As with many exercises, there is a lot of technique to the squat. It can take a while to get it right but it’s worth persevering if you want to push heavy weights whilst remaining injury-free.
This instruction pertains specifically to the Low Bar Squat, which I tend to think is easier for the beginner in terms of balance and, in my opinion, is a better compound exercise in general than the High Bar Squat.
First of all, make sure the barbell is racked at the correct height. It should be at a height where you can unrack it without too much vertical movement. That’s about an inch or so lower than the height the bar is when it’s on your shoulders when you’re standing up. The aim is to walk into the rack ever so slightly stooped and then just by standing upright you should be able to clear the J-hooks, take a couple of steps back and start the squat. You should neither have to stand on tiptoes nor crouch down too low to unrack the bar.
The bar should be as low down your back as possible without being too uncomfortable. It should feel slightly uncomfortable when you’re in the upright position (but not outright painful) but that discomfort will disappear when you actually squat and the low position of the bar will give you a mechanical advantage.
Stick your chest out, tighten up your upper body, unrack the bar and take a few steps back. A lot of injuries occur during the steps back, so take care here. Take it slowly and only go back far enough to clear the rack.
Start with your feet shoulder width apart and experiment to find a width that suits you best. Powerlifters generally use quite a wide stance; bodybuilders tend to use a narrower stance for a greater range of motion.
Turn your feet out to 45 degrees and you’re ready to squat.
Throughout the whole movement, the line from your lower back to the top of your head should be straight. Your back should not be arched. Your head position helps determine this and during the movement your head should follow your back, so neither force yourself to look up nor at your feet. As you drop into the squat your head should move with your back so that your looking at a point on the floor about 45 degrees away.
From here on the bar should only move vertically. There should be no more horizontal movement until you rerack the bar. The bar should remain over the middle of your foot for the whole movement. This is hard to achieve to begin with, not least because it’s hard to see how things look when you’re actually doing the squat. It helps if a training partner is at hand to give you feedback or, failing that, video yourself.
Take a deep breath, tighten your torso and begin your descent. Hip movement should lead this descent, so you begin by pushing your hips slightly back. This is turn will force your knees to bend and thereafter hips and knees bend in unison.
As you squat, you’re going from an upright position to one where your back is at an angle of about 45 degress at the bottom of the squat. Neither arch nor hyperextend your back.
Remember, the bar should only be moving vertically and should be over the middle of your foot throughout the movement.
Go as low as you can.
Then it’s time to do the real work and push out of the low position. Imagine the push starting in your lower back and then reverse the procedure to come out of the low position. Don’t push your hips too far forward but move them in unison with your knees to return to the standing position. Lock out at the top.
Reracking The Bar
When you’ve performed the desired number of reps, take care reracking the bar. You will have tired your muscles out by the time you come to rerack the bar. If you’ve unracked correctly it should only be a matter of walking forward a few steps to rerack the bar.
Always squat either with spotters who can help you out if you get into trouble or use a power rack or some other machine with spotting bars. You can get into a lot of trouble squatting without any backup.
In general, favour free-weight squats rather than using any machine. However, a Smith machine with a bar that moves vertically (as opposed to one with a 7 degree angle as some have) can be useful in getting the feel for how the bar should move during the squat – it forces you to only move the bar vertically. But once you’ve learnt the technique, free-weight squats are the way to go.
Here are a couple of videos explaining squat technique: