In Depth Barbell Back Squat Guide
This guide will provide you all of the information you’ve ever needed to know about the squat exercise. Form, commonly asked questions, benefits, and more will be provided. First let’s figure out how to properly perform the exercise for maximum mucsle gain without injuring yourself.
How to Barbell Squat
The barbell back squat is often referred to as the king of leg exercises. It is a compound exercise that works various muscle groups at a time. If you are in a crunch for time, it’s a great way to work your entire legs in a short amount of time, rather than doing a bunch of exercises.
The barbell back squat is a movement done in a squat rack, where a barbell is placed on the person’s back and loaded with weight.
By squatting down, the load is placed on the leg muscles, breaking down muscle fibres and leading to muscle growth.
The quadriceps, hamstring, gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, adductor magnus, spinal erectors, and core muscles are all worked during the squat. Their exact roles and benefits will be noted later in the article.
Proper Squat Form
Begin by setting the safety pins just below head height. This will allow you to simply lean forward and drop the bar when you are finished with your set. You don’t want to have to hop on your tippy-toes when you are exhausted and risk hurting yourself reracking the bar.
Place your entire body under the bar and place it on top of your trap muscles, just behind your neck. Squeeze your glute muscles to unrack the bar.
Keep your head stationary throughout the movement. Many people find it advantageous to stare at one point in the mirror or wall in front of them to help with this. If your chin drops it can cause you to lean forward and round your back.
Keep your chest up and back straight. Dropping your chest will cause you to lean forward, rounding your back and resulting in injury. The back can become seriously injured if it rounds so keeping it straight is optimal.
Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground throughout the entire movement. If your feet lift at all, it will place unnecessary tension on your ankles and will set you off balance. This will also help you press off the ground, delivering more power as you press-up out of the squat.
Grip the barbell as tight as you can with your hands during the squat. This will tighten and engage your upper back, ensuring further stability.
Proper form is important for getting the most muscle gain out of the exercise without injuring yourself.
The barbell squat provides many benefits such as;
- Strengthened core
- Improved coordination
- Improves everyday life
- Improved core strength
- Improved mobility
- Increase fat burning
- Stronger joints
By placing the leg muscles under heavy loads in the back squat, the muscles will break down and regrow. Your core stabilizes your body under these heavy loads, increasing its strength. Your body is not used to squatting down low with heavy weights on your back, this greatly improves mobility and range of motion.
By increasing the amount of muscle on your body, your body naturally burns more fat. Squats strengthen your joints, preventing injuries. Back squats strengthen the back muscles and torso which helps fight internal rotation of the shoulders. This pulls your shoulders back and improves posture.
The spinal erectors helps stabilize the lower back and prevents it from rounding during the squat. By strengthening the lower back, you are preventing possible injuries.
The lower back is susceptible to injury in a lot of exercises in the gym, so strengthening it is a huge way to prevent this. Improving the strength of the back is also a great way to improve posture. Back muscles protect the spine from restriction, further preventing injury.
It’s no surprise that squats are great for lower body strength as they work the entire lower body. Since numerous muscle groups are working together, you can stack on heavyweight to overload the lower body muscles. This results in more muscle breakdown and growth.
Having lower body strength prevents injuries. Ankle and knee injuries are very common and can be prevented by having lower-body muscle mass. The rehabilitation process is also increased if you have more muscle on your legs.
Squats increase the strength of the core muscles as they stabilize the body during the movement. A strong core translates over to many other exercises such as the overhead press and barbell row.
A strong core is also a very aesthetically pleasing look that many people strive for. Everyday actions require strength from the core. Any twisting, bending, or lifting act on the core for assistance.
You will notice an increase in balance and stability if you increase the strength of your core. This reduces the risk of injury due to accidental falls or slips.
Since so many muscle groups are activated during the squat, it’s great for increasing body awareness. You have to mentally think about a lot of different things when squatting to master your form.
You must keep your chest up, back straight, and engage your muscles all with a heavy load on top of your shoulders. By flexing certain muscle groups and feeling the strain in them, body awareness is improved.
For example, you may not be able to properly contract your glutes or adductor magnus muscles until you’ve performed the squat and felt those muscles working.
The legs are a huge factor in sports. Running, jumping, and kicking are all skills that are highly impacted by strong leg muscles. You will notice that you can sprint faster and jump higher after frequent leg training.
Strong leg muscles from the squat will also prevent sports injury. Being injured can make you miss a game or tournament.
Looking for more ways to burn body fat? See here.
Barbell Squat Phases
Here are the different phases that must be properly performed during the squat.
