While most people squat, many don’t perform it correctly - or optimally for maximal leg muscle growth 🏋️

Perhaps it’s the setup. Or, maybe they’re just not reaching sufficient depth.

If you suspect that you might be one of them – because your numbers on the squat haven’t been increasing despite proper nutrition and pre-workout supplementation, you might want to give this article a read. We’ll break down the proper back barbell squat setup and movement, so you can (finally) start maximizing your squat training.

How to set up for the back squat

Now, before we begin, here’s a tiny disclaimer. Due to the wide variations in anatomy between individuals, there is a lot of variation when it comes to the squat setup. As you probably already know, different people feel comfortable and squat best with varying widths of stance, bar positions, and grip widths, etc.

So – since there's no one-size-fits-all solution, we'll do our best to cover the options available to you, so you have the necessary knowledge you need to optimize your squat setup.

Bar placement

There are two bar positions available. The position you choose depends on your training goals.

·         High bar: The bar rests on your traps; the high bar is a better training option for weightlifters and athletes.

·         Low bar: The bar rests across your rear deltoids; the low bar is a better training option for powerlifters or individuals with knee problems as the position of the bar allows for more weight to be moved, with a shorter range of motion.

Hand position

It doesn’t matter if you choose the high bar or low bar positioning; you should grip the bar as close as you comfortably can.

Elbow position

Your elbow position in the barbell back squat largely depends on comfort. But in general, you should pull your elbows down to your sides – this helps create tension in your lats, aiding torso rigidity and upper back tightness.

Stance width

When it comes to stance width, it is all about personal preference. Play around with your stance width and see what feels best for you, where you are the strongest and most comfortable. Pick one that gives you the best combination of depth and comfort.

Foot angle

There are two primary considerations when it comes to how far you should point your feet out when squatting.

·         Knee health: Typically, your best bet would be to let your hips and knees (based on your preferred stance width) determine your foot angle. Your toes and knees need to point in the same direction.

·         Balance: If you're someone who's most comfortable with a wide-stance, you may run into balance issues if your feet are turned outward 45 degrees or more. In this case, you can adjust your toes a bit further ahead. Even though your knees will track outside your first or second toe, you'll be fine as long as you don't experience any knee pain.

How to perform the squat

Fantastic – you're now all properly set up and are better equipped to deal with the challenging nature of the back squat. Now, all you have to do is squat. But – how? Don't worry; there are only two steps to the squat. Here's a step-by-step guide for your reference:

The Descent

There are two basic cues you can follow when it comes to the descent, and it comes down to personal preference.

Sit down

As its name suggests, you’ll initiate the squat much like you would when sitting down on a chair; you’ll bend both your knee and hip simultaneously, keeping your torso as upright as possible.

·         Advantage – Allows you to squat deeper; this more extended range of motion can mean a superior training effect.

·         Disadvantage – Nonetheless, if you have a limited range of motion at your ankles, you’d face significant difficulty performing this variation.

Sit back

With this cue, you want to pretend as if you were sitting back on a chair, where you bend at the hip first while pushing your butt back, purposefully allowing your torso to incline a bit.

·         Advantage – Limits your range of motion so this variation may be beneficial for those with limited flexibility.

·         Disadvantage – Due to its limited range of motion, this variation may not be optimal for your quad growth in the long-term.

So – when do you stop descending? Well, at the bottom! Go only as deep as your body allows you to. Now that you've made it down with all that weight on your back, it's time for the hard part: standing back up with it!

The Ascent

You might not know this, but the ascent revolves around one crucial point – the sticking point. Don't know what the sticking point is? Well, it's the part in your squat where you can't seem to move the weight up any further.

So, how do you prevent this? First, you should initiate your ascent by driving your traps back into the bar, while simultaneously pushing your feet off the floor. And when you reach the sticking point (anywhere from 1 – 6 inches above parallel), you need to continue driving your traps back, while pushing your hips under the bar.

If this sounds like the movement you use when you're locking out at a deadlift, you're right. It is. You should use the same cues you employ for deadlifts when finishing off your squats. And here's a final tip: you need to explode with every rep. Lift every rep as fast as you can, while still maintaining proper technique, of course. You'll gain strength much quicker.

Bottom line

While they may not be best for building glutes, squats are still one of the best exercises to build overall strength and muscles; you should perform them more frequently.

But – still not sure if you’re executing the barbell back squats properly, with sufficient depth? Well, why not film yourself? Unlike observing yourself in a mirror, you'll have the ability to scrutinize and playback every mistake to be fixed.

Also, here’s a tip: you can compare your form with that of GymStreak’s AR projection of the squat. And besides, you'll find some handy execution tips within the app as well, so you never have to worry about doing something wrong in the gym. Maximize your muscle-building potential with GymStreak today!

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References

Chiu, L. Z. F., vonGaza, G. L., & Jean, L. M. Y. (2017). Net joint moments and muscle activation in barbell squats without and with restricted anterior leg rotation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 35(1), 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1154978