How to Squat: A Step-by-Step Guide

Welcome to Do It Right, a new series where we cover essential skills everyone should know. From staying fit To take care of your gear And beyond that, each Do It post calls on expert advice to help you learn something new across a wide range of topics.

Skill: How to Squat

Here, we cover how to do barbell back squats, the classic version of the squat.


Lee Boyce, owner of Toronto-based strength coach, Speaker, Lee Boyce Training Systems, college professor, and internationally published fitness author. Despite having reconstructive surgery on both knees a few years ago, I’ve recorded several full-range squats over 400 pounds. I know a thing or two about doing them correctly.

what you need

Plain and simple: a barbell, weight plates, and a good old-fashioned squat rack. If your gym is worth its salt, there should be no shortage of these.

how to do it

1. Get your setup right. Make sure the bar is securely positioned in the hook. The bar should rest around upper chest level, not shoulder level. This will make it easier to get in and out of the rack when it comes time to set. Typically, squat cages have safety pins that can be mounted at the height of your choice; Set them up so that they are just below the lowest point you can reach the bar during your squat. (This level will vary depending on your height and how deeply you sit.)

2. Practice without weights. Before handling the bar, watch the motions of the squat and focus on your form. Try a few different foot placements (starting with them slightly wider than shoulder width) and see what feels best and allows you to keep your feet flat throughout the movement. Once you find a comfortable position, remember this—you’ll use the same position when you sit with the bar. It is also important to tighten your body before squatting. Try following this exercise to prepare yourself:

3. Face the bar and hold it with both hands. Most people prefer to hold the bar with their hands a few inches outside shoulder width. Grip and duck tightly under the bar to keep it on its back. As you do this, create a “shelf” (using your upper traps) to rest on the bar by squeezing your shoulder blades together and proudly keeping your chest up. Make sure the bar is nestled on the fleshy part of your trap, not your neck.

4, Raise the bar Keeping both feet square, stand up to take the bar off the hook, then carefully take two steps back. Get into your preferred squat position with your feet flat on the ground. Squeeze outward on the bar with your hands (like you’re trying to pull it apart).

5. Dig deeper. Keep your eyes focused on the floor a few meters in front of you. If you are in front of a mirror, focus on the knee level of your reflection. Take a deep breath, expanding your lungs down into your belly. Tense your abdominal muscles and maintain that tension throughout the movement—in which case, it’s okay to hold your breath.

6. Lower your body. Imagine that you are about to sit on a chair, keeping the hips back as the knees are bent. This will keep your heel down and keep you stable. Think about extending your knees to keep your knees in line with your feet as you land; This will also create room for your butt to travel downward. Aim to lower your butt to below knee level, and try to maintain a tall, straight posture with your upper body.

7. Raise your body. Dig in with feet to work your way back to top position. Near the top, you can finally let out that big breath of air. You just did a successful back squat.

Prefer to learn how to squat with videos? Here’s a step-by-step tutorial for visual learners:

How Deep Should You Squat?

When it comes to squats, one size does not fit all. In general, squatting to a depth where the thigh becomes parallel to the floor is a good guide — as long as your technique (as described above) remains on point.

Beyond that, what matters most is that you achieve your desired squat depth with a safe range of motion. Going deep into the squat requires good flexibility and good form. If you go too deep, your body can deform itself: the spine loses its flatness, or the heels lift off the ground. Be aware of these wrong moves and use a range of motion that best suits your body and mobility level.

What about other squat variations?

The squat is a very important step to learn and master, but barbell back squats There won’t be the right choice for everyone. Take the time to explore the many squat variations to see what feels best for your body. Depending on the nature and location of the load, the squat can work different muscles very differently. Front Squats, Goblet Squats, safety bar squats, zombie/frankenstein squatsAnd high heel shoe All can be smart alternatives to back squats.

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