How to Do a Back Squat

back squat example

The barbell back squat is one of the most beneficial movements you can perform in the gym. Follow this guide to ensure you get the most out of it!

Back squat requirements: Barbell, weight plates, and squat rack (or variation of a squat stand)

Back squats target every major muscle in your lower body. If you start moving serious weight, it is considered a full-body exercise. Back squats work your:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Core
  • Back
  • Biceps
  • Shoulders/Traps
  • Forearms

What is a Back Squat?

Back squats are a foundational lift used in training programs for almost every sport, from soccer to powerlifting. They build lower body power by allowing you to move heavy loads.

Almost every good trainer or training program will include back squats unless you cannot perform them due to injury. They burn a massive amount of calories, build muscle, and increase full lower body strength.

Back Squat Benefits

The benefits of this movement are almost endless. Back squats are a compound movement, meaning you use more than one joint to perform them.

They heavily load the quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and core, making them one of the most efficient exercises you can do. Squats also strengthen the joints, ligaments, and tendons surrounding your knees and hips.

Back squats are also well known to boost athletic performance in many areas, including sprint times and vertical jump height.

Calorie Burn

Because the back squat works most of the body, performing them burns large amounts of calories. Additionally, the increase in hormone production caused by performing squats will help you get your desired results even faster.

What do Squats Work?

Most personal trainers would consider squats a full-body movement. However, they predominantly target the lower body, placing more load on the glutes and quads.

muscles worked in back squats
Muscles worked in back squats

Because of how the weight is distributed while performing a back squat, they are a great way to build extra strength and size in the quadriceps and glutes.

Back Squat Form

If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you start with body weight squats, progress to goblet squats, then attempt back squats.

Take the weighted bar off the rack, resting it on your rear shoulder muscles. Then, take two full steps back and stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly out. 

Keep your spine aligned by looking at a spot on the floor about two meters in front of you, then sit back and down as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Descend until your hip crease is below your knees. Keep your weight on your heels throughout the entire movement.

Form Tips

Keep your chin neutral: pick a point with which you will maintain eye contact throughout the movement. Dropping your chin can put your back at risk for rounding, making the squats more difficult and leading to injury.

Keep your chest up: Take a deep breath before you start the movement, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and hold your breath as you lower. Then, as you push the weight back up, be sure to exhale. Keeping your chest up throughout the movement will allow you to lift more weight and will reduce your risk of spinal injury.

Push your elbows forward: engage your lats and focus on pushing your elbows forward. When your elbows go back, it encourages your shoulders to rotate internally, making maintaining a neutral spine position challenging.

Line your knees up with your toes: your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart and slightly turned out. As you push your hips back and bend at the knees, focus on driving your knees out instead of pushing them forward. This will help keep your knees aligned with your toes while going down and coming back up.

Note: it doesn’t matter if your knees go over your toes, but you don’t want them to turn inward.

Keep your heels planted: your weight needs to be on your heels and mid-foot throughout the entire movement. Transferring the weight to the balls of your feet puts extra pressure on your knees.

How to Back Squat

This movement requires a barbell, weights, a lifting or squat rack, and as the weight gets heavier, some sort of failsafe to catch the weight if you need to bail. Here are step-by-step instructions for completing the back squat:

  1. Stand in front of the loaded barbell gripping it slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Lower your head and shoulders under the bar and push your traps into the bar, pulling it into them by engaging your lats and pushing your elbows forward.
  3. Align your feet under the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and push through your heels to lift it off the rack. Keep your chest up and neck neutral even while lifting out of the rack.
  4. Take one step back with each foot, keeping your core tight and the bar controlled.
  5. Stand with your toes angled out at roughly 10:00 and 2:00 and feet slightly wider than your hip distance.
  6. Tighten your core, keeping your spine neutral and your eyes ahead.
  7. Take a breath into your stomach and push your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
  8. Press your hips back, bending your knees and pushing them out, with your heels firmly planted until your knees and hips reach at least a parallel position (you can go lower if you desire to and have the flexibility).
  9. Now reverse the entire movement, exhaling as you push up through your heels, not allowing your knees to cave inward. Keep your core engaged and your chest tall throughout the exercise.
  10. After you have completed all the repetitions you intended to, take one step forward with each foot, align the bar with the rack, and squat the weight back into its holding position.
  11. Notes: if you need to bail because you cannot get the weight back up or onto the rack, always step forward and away from the bar while pulling your arms out from under it. This will prevent you from getting trapped under a weighted bar or injured if you don’t have some sort of failsafe to capture the bar.

Safety Concerns

If you aren’t ready for weighted barbell back squats, consider starting with bodyweight squats or goblet squats to get used to the movement and build up to back squats over time. Additionally, if you experience knee, neck, hip, or back pain while squatting, consider talking to your doctor about other movements.

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You may also like: Simple Guide to Doing a Proper Barbell Box Squat

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