Barbell Back Squat
The barbell back squat is the #1 mass builder for the lower body.
If you could only perform one exercise for your legs, make sure the barbell back squat is the one.
Working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and posterior chain you won’t get a better bang for your proverbial buck from any other exercise!
Focus on perfecting your barbell back squat form before you start piling the pounds on your barbell, once form is sorted it’s time to start going heavy.
Targets: Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes, Calves, Posterior Chain
Required: Barbell & Squat Rack
Barbell Back Squat Form:
Unrack the barbell from your squat rack, maintain a position with your chest up, head looking forward and a slightly wider than shoulder width stance with feet pointing outward.
Lower yourself down while maintaining a straight back and continue looking forward by flexing your knees and dropping your hips back.
Once you’ve reached your lowest point pause for a second before driving back up through the heels.
Barbell Back Squat Variations
Pause at the bottom of each repetition of your squat for 1 second before powering the barbell back up to the starting position.
Pause reps on the squat are fantastic for building explosive power in the legs.
Squat down onto a bench or box configured at a suitable height to meet you as you reach the parallel portion of your back squat. Shift your weight onto the box for a moment before powering back up to complete rhe squat. Do not bounce off the box for momentum.
Common Barbell Back Squat Mistakes
If I had to choose only 3 exercises to perform for the rest of my days in the gym, the squat would be one of them. Needless to say the traditional barbell squat is the best lower body exercise in existence. The barbell back squat when performed correctly will hit your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calfs, and unlike machine based exercises such as the leg extension the barbell squat can safely be performed with heavy weight – allowing us to continually apply progressive overload and build up strong, functional legs.
The leg press, leg curls, leg extensions, dumbbell lunges… all of these exercises come second to the squat.
The squat has stood the test of time and should be included in every leg workout, with many different variations (based on foot placement and bar placement).
When training legs, strict form and a full range of motion must be utilized to activate and overload the muscles being targeted.
Squat half reps, a minuscule leg press range of motion, not dropping your knee low enough on dumbbell lunges… if you’re constantly limiting your range of motion you’re not going to be able to build either the size or strength you’re chasing.
A limited range of motion is usually due to one of the following three reasons:
Lifting Too Heavy
When squatting or using the leg press ‘getting out of the hole’ aka. the bottom portion of the movement is without a doubt the hardest. If you’re performing half reps because you’re unable to get the weight out of the hole it’s a clear sign you’re lifting too heavy. Stacking more and more weight on the bar or the machine may make you feel good… but you won’t see that weight translate into size or strength gains. Check your ego at the door and lift weight which you’re able to manage (while still being a challenge in the prescribed rep range) utilizing a full range of motion.
Lack Of Mobility
If you’re new to the gym and you’ve spent the last decade working in an office day in day out chances are your mobility isn’t the greatest. Constant practise combined with stretching, foam rolling and a mobility routine will have you getting low on those squats in no time, tight hip flexors (from sitting all day) are notorious for this.
There’s nothing pretty about dropping your ass to the grass with 350lbs on your back, multiple times at 5am in the morning. But the feeling of accomplishment, constant progression, mental fortitude and discipline it builds is worth it.
Squatting heavy with a full range of motion sucks, but if you’re using the right weight and you’ve developed the mobility to work a full range of motion you have no excuse.
Relying On The Smith Machine
The smith machine is no substitute or replacement for the squat rack.
From my experience I’ve found squatting in the smith machine to feel extremely unnatural, as the bar is locked in place you’ll often be placing your knees compromised positions to stay in line with the machine. As the barbell in the smith machine is locked in place no core stability is developed either.
You may be able to lift heavier in the smith machine (for the above reason) however this strength does not seem to transfer over to other exercises, such as the barbell squat.
On the other hand, building up a beastly barbell squat will translate to stronger lifts on other leg exercises.
Avoid the smith machine, the safety feature of the smith machine can be replicated with rails in the power rack/squat rack or by having a spotter on hand.
Similar & Substitute Exercises
- Barbell Front Squat
- Goblet Squat
- hack Squat
- Leg Press