Barbell Back Squat Form, Muscles & Main Benefits
The barbell back squat has got to be the Coca-Cola of all exercises. Easily one of the most common, useful, and arguably the single best exercise you can do in the gym. Truth be told, if I could only choose one exercise for the rest of my life it would be the barbell squat and that art that is high bar back squat form.
The back squat is incredibly popular as a heavy compound exercise because it works a vast majority of your muscular system at once. It is challenging to learn how to perform correctly, but once you “grease the groove” you can easily change your entire physique with this one exercise.
Most muscles in the body get worked as a form of stability to support the heavy barbell which sits upon your trap muscles. (Or rear delts if you are using a low bar position.)
Although the primary movers take the brunt of the load, most of the
non-moving muscles will still be working very hard just to support a loaded barbell.
The primary muscles used in the squat are all the moving muscles that help your hips to drop down between your legs before springing you back into your original starting position.
The Primary Muscles Include:
- Quads: The quad muscle will straighten your leg when your knee is bent.
- Glutes: The glute muscles will straighten your hips so your entire body returns to a straight position. They also help to keep your knees out wide.
- Adductors: Will also help the glutes in returning hips to the start position. Through a movement called hip extension.
- Psoas: The Psoas forms part of your “Hip Flexors”. It is involved in closing the angle between your thigh and body when squatting. This will help us keep a straight lower back when squatting.
Perfecting your back squat form is not something that can be done in a single session so it’s crucial you break it up into smaller, more manageable chunks of information.
For this reason, I always get my clients to perform learn how to correct goblet squats before progressing onto the barbell back squat. Most of the same teaching points will translate over to the barbell.
You can easily learn to perfect your barbell back squat having already mastered the goblet squat technique.
A well-performed goblet squat will be more beneficial for your long term progress than an ugly barbell back squat.
The Barbell Back Squat Form in form in 4 steps
Step 1: Set up
Before you begin you will need to find a squat rack. Thankfully, almost all gyms nowadays have at least one full rack or half rack for squats.
Don’t forget, You will also need a barbell. Again, Most gyms will also supply 20kg Olympic barbells as standard. They are 7 feet long and mostly found with the bench press or squat racks.
Position the barbell on the squat rack by adjusting the J hooks and make sure the barbell is about chest height.
Step under the barbell and position it on your traps, or rear delts. High bar or low bar respectively. Whichever feels most natural to you is a good enough starting point for now.
Lift the barbell off the J hooks. This should be easily done that’s to your forward planning and not setting the J-Hooks too high.
Now take two steps backward while still facing into the squat rack.
Step 2: Foot, hand and elbow positions for the perfect back squat form
Try and keep your elbows pointing down inline with your body. You should avoid allowing your elbows to flare up and to the rear. Although this is often easier said than done. Especially if you have tight shoulders.
A quick fix is to adjust your hand position furhter out on the barbell itself. However, make a note to come back and work on your shoulder mobility later on.
Your foot position should mimic that of a goblet squat. Your left foot pointing at about 11 o clock and your right foot about 1 o’clock.
Most people will start with their feet directly under their shoulders. However, you might require a wider stance to feel more comfortable.
Step 3: Start of the Rep
Once you are in a good stable position it is finally time to start your first rep. Two main movements will have to happen at the same time.
1. Break at the knees: You need to bend your knees. Straightforward enough.
2. Break at the hips: You need to flex your hips. That is bending at the hips or pushing your hips back and down between your legs.
Think about pushing your hips back towards the wall behind you and then think about moving them down between your legs as if trying to sit on a very small chair.
You should keep your knees pressed out in line with the direction your feet are pointing. If not slightly wider. Never collapsed inwards. The glutes will be responsible for pulling your knees out into this position.
Keep your knees out from the very beginning so as not to neglect those glutes. This will also help protect your knees when the weight gets a little heavier.
You should only go as low as you feel comfortable while keeping your lower back nice and straight.
If you are struggling to know when your lower back is rounding I suggest you check this “Hip Hinge Drill“.
To help instill confidence. I will actually use a small step for clients to sit down unto for the first few sets. Trick the brain into performing an age-old task in which we are all well accustomed.
Sitting on our ass! ?
Step 4: Completing the barbell back squat
Finally, it’s time to return to the starting position. Now, this is the hard part. Standing back up.
You might often hear the bottom of a squat position, hips down low between your legs, referred to as “The hole”.
To get out of “The hole” you will want to again focus on what your hips are doing. With your feet firmly planted. You can focus on driving your hips back first, and then up.
Imagine someone has a hook tied to the back loop of your jeans and is pulling you upwards. As your hips drive out of the hole your back should also lift the barbell back up to the starting position.
This motion will take time to practice. Your goal is to practice this movement so much it becomes ingrained into your muscle memory.
Just like riding a bike, or driving a car. You will want to learn how to squat properly from the beginning so you don’t have to go back and fix bad habits later on.
If you really want expert guidance on learning how to squat I suggest you check out our online coaching services where we can review your technique and teach you the perfect form to suit your own biomechanics.
Jeff is an experienced powerlifter and coach who has helped 100’s of people, just like you, to perfect their squat form and shape their entire physique.