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How To Squat: A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide

Are you looking for a straightforward, step-by-step guide on how to squat properly?

If so, then you’re in the right place!

The squat – and especially the barbell squat – is one of the best exercises for developing overall leg and core strength.

It works the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, adductor group, erector spine, abdominal muscles, and the hamstrings.

However, despite how amazingly effective it is, the barbell squat is one of those exercises that can take a long time to truly master, even though you can get the basics down fairly quickly.

In fact, there are far more definitive, comprehensive guides on how to squat properly, which cover every possible technical nuance that you could think of in painstaking detail.

This is not one of those guides.

Instead, this is for people, like yourself, that want to learn the basics of how to squat properly – so that the next time you go to the gym, you can be confident that you are doing the exercise correctly and effectively, and limiting your risk of injury.

Let’s get right to it!

How To Do A Barbell Squat Properly

When learning how to do a barbell squat, it helps to break things down into a series of basic steps. You should become familiar with each of these 5 steps before actually getting under the bar and attempting to squat.

Step 1: Get Into Position

With the barbell sitting at around shoulder height on the rack pins, slide under the bar so that it is resting on your traps. Grasp the bar firmly with your hands at a comfortable width, pinching your shoulders back tightly and keeping your elbows pointed down towards the floor. This should create a ‘shelf’ for the bar to rest on.

Step 2: Brace Your Body

Inhale deeply, slightly arch your lower back by rotating your pelvis forward, contract your abdominal muscles, and while looking straight ahead press through your legs to remove the barbell from the rack.

Step 3: Take Your Stance

Step back one or two steps. Position your feet so that they are about shoulder width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outwards (about 20-30 degrees). Then, once you’re in position, take a deep breath and contract your abdominal muscles again.

Step 4: Squat Down

Break first with your knees, allowing your hips to bend backward, as you squat directly downwards. The bar should travel in a vertical path above the center of your feet the entire time. Keep your upper back tight and your chest up, to avoid leaning too far forward. Your knees should always stay directly in line with your toes (it is OK if they go slightly in front of your toes at depth, as long as they stay in line).

Step 5: Rise

When your thighs are horizontal to the floor, or slightly below parallel, press through your heels to straighten your legs and lift your torso to return to the initial position. Exhale at the end of each repetition, and then take 1-2 seconds to reset your breath before starting the next rep.

Here is a video that demonstrates exactly how to barbell squat with perfect form, so I would suggest watching it several times carefully before attempting to squat yourself.

Squatting Safety

If you are squatting alone, or without someone to spot you, it is important to use the safety arms in the squat rack if possible.

These will catch the barbell if you get stuck and are unable to complete a rep, serving as an important fail-safe when you’re lifting heavy weights.

To do this, simply position the safety arms slightly below where the barbell would be when you’re at the bottom of your squat (at or below parallel).

This way, you’ll be able to squat with a full range of motion, without the barbell banging into the safety arms – but if you are unable to complete a rep, you can just squat down a little further and let the safety arms catch the weight.

Ready To Start Squatting Properly?

This pretty much covers the basics of a barbell squat.

If you internalize and follow these simple steps, you will already be squatting with much better form than the majority of people that you see at the gym!

However, if you’re like many people, you may find that you still end up making some of the common squat mistakes, even when you feel like you’re squatting correctly – so it pays to be mindful of your form each time you get under the bar, never getting complacent, and always doing your sets with deliberate focus.

Finally, as you become more familiar with squatting, you may want to make further refinements to your form as you go along.

If so, I would strongly recommend checking out these more definitive guides on how to squat properly – one from StrongLifts and another from Stronger By Science.

Both are truly excellent, comprehensive resources, which I would fully stand behind.

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