How to Perform Squats
There are many different lifts that a weightlifter can do to increase their strength, speed, and power. All kind of weightlifting is great for your body, but I prefer to not waste time in the gym lifting with tunnel vision, going from machine to machine and seeing little results from my hard work.
Instead, I would rather do 3-4 exercises with maximal intensity to wipe out my whole body in order to reap a maximal anabolic effect. The most well known and most dreaded of these exercises is the squat.
Rules to remember when squatting:
- Keep the lower back straight and mostly flat; do not round your back!
- Keep knees pointing out slightly, do not let them creep inwards as you push yourself up.
- The bar should rest on upper trap muscles and the rear heads of the shoulders.
- Push from your glutes (butt), not your knees; your hips should raise first and everything else should raise with them.
- Fill your stomach with air before descending and keep it tight with your chest out while pushing up.
- Push up with your eyes focused 30-45 degrees above normal eye level.
- Try to keep your knees behind your toes to avoid injury.
The Back Squat
Quite possibly the best overall strength-building exercise known to man. If most of your buddies think the squat is only for your quads, well it is our responsibility to enlighten them. During a proper squat you will hit your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, hips, abs, and obliques. Even the lats and pecs (chest) get stimulated as stabilizer muscles.
If you’re not ready to squat with proper form don’t even bother with this exercise, because if you do it wrong you’re wasting a great exercise on nothing and risk injuring yourself. You need to be moderately flexible to perform a proper squat as a full squat requires flexion and sometimes extension primarily of the neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles.
How to Perform a Back Squat
Start with the bar lying on your upper back and across your neck. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width, toes pointing forward and out ever so slightly. Next, it is recommended to look up at a 30-45 degree angle to keep your back straight and tight.
Now, bending at the knees and pushing the buttocks back (picture sitting in a chair), squat down very slowly until your bum drops below the level of your knees; your upper legs should drop slightly lower than parallel to the floor. There is no need to actually sit on the floor, but some trainers push “ass-to-grass” squats wherein your ass will drop down and touch your calves or the floor.
It is still debatable whether or not deep squats are bad for the knees long term, so I don’t push it. Pause for a split second in the hole, then explode back up into a standing position taking care not to lock the knees at the top.
Using less weight than with a back squat, you want to explode out of the hole and when you reach the top of the squat don’t just stop, but instead jump as high as you can. When you land, be sure to bend your knees slightly to absorb the impact from the landing. From this point you can proceed down into the next jump squat, thus avoiding any need to pause between reps.
There is a more detailed description of jump squats here: how to jump squat.
This time the bar will be resting on the front of your shoulders, upper chest, and neck. Use a weight that is less than back squats. If this is your first time, start with very light weight until you get comfortable with the form. Eventually you should be able to front squat more than you can jump squat.
There is a more detailed description of front squats here: how to front squat.
Conventional Style: With the bar racked, stand under it, positioning the bar on your shoulders and upper chest. Extend both arms out in front of you under the bar, bend at the elbows and cross your forearms over one another and over the bar. Your left hand should grip the bar just outside your right shoulder, and of course the right hand will grip near the left shoulder.
Unrack the bar, holding it in place with your hands but letting it sit on your upper chest and shoulders. You might feel pressure on your neck, but for Arnie’s sake don’t choke yourself out with it. KEEP YOUR HEAD, CHIN, and ELBOWS UP UP UP or you risk dropping the bar. Now squat.
Olympic Style: In this case you stand under the bar, positioning it on your front deltoids and upper chest, then grab the bar just outside shoulder width with your palms facing forward. The bar should be resting slightly on your fingers, with your wrists bent backwards at a 90 degree angle.
You can also power clean or hang clean the bar up into the “rack position”, where it rests on your shoulders, upper chest, and fingers. Do this if you must start with the bar on the floor or a low rack.
Again, it is imperative to keep your elbows up as high as they can go. Olympic style front squatting is hard on the fingers and wrists, so be sure to warm up good and get some flexibility in your wrists before starting these.
Other Types of Squats
You can add equipment to your squats such as a box to sit on (box squats), bands and chains for added variable resistance, a weightlifting belt, or even a safety squat bar to better prevent injuries (although I’ve never used such a thing).
Feel free to do 20 rep breathing squats with a weight that you can normally do for 10-12 reps. Don’t stop until you hit 20. Keep a puke bucket beside you at all times.
There are also sissy squats, hack squats, overhead squats, reverse hack squats, one leg squats, and much more. Be creative with your squatting, but just remember to get in there and squat at least once every 10 days or so.