The Back Squat is undoubtedly one of the best moves to include in your routine – regardless of whether you are training for aesthetic or athletic goals – but unfortunately, it is also one of the hardest to master. The ideal progression to build up to a back squat for a beginner would be to master the body weight squat, then the goblet squat and then the back squat.
In addition to there being a lot of technical points to practice and consider, this movement relies heavily on correct set up, good flexibility and reasonable mobility too. Even a proper warm up is required for this more than your average weighted exercise.
This squat is considered of the key compounds because it effectively works the legs, back, and core muscle groups, and can be loaded with a lot of weight. Therefor it is great for muscle gain, burning calories and everything in between. It is also one of the key movements that have a lot of variations – so once you master the back squat; the goblet, sumo, hack, Jefferson, thruster and overhead squats more become a lot easier to perform and load.
How to Back Squat:
- Rack the bar just above nipple height, and take a grip just outside your shoulder width (use the bar markings as reference to ensure you are gripping an even distance from the centre of the bar).
- Step directly beneath the bar with both feet, before squeezing the shoulders back to create a shelf of muscle for the bar to sit upon on the upper back (not the neck).
- Try to find a ‘comfortable position’ before considering using a squat pad. The pad may seem helpful but it will likely load the bar too high up the back/neck, which wrecks the squat and strains the back.
- Take the strain; applying half the pressure needed to lift the bar, before extending the hips to unrack the bar and stand tall.
- Take 1-2 small steps back, set your stance width just outside shoulder width, steady yourself and stand tall with the bum, quads and abs tight.
- From here, breathe in, push the hips back and descend until the thighs are parallel with the ground with your weight through your heels.
- As you change direction brace the knees outward, and drive evenly through both feet.
- Breathe out as you extend the hips and stand tall, with the joints – shoulders, hips, knees and ankles – stacked on top of each other.
- Ensure you are steady, breathe in and repeat.
Some Key Points:
- Try to keep the elbows tucked close to the sides, in line with the torso. This stops the traps bunching up, poor posture and back rounding at the base of the squat.
- Stare at the floor 2-3 metres in front of you, or of you are in front of a mirror, stare at the crotch throughout the movement. This keeps the neck and spine neutral, so you avoid arching the back.
- Following the breathing advice as above means you help brace the core against the crushing force of the bar, and stand a better chance of keeping the back straight at the point of most pressure (the change from descent to ascent). Most squat failure comes from the torso giving way, not the lack of strength from the legs.
- Once you are comfortable with the back squat, you can play around with something called the ‘low bar squat’. This involves resting the bar on the rear delts, but we stress that you should start very light here as it is a tricky position to master, and requires good mobility and technique. We will all ‘high bar squat’ 99.9% of the time when we start off, which involves resting the bar on the traps and a more upright torso.
- Opt to go shoeless, flat and hard-soled shoes or for lifting shoes. These will all be much better than a running or fashion trainer, which have softer soles. Softer soles may be great for general life and walking/running, but a more sturdy (and often heeled) shoe is better for squats (and weightlifting in general).
The back squat is one of the big compound movements and rightly so; great for all fitness and sporting goals. It is also very effective at developing your legs and glutes – far more effective than the silly, overly-complex, million rep ‘booty circuits’ you’ll see from fitness chicks on Instagram.
However, if you cannot do back squats due to a chronic injury, machines are a great sub. Just remember that as with any movement you need to master the form, the tempo and then build the weight steadily over time. See more on training with a chronic injury here.