Barbell back squat is a basic must-have exercise for weightlifters of all levels and periods of preparation. Everyone squats in any case, but loads differ depending both on the preparation stage and training ‘philosophy’.
The development of power and strength in almost all sports is associated with knee and hip extension, which is why Squats are an integral part of any strength training. Depending on the stage and goals of training, a coach can set different purposes for their athlete, from the maximum weight to the maximum number of reps with a weight equal to his body weight.
Back squats target the posterior chain — or the back of your body — including the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The quads and core are also engaged.
Back squat technique
I will teach you how to do back squat properly and effectively by explaining the most common mistakes.
Squat backward, not down
One of the most common mistakes is driving your knees forward. In order to squat properly, you have to drive your hips backward first and only then bend your knees.
It may seem weird for a newbie. The best way to grab the movement is trying to squat backward rather than downward. Do that properly and you will leave no chance for a so-called «butt wink», bending the lower back, which can cause a lot of troubles in this area in the future.
Weight on the heels
Another common mistake is shifting the weight to the toes, especially if an athlete drives their knees forward. Don’t let it happen. While squatting, think about keeping your weight on the heels both during the downward and upward movement. It will help you squat properly.
Strong back and trunk
Another back squat mistake is approaching it as if it is a leg exercise. It is important to start every set with arching the back. Make it tight once the bar is there, then tense core muscles. Keep this tension during every rep. It will help you maintain a neutral spine position at first, and when switching to heavier weights, it will be especially critical.
Look straight ahead, not up
Always look straight ahead throughout the whole set, it will help to keep the spine in a neutral position for every rep.
Back squat exercise involves the whole body and demands the coordinated work of all big muscle groups. Control the movement. Doing the back squat up to 80% of your 1 RM, try to perform the descending phase slowly and explode back up quickly and powerfully.
Why is it important?
This will help to control the center of gravity and optimize biomechanics. While descending slowly, you will always have less chance of making a mistake.
You create additional muscle work in the eccentric mode. By descending slowly, you increase the time under tension (TUT), which means you train the muscles while moving both down and up.
Lifting Shoes & Belt
Weightlifting shoes are recommended as they will help you squat deeper.
They make it more comfortable and balanced, especially if you have limited ankle mobility. This problem is very common among beginner and intermediate athletes. As for the belt, from my experience, I would say that this is not necessary. And even if you are already using a lifting belt, I recommend wearing it at 70% or higher to keep your muscles in good shape.
My advice for back squats:
- Always squat facing the racks – it is a safety issue.
- Don’t hesitate to ask somebody to be a spotter.
- Take the bar off the racks properly and set up correctly – always hold the bar with the full grip.
- Always work for the full range of motion – make your tendons and joints ready in case the bar makes you squat low at competitions.
- Patience and correct angles during the downward movement will let you develop the biggest power on the way up.
- There shouldn’t be any ‘sticking points’ while rising out from the hole – one smooth movement. If it happens all the time, decrease the working weight and try to rise smoothly.
- You should always set your mind to push the hips backward, knees out, and rise with acceleration – it is more productive in terms of muscle efforts.
- Remember that it doesn’t matter how much you can squat in Olympic weightlifting – your snatch and clean & jerk do matter at competitions.
Remember that the warm-up before the squats must be not only general but also special because any squat variation involves the entire muscle system. The only case that the warm-up is not essential is when Olympic back squat is at the end of a training plan.
This exercise allows you to work with rather heavy weights and build your leg strength, especially during the preparatory period.
It is important to keep some technical intricacies in mind to make it safer and more effective:
- always face the racks;
- before lifting a heavy weight, make sure that the bench and racks are set up comfortably;
- the bench should be at the knee level, the proper squat angle in this variation is the hip parallel to the floor;
- tight back, shoulder blades are squeezed, the bar is firmly fixed at the traps so that it can’t slip to the neck and further down;
- always look straight ahead – it helps to keep the trunk tense;
- the descent must be always slow till your glutes touch the bench, after that raise actively and quickly, pushing the heels against the floor.
Pause back squats have several goals. First, they boost maximum strength well because there is no extension-contraction reflex that we use to break through ‘sticking points’ in regular squats. You also engage core muscles, develop flexibility to comfort your body at the bottom of the squat, and improve movement mechanics.
I recommend 3-second pauses, still, I have seen athletes doing a 6-second pause at the bottom of the squat. In terms of physiology, a 3-second pause is completely enough to cease the stretch reflex, extend the quads and make them work. Yet, longer pauses can be used for additional trunk load, but it won’t influence the speed of strength development.
Pause back squats are better to use within the preparatory period, not more than 5 reps. Usually, athletes do 2-3 reps in a set.
This variation is performed with your feet narrower than your shoulders. The feet must point ahead together with the knees. This exercise mainly targets quads, glutes, and hip adductors.
As the range of motion in this exercise is shorter, your hips don’t go apart that much, so the load shifts to the ankles and demands their significant mobility.
While performing narrow-stance squats, try to go really low as long as you are comfortable and keep the spine neutral.
One of the main benefits of such squats is that most athletes find that their range of motion expands after 3-4 sessions.
Narrow-stance squats are better to use during the preparatory and transition periods. I don’t recommend using too heavy weights, you better focus on a comfortable and controllable load.
Wide-stance back squats
Back squats (wide feet) are a great drill to develop the posterior chain strength and activate various muscles that don’t work much in case of a narrower feet stance.
A wide stance (approximately 140% of the shoulder width) targets the glutes and hip muscles. By the way, powerlifters and bodybuilders include this exercise in their training plans regularly.
Such a technique can also be an alternative for athletes who struggle with knee inflammation due to high loads. Of course, the best decision would be to stay away from any loads for a while, but it could be impossible if you are about to take part in an important competition and need your legs toned up. A wider stance allows you to keep shins more vertically, taking most of the load away from them.
Once, Arnold’s Schwarzenegger coach said a genius phrase: “You need to shock your muscles”. I can tell you for sure that a perfect solution for this goal is to squat in 3 positions: narrow, medium, and wide. This set combines the benefits of all 3 exercises, making you ‘breathe’ and focus heavily in order not to screw anything up in the technique. Even if you put a usual weight that you can handle for 10 regular reps easily and do 2 reps for every position in a row, you will be surprised how difficult it is and what your muscles feel the next day. Also, I have another workable tip: if you have to do 3 sets, try changing the stance order for each of them.This bb back squat is better to do during the preparatory period or when you try to gain weight, for example, to go up in the weight class. I don’t recommend lifting too heavy weights, you better use 50-60% of the best barbell back squat and do 3+3+3.