hip)
  • back remains flat
  • until full extension

End position

  • stand upright
  • maintain a strong position of the bar on the shoulders
  • rack the bar, if this was your last repetition or initiate the next repetition
  • it is worth noting, that just because the repetition or set is completed, that it is time to get sloppy. You still have a high load on your back and usually injuries as a result of lifting weights, most of the times they happen as a result of not paying attention.

And before I wrap it up, here is the full Back Squat technique tutorial on how to do a Back Squat

If you are interested in more information on how to squat, I recommend

Both guides go in-depth and far beyond just squatting technique.

How to do a Back Squat Conclusion

Even though the Back Squat looks simple and the technical key points seem simple, it’s not that easy to perform. Follow the steps, work on them consistently and you will master the Back Squat technique first and then start moving heavier and heavier loads.

As Aristotle wisely said ‘ We are what we repeatedly do, Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ so go out and practice the Back Squat.

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