The Beginner’s Guide to Squats

In this video, we teach you how to squat in a step-by-step tutorial. This beginner’s guide to squats is a great introduction to the low bar back squat.

About the Squat

The squat, specifically the low bar squat, is the king of all exercises in the gym. The low bar squat uses more muscle mass than any other squat and is the only exercise that trains the muscles of the posterior chain. The muscles of the posterior chain produce hip extension, which contribute to jumping, pushing, pulling and many other lower body movements. Because the squat uses the most muscle mass, it can also be loaded with the most amount of weight. In order to use the most amount of weight, the squat should be performed through the most effective range of motion – with the crease of the hip dropping just below the top of the knee. The squat therefore fits the three criteria for strength. Let’s take this background on the squat into the tutorial.

Without the Barbell

Start without the barbell in order to learn the proper bottom position of the squat. First, take a stance about shoulder-width apart and turn the toes out about 30 degrees. Place your hands together in a “prayer position.” As the descent begins, focus on the “master cue,” which is maintaining balance over the middle of the foot. From this point forward, focus on doing three things: 1) reach back with hips, 2) point chest down and 3) push knees out. Look down at the ground about 5-6 feet out. Looking down will help facilitate a more horizontal back angle (chest down) and keep the neck in a neutral position.

At the bottom, treat this like a stretch and take note of three things: 1) the elbows are pushed out into the knees, so that the knees track in the same direction as the toes, 2) the chest and eyes are down and 3) proper depth – the crease of the hip is just below the top of the knee. To stand up out of the bottom, lead with the hips. Drive the sacrum straight up out of the bottom without lifting the chest. This is known as hip drive! This allows the powerful muscles of the posterior chain such as the hamstrings, glutes and adductors to move the load. This is important: the muscles that produce hip extension are the largest and most powerful muscles in the body, therefore, we teach the squat in a way that uses these muscles so we can move the most weight.

With the Barbell

Now that it’s been established how to squat down and stand up using hip drive, we add a layer of complexity to learning how to squat by placing the barbell on the back. The barbell should sit in the rack at the height of mid-sternum. Take a thumbless grip on the bar that is narrow enough to facilitate straight wrists by placing the heel of the palm against the bar and placing fingers on top. This is an important step to learn, because the hands don’t hold the bar on the back – our back muscles holds the bar on our back. The hands simply keep the barbell from rolling down our back. With grip and hands in place, walk under the bar and place it just under the spine of the scapula, on the meat of the rear deltoids muscles. Remember, we use the low bar position to allow us to bend over and use hip drive to stand up. With the bar in position, take a deep breath, and stand up with the bar on the back.

Step out of the rack and take the same shoulder width stance as the stretch without the bar. Take a big deep breath with a closed glottis – the Valsalva Maneuver – to increase the intra abdominal pressure of our gut and provide stability for our back. As you prepare to squat down, remember two things: 1) you have to shove your knees out – your elbows won’t do it for you and 2) don’t stop at the bottom; squat down to depth and come right back up by driving your hips up. Perform a set of 5 repetitions and reset your breath at the top of each rep.

If you choose to add weight to the barbell, do so conservatively and work up to a moderately heavy set of 5 repetitions. Once you get to a weight that is somewhat hard but still allows you to maintain perfect form, stick with this weight and perform two more sets of 5 repetitions.

Now, stop leg pressing and start squatting!

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