Squats are one of the best functional movements around and perfect for those wanting powerful glutes and toned legs. We’ve all seen people in the gym squatting, but if you’re a beginner or worry that you’re not squatting correctly, you can run the risk of injuring your knees and back.
In this article, we’ll show you hints, tips, and how to master squats in a few simple steps. You’ll also learn how to do other squat variations and the benefits they’ll have on your body. Sound good? Well, let’s get started…
What is a squat?
Squats can be done in several different ways, from barbell and dumbbell variations to smith machine squats, and all can be added into any lower-body or leg-day routine.
Today we will be focusing on the barbell squat. Your entire body will play in part in this lift but particularly your glutes, hamstrings, and quads — so we need to make sure you’re using the correct form and technique.
If squats are not performed properly, then stress on the lower back can cause injury.
How to do a barbell squat
So, the only equipment we’ll need is a squat rack, a bar and weight plates.
1. First, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a firm grip of the bar.
2. Rest the bar on your upper back around midway down your traps. Keep your chest puffed out and very slightly turn your feet out (around 40 degrees).
3. Take a deep breath, retract your shoulder blades and brace your core. Lowering yourself down by bending your knees until they are parallel to the floor. Keep your heels glued to the ground throughout.
4. Your quads do a lot of the work towards the top end of the squat, so power up on the ascent from your mid-foot to heel while exhaling.
5. Remember, your spine should remain neutral throughout. At no point should there be any bending or curving of the back.
6. Either re-rack or repeat.
- It sounds simple, but warm up properly. Take a few sets to squat just the bar and then gradually work up to your max weight for the day.
- Control and pull the weight down rather than allowing the weight to push you down.
- Keep your core tight and locked in.
- Take your time, make sure you’re set up correctly and don’t rush into position.
- Keep your heel on the ground.
The benefit of the barbell squat and muscles worked
Squats are a go-to move for anyone looking for muscle growth and definition because they engage more muscles than any other move. Squats target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and your core helping to make you stronger and improve your appearance. So, adding squats to your workout will help you tighten up, sculpt and build definition in your legs.
If squats are not performed properly, then too much stress on the lower back can cause injury. The two most likely causes of injury on the back while squatting are lifting too much weight and leaning too far forward, so the strain is put on the back instead of the legs and hips.
Common mistakes and how to fix them
1.Not enough depth
This can be a common mistake to anyone who is new to the exercise or if the weight is too heavy. Not going low enough into the squat can really affect muscle activation, as your glutes, hamstrings, and quads will barely be doing any work.
Make sure your legs are parallel to the floor in the lower phase of the squat, as; this ensures the glutes are activated and your quads and hamstrings are taking the load.
2. Heels coming off the floor
It’s important to make sure the heels remain grounded during a squat, so to balance the weight and distribute the load evenly. When your heel is lifted off the ground, this can take the weight onto your quads and put pressure on your knees.
If your heel is lifting, you may also need to widen your stance slightly and push your glutes out a little more, along with keeping your chest out.
3.Caving of the knees
If your knees are caving inwards at any part of the squat, it will be putting the joint in a very unsafe position and risk of injury is very high.
The could be because the weight is too heavy, you’re tired and fatigued, or your body may not be used to squatting.
Make sure you can handle the weight and that your form doesn’t waver at any point. Using the smith machine to squat may be a simple option to help you to perfect your form.
Variations to the barbell squat
The bodyweight squat is a great starting point for anyone who wants to perfect their form. The overall movement will be the same as the barbell squat, the only difference is you won’t be using any weights.
Once you have perfected your form, you can take on the squat rack by using the same movement. You can also use bodyweight squats as a warm-up before any weighted variations, to really get your joints moving.
Smith Machine chair squats
Using the smith machine is great because the weights are locked into position. The chair squat is slightly different, as it will focus more on your glutes rather than quads.
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. With the bar resting on your upper back or midway up the traps, unhook the bar.
- Take a step forward and lower yourself down until you reach parallel, pause at the bottom, and drive yourself up, keep your heels grounded.
Bulgarian split squat
This is another great exercise to tone and build muscles whilst working on your balance at the same time.
This will work your glutes, quads and hamstrings but this time it’s one leg at a time. You’ll really be able to feel the burn with this one, so I’d advise a higher rep range of 10-15 per leg.
All you’ll need is a bench, to put your resting leg on, a dumbbell of your choice or simply use your own bodyweight.
- Elevate and rest your foot on the bench and get into the lunge position, keeping your core tight and your chest pushed out.
- Lower yourself down slowly until your front thigh is horizontal, then drive up through the heel back into the starting position.
Take home message
As we mentioned before, barbell squats really are deemed as one of the most effective and intense exercises you can do. The benefits vary from leg, full-body and all-round strength.
If you haven’t been doing squats regularly, try to ease yourself into them by using lighter weights and really focusing on form. The variation exercises also offer a great alternative.
Once you feel confident, start to increase the weight and use the strength-based 5×5 routine. This will really help you to improve your strength over time. Once you’re into squats and they’re part and parcel of your routine, they can be performed twice per week or maybe more depending on how often you train and what sort of training split you do.