Barbell squats are one of the most complex movements in terms of multiple teaching points. And you HAVE to get it dead right or you’ll end up hurt.
Let’s have a look at how to do them safely and effectively.
(1) Set the safety pins just lower than the height the bar will be at the bottom of the rep. If training alone you might want to use a smith machine
(2) Have the bar racked below shoulder height so you can get under it and lift it up and off.
(3) When getting ready for the lift ensure that your chest is raised up and your arms are not too far apart on the bar. Keeping a close grip brings the shoulder blades closer together, which provides a cushioned base for the bar to rest on. This is the number 1 reason why some guys experience upper back pain during squats; their grip is too far apart, the shoulder blades are wide open and the heavy bar is resting on bone, not muscle – ouch!
(4) Your lower back should NOT be rounded at any part of the lift. If it is you could badly hurt yourself. Practice without a weight if necessary or get someone to watch and critique your form. There should be a slight arching in the lower back and, again, your chest is out and raised up.
(5) Keep your feet shoulder-width apart (or slightly wider) and just like deadlifts and leg presses, have your toes pointed out (away from each other).
(6) Unrack the weight by straightening the legs and take a step back.
(7) The way squats are taught to beginners is to imagine that you are about to sit down; this is entirely correct. Your focus should NOT be on lowering the bar so much as on ‘sitting down’. The bar will lower as a result of course and you will be safely executing the squat.
(8) Your knees should be pointing out just like the feet. A bad practice you often see at the gym is bowing the knees by guys that are squatting a weight that they are just not ready for. The knees should never come in. Nor should they go wider than the toes.
(9) Squat down to a position where the thighs are parallel with the floor – use lighter weights if you need to, to accomplish this.
(10) To squat up, like leg presses, push through with the heels not your toes
(11) Throughout the whole rep keep looking forward. Your head should neither be down nor up at the ceiling – just look forward.
(12) Like deadlifts, it’s a good idea (and almost necessary at heavier loads) to take a quick breather and mentally reset at the end of the rep before starting your next descent.
(13) In training specifically for hypertrophy you want to emphasize the negative a little by lowering quite slowly under full muscular control. This is in contrast to power lifters who place little to no attention on the negative and focus slowly on the lifting. If it takes you a count of 2 to lift, lower for about 3 seconds.
(14) Pick a weight heavy enough to reach failure within the Anabolic Window.
Note: If you haven’t got a lot of back muscle to cushion the bar and are experiencing pain, you might want to invest in squat sponge until you bulk up a little.
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