Lowering Phase Mechanics and Muscle Activation
After the bar has been set up on the back, a deep breath is taken before descending into the squat.
The hips should bend to initiate the squat as the person drops down. The head should be kept in a stationary position while staring straight forward.
The chest must remain up and the back straight. Balance and proper position must be maintained. The person should not lean forward or side to side.
The descent should be slow and controlled. The speed should never increase or decrease, but rather remain constant.
If the speed is too quick, you risk losing your form which can result in injury. If the speed is too slow, you won’t drive enough force out of the bottom of the movement to spring the weight back up.
Once the person has reached desired depth (usually parallel), they begin the ascent.
Now it’s time to return to the starting position by reversing the movement. The feet and calves should press away from the ground as hard as possible to create upwards force.
The glutes and hips will drive the body upwards. The shoulders and hips should rise at the same speed. The chest should still be kept upright and the back straight.
The feet must stay planted firmly against the ground. The core and upper back must remain engaged to be able to shoot out of the squat.
Make sure the butt does not rise before the chest. This will cause you to lean forward and round the back.
Don’t let the air out of your lungs until you’ve completed the rep. Otherwise, it is difficult to keep a straight back.
Barbell Back Squat Form Mistakes
Some common mistakes that you want to watch out for when squatting are;
- Letting the chest drop
- Moving the head or neck
- Not warming up
Keeping the chest up is a great way to prevent lower back rounding. The head and neck must also remain stationary to keep balance.
Not warming up properly can also result in injury. Stretch out all the leg muscles to prevent tightness and get the blood flowing through the muscles. This prevents muscle tears. Do a few sets with lighter weight before going heavy to prepare the muscles for the heavier loads.
Not squatting low enough prevents the legs from properly being worked. This results in very little muscle and strength gains. The knees should remain over the toes throughout the movement. If they collapse inwards, it places stress on the knees and ankles.
Barbell Squat Weight
If you cannot complete a rep with proper form, then the weight is too heavy. Always start with the bar without any weight on it. Ensure that you can complete a proper rep and then start slowly adding weight.
Then add a 10lb plate to each side of the bar and determine if you can do that weight properly. Continue this until the weight gets too heavy. When you get to a weight where you notice your form slipping, go down in weight.
If your goal is muscle gain, then you will want to be doing 8-10 reps with your working weight. Find a weight that allows your form to fail in the 8 to 10 rep range.
If you are descending too fast, rounding your back, or breaking any of the other form rules listed in this article, the weight is too heavy.
Barbell Squat Grip
Grip positioning is very important in the back squat because it creates upper back tension. This allows the back to stay tight during the movement, preventing rounding.
Grip width will vary as everyone has different arm lengths. Do what feels most comfortable for you while allowing the most back tension. For most people, this is just outside shoulder width.
If your grip is too narrow, you may experience wrist and elbow pain. If your grip is too wide, it will be a lot more difficult to keep your back tight.
You should keep the barbell stacked over the wrists while squatting. This means that the elbows and wrist should be directly under the hands. This mitigates wrist pain.
Remember that squeezing the bar also assists with creating back tension.
Barbell Squat Muscle Involvement
Knee extension is at the greatest extent the lower you go into your squat. The quadriceps are responsible for knee extension, meaning that they are worked the most the lower you squat.
Your hip extensors are responsible for helping you drive out of the squat back to the starting position. The glute muscles make up the hip extensors. Many people will contract the glutes at the top of the movement to place even more tension on them.
The hamstrings also assist the glutes in hip extension. The hamstring’s main role is to stabilize the knee joints as the load is placed on them. This keeps the knees healthy and free of injury.
The adductor magnus muscles are found on the inner thigh and play a role in hip joint flexion.
The spinal erectors found in the back assist with keeping the spine stable and stiff during the squat. This prevents rounding of the back which can lead to serious injury as it will shift the load from the barbell onto the lower back.
The core muscles including the abdominals and obliques are very important for stability while squatting. They prevent the spine from extending or twisting while squatting heavyweights. While squats have been shown to strengthen the core, abdominal training is still required to grow ab muscles.
The calves also play a minor role in the squat, helping spring out of the bottom of the squat. Squats alone will not benefit calf growth to a great extent and calf isolation exercises should be added to any leg routine.
Master the Barbell Squat
To perform the squat;
Take the bar from the rack with resting it on your back shoulder muscles. The trap muscles are the thickest part of the upper back and provide a sturdy place for the bar to rest.
Thenn ake 2 big steps back. Taking 2 steps allows you to get the bar from under the safeties where you can safely squat without hitting them. You should practice your steps so that you are in a position to squat always after your 2nd step.
