How to Squat
The squat is often performed incorrectly. After reading this guide you'll know how to back squat.
Setting up for the squat
The first part of this guide will be about how to set up for the squat. I'll explain where the bar should be positioned, hands width, elbow position, bracing, getting tight, walking the bar out and creating full-body tension.
There are two basic bar positions on the back squat, high bar, and low bar. With the high bar squat, the bar rests on the traps, while the low bar squat rest on the rear delts. The biggest thing to avoid while positioning the bar for the high bar squat is to make sure it's on the traps and not on the neck. Having the bar too high is generally the reason people have sore necks after squatting. With the low bar squat, some people get on the shoulder blades. That generally comes from letting the bar rest directly on the spine of the scapulae. Just slightly moving the bar up or down of the scapula should remove the problem. People who have shoulder problems and lack the mobility to have the bar that low without pain are better off using the high bar position. The low bar causes a slightly more forward lean low bar than the high bar squat. Ensure you are in the middle of the barbell as you set up. Placing the bar asymmetrically on the back will cause one side to take most of the load and it will be hard to maintain your balance.
In general, you should try to get your hands as close as comfortably can get without it causing pain in your wrists, shoulders, or elbows. A narrow grip will help keep your upper back tight.
Try and keep your elbows down and pulled into your sides. It should feel just like you're doing a lat pull down. This will cause tension in your lats which will help with upper back tightness. Some people benefit from driving their elbows up behind the bar when doing low bar squats. This is because some people don't have very big rear delts and driving their elbows back creates a bigger shelf to put the bar.
Bracing and getting tight
Getting tight, bracing and creating full-body tension is important as it reduces the chance of injuring yourself and it allows you to lift the most weight. Strong legs and hips aren't enough to squat. You need to be able to transfer the force into the bar through the torso. To get your upper back tight, you should actively pull your shoulder blades together and maintain this the whole time the bar is on your back. As mentioned before, pull your elbows down and in towards your body unless you need to drive your elbows behind you. Before every rep, you need to take a big breath into your diaphragm to create Intraabdominal pressure. When breathing into your diaphragm, your stomach should inflate out. This helps protect your lower back. If you're chest and shoulders raise while you take your breath you're not breathing into your diaphragm. You will hold this breath during the rep at least until you're 2/3 of the way back up. Contract your abs like you're about to get punched in the stomach. This combined with taking a big breath will ensure you're core is braced.
Foot stance and angle toes point out
How wide people's stance is will vary depending on individual anatomy and their mobility. You'll need to use trial and error to find your best stance. A good starting point is to have your heels at shoulder-width apart and slightly pointing out. See how that's feels. Then try it an inch or two wider, and an inch or two narrower. Try with the toes pointing out and driving the knees out, and try with the feet pointing straight ahead. See how comfortable and how deep you can squat with each stance width without your back rounding.
Walking the bar out of the rack
First thing you need to check that the hooks are a good height. You shouldn't ever have to tiptoe the bar out of the rack. This is a common mistake people often make. You also don't want it too low that you waste too much energy. A good starting point is to have the hooks set so the bar is level with your sternum. With your feet the width you plan to squat with. Start your hips a bit behind the bar, take a deep breath into your stomach, tense your back, and get your hips under the bar and squatting the weight up out of the hooks. Be aggressive when unracking the bar. Once you unrack the bar, wait for a second and let the weights settle. Take a small step back with one foot, then a little step back with your second foot, and then a third step if an adjustment is needed. You want the walkout to be as efficient as possible so that you waste minimal energy. You shouldn't ever need more than three steps to walk out. Once you've walked the bar out, you will already be braced and the upper body will be tight. You now want to get even tighter so you have complete control of the bar. You need to ensure you have your weight evenly distributed across your big toe, your little toe, and your heel. Next, you need to create tension in your hips. With your feet planted into the floor try and rotate your hips outwards. Do this by imagining trying to touch your heels together and move more toes towards a wall either side without actually moving your feet.
Setting up for the squat
1 Place the bar on either the traps or rear delts. Ensure you're set in the middle of the bar.
2 Grip the bar as close as you comfortably can. If you're getting wrist, elbow, or shoulder pain or discomfort, move your hands out. Drive your elbows under the bar, or behind if you need to.
3 Take a deep breath, get tight and brace before lifting the bar out of the rack. Walk the bar out, using as little energy as possible.
4 Get in your preferred stance width
5 Take another deep diaphragmatic breath. Brace like you're going to take a punch to the stomach6 Create total body tension.
When squatting, look straight ahead or slightly down. Focus on something and don't take your eye off it. Two cues when doing the squat is sit down and sit back. When sitting down you break at the hips and knees at the same time. When you cue to sit back you break at the hips first by pushing your butt back as if you're going to sit on a chair. Sitting down tends to keep your body more upright but there isn't a massive difference. For most people breaking at the hips and knees at the same time will be best to start with. Try both and do what feels most comfortable. You should descend as fast as you can while being able to remain tight and remain in complete control of the barbell. Try and squat to just below parallel. Parallel is where the crease of the hip joint is level with the top of the knee. Some people are able to go lower, while some people will struggle to reach depth due to mobility issues. When at the bottom drive your traps into the bar and push your feet into the floor. Your hips and shoulders should come up at the same speed. This will keep your back angle the same throughout the lift. A common mistake is to allow your hips to rise up faster than your shoulders and end up bent over. Driving your traps into the bar should prevent that.