Stand shoulder-width apart with toes pointed slightly out. By slightly pointing your toes out, you increase balance and allow yourself to squat deeper. With the toes pointed straight forward, your hip flexors will be a lot tighter, making it difficult to go deep.
Keep your knees in line with your toes. The main thing you want to avoid is your knees turning inwards as you descend in your squat.
Maintain spinal alignment by staring two meters forward on the floor. By staring at the same spot throughout the squat your head will remain in the same position. This will also keep your spine in position, preventing injury.
Sit back and down as if aiming for a chair. This allows you to squat the buttocks down without placing tension on the knees or causing the body to tilt forward.
Reduce your descent until your hip crease is below your knee.
This is considered parallel and is the spot that most people aim to squat for. Going any lower can cause pain and tightness. Not going this low won’t work the legs as much.
Keep your weight on your heels as you drive back up. Pushing through your heels drives the most force, allowing you to get the weight back up.
Barbell Squat Variations
A barbell back squat variation is any other type of squat. Variations usually focus on different muscle groups and will help you increase your back squat.
1. Front Squat
Since the barbell is held in front of the anterior delts, the tension is placed mainly on the quads. The glutes are not activated as much as in the back squat as the center of gravity is shifted forward. The front squat also puts less pressure on the back since the bar isn’t rested on top of it. If you’re looking for a variation to increase quad activation, the front squat is a great choice.
2. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat mimics the same form as a back squat except a dumbbell is held in front of the body, rather than a barbell. This is a great way to learn squat form and then translate it over to your back squat. It’s also recommended for beginners as the weight isn’t as heavy. The barbell is also intimidating.
Barbell Squat Origin
In the early 1900s, the back squat was known as the “deep knee bend.” In 1921, Heinrich Steinborn was credited for creating the squat. This was before squat racks were invented so it has to be performed by tilting a barbell so that it was vertical and then shifting it onto the shoulders.
Later in the 1920s and 1930s, the squat rack was created and the squat that we know today was performed.
Main Muscles Affected During the Squat
The primary muscles affected most by the back squat are
- Adductor magnus
- Gluteus maximus
The quadriceps and glutes are the muscles worked on the most in the squat. They are known as agonist muscle groups as they are the prime movers. The lower the body goes, the more knee flexion that occurs, resulting in more quad activation.
The glutes are responsible for extending the hips at the top of the squat and also abducting the hips throughout the movement. The adductor magnus is a synergist muscle meaning that it’s a secondary muscle group that assists the agonist’s muscles. It does so by assisting with hip extension.
What is the Effectiveness of Barbell Back Squat for Muscle Growth?
By working multiple muscle groups at a time, the back squat is great for muscle growth. It is an exercise that can be loaded with a lot of weight, overloading the muscles leading to increased growth.
When the muscles are placed under heavy loads, large amounts of muscle fibres are broken down. This leads to the muscles rebuilding bigger and stronger.
A study taking 24 women showed an increase in quadriceps growth and gluteus growth after squatting for 6 sets per week for a 12-week period.
Squats Affects on Hormones
Compound exercises have been shown to burn the most fat and release the most amount of testosterone as numerous muscle groups are being worked.
Testosterone is the major sex hormone responsible for increasing muscle and bone size and strength. By increasing it, the body will build muscle faster.
The legs also contain the largest muscles in the body, leading to even more testosterone and growth hormone release when trained. Human growth hormone is responsible for promoting muscle growth and fat burn.
Cortisol is also released when training legs. Cortisol helps the body respond to stresses and increase fat metabolism.
Is Barbell Back Squat Practiced within Crossfit?
Crossfit is a form of high-intensity interval training to build strength and conditioning. The back squat is used in Crossfit training as well as many other variations of the squat. Crossfit aims to build muscle while also burning fat.
The squat is a great way to do so as so many muscles are required to work, burning more fat. An overhead press will often be done at the top of the squat to further increase intensity.
Is Barbell Back Squat a Military Movement?
Members of the military must pass rigorous physical tests, so the squat is a great way to prepare them for this. Army Lieutenant Derek Wales states that squats helped him improve speed, core strength, mobility, and vertical jumps which all gave him an advantage in the military.
Is Barbell Back Squat Dangerous?
The back squat can be one of the most dangerous movements if done incorrectly. As long as you follow the tips in this article, then the benefits far outweigh the possible cons. Proper form and using appropriate weight are the biggest factors. By warming up and taking safety seriously, the squat only bring benefits.
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