You must learn how to do squats in order to get the most out of this amazing weight lifting exercise.
From the initial setup to the finishing point of each rep, I'll go through exactly how to do a full squat from the low bar position.
You'll know all the secrets to performing the perfect squat.
When you learn how to do squats, your progress will literally skyrocket.
Take your time going through this page and learning all the right steps. I cannot stress this enough! Take your time and learn the movement. Your form needs to be perfect.
When you're finished learning all about how to do squats, you'll even be able to see what the big guy in the image above is doing wrong. Good luck and don't be afraid to ask questions if you need help.
Setup for a Proper Squat
Follow all of the steps below perfectly if you want to learn how to do squats with proper form and technique. Each and every setup step is important so don't skip any of them.
Start at a Power Rack
The squat must begin at a power rack, squat rack, or squat stands. This is for safety reasons.
Ensure you're not attempting squats in any unsafe way.
I know because I wanted to do squats so badly when I first started weight lifting that I did some unsafe things.
Don't just start doing squats. Learn how to do squats with proper form and technique. And don't get confused by reading too many guides on the squat. Pick one and stick with it.
You can trust me when I say this is one of the best ways to learn how to do squats.
Proper rack height is vital in learning how to do squats properly.
Set the height of the rack so the barbell is about at your upper chest or the middle of your sternum.
Do not set it too high as shown in the image.
Do not set it any higher than your upper chest or middle of your sternum as you don't want to have any trouble racking the weight after a set in the future when you're using heavy weight.
Trust me on this one.
The height might look low but this is much better and much safer for racking the weight.
You want to start with your heels about shoulder width apart or slightly wider.
This is a very strong foot position and about the same as you would want if you were trying to be as stable as possible and preparing for someone to hit you.
Your toes should be pointed out approximately 30 degrees when learning how to do squats.
You don't want your feet too close together or too far apart as excessive width will tighten your hips in the bottom position of the squat while narrow width will cause prevent proper stretch in the adductors and may even cause the quadriceps to come into contact with your belly. This prevents proper squat depth.
Foot positioning for how to do squats is very important and just the starting point for a good squat. Get this wrong and you'll never get the rest right. You've got to set yourself up for success here.
Start Without a Squat Bar or Barbell
You're going to use body weight only here to start. We'll add in the bar later, but to start you need to see what it feels like to do a proper squat without a barbell.
While keeping the proper foot position, squat all the way down to the bottom position. Go all the way down for a full squat.
If your foot positioning changed due to a lack of flexibility, fix your foot positioning now while you're in the bottom position of the squat.
Put your elbows against your knees and your palms of each hand together. Push your knees out with your elbows. This will provide you with a good stretch and help you to feel what the bottom position is going to be like. You need to remember this as you're going to strive to hit this squat depth with every rep.
Stay in the Bottom Position
To get some practice and some stretching when learning how to do squats, stay in that bottom position for 30 seconds or so. If you get fatigued easily, you'll need to practice this position often over the next few of days until it becomes more comfortable.
If you get tired, stand up to rest and repeat several more times. This is very important since proper squat depth is the difference in a good squat and a bad squat.
Proper depth will allow you to lift heavier weight in the future and to build muscle & strength in all the right muscle groups.
Checking Your Bottom Position
Use a mirror or use a camera. A mirror is easier and works best. If you have mirrors on all sides of your home gym, this will allow you to see all positions.
1. Upper legs or thighs are parallel to your feet pointing out at 30 degree angle.
2. Feet are flat on the ground pointing out at 30 degree angle.
3. Hips are back.
4. Knees are forward of the toes just slightly.
5. Your back is flat and around an angle of 45 degrees.
6. This 45 degree back angle should place the barbell over the middle of the foot when placed in the right position on your back.
Use this checklist to ensure you are squatting with proper form and technique.
Coming Out of the Bottom Position
Coming out of the bottom position is something most people get wrong when learning how to do squats.
You will be using your strong and powerful hips to bring you out of the bottom position of the squat. Once you have the bottom position mastered, you can move onto the following steps.
Drive Your Butt Straight Up
Once you're in the bottom position, you should start the upward motion to lift the weight by driving your butt straight up. You should not move it forward in any way BUT straight up. Moving your butt straight up out of the bottom position is one of the keys to learning how to do squats properly.
Your hips and shoulders must rise at the same pace in order to do squats properly:
You should feel the entire weight of your body over your entire foot and not all of the weight on your toes at all. If you do this properly, you'll feel the weight over your entire foot.
Imagine a rope attached at your hips pulling them directly vertical out of the bottom position.
Keep your chest up as this happens to keep your back angle with the floor constant as you drive out of the bottom position.
Don't Push the Floor With Your Feet
This is incorrect and doesn't allow the proper use of the hamstrings, glutes, and adductors. Do not do so!
Just remember that the squat is not a leg press. Don't focus on pushing through the legs to the floor. Instead focus on driving the hips out of the bottom position.
When you think about bringing your butt straight up, the proper muscles will be used to initiate hip extension.
You've got to get this right so have someone push down on your backside so you can feel this.
Trouble With Hip Drive
When learning how to do squats, many people (even so-called “experts”) may tell you that you should push the floor with your feet to come up out of the bottom position.
If you're having trouble using hip drive out of the bottom position, you should have someone place their hand on your lower spine area.
Then work on pushing against their hand while you drive out of the bottom position.
This will help you understand how to squat with proper hip drive.
Hips and Shoulders Rise at Same Rate
In order to finish lifting the weight properly, the hips and shoulders must rise at the same rate from the bottom position.
When you learn how to do squats properly, this is a very important step since different rise rates from the hips & shoulders will cause all types of issues.
If the hips rise faster than the shoulders, your back angle to the floor will decrease greatly and you'll put much more stress on your lower back.
You'll turn the squat into a good morning exercise which may lead to injury if you're not accustomed to the heavy weight with the good morning exercise.
How To Do Squats With Weight
Now that you've got the setup down, the hip drive out of the bottom position, and the shoulders and hips rising at the same rate it's time to add a barbell to the movement.
Face the Bar in the Rack
Always walk towards the bar in the rack. Never back up to the bar to perform squats. Ensure you're only using the weight of the barbell for this. Do not add any extra weight to the barbell. I also highly recommend the use of an Olympic barbell and not a standard size barbell.
As discussed earlier, the bar should be at your upper chest or middle of your sternum for safety reasons when racking the bar. Walk up to the bar in the rack and ensure you've got it at the right height. If not, change the position of the rack height.
Bar Placement on Your Upper Back
The rack height is very important as this allows proper bar placement on top of your rear deltoids or rear shoulder muscles. You do not want a high bar placement on your traps. You want to get the bar low. This places less stress on the lower back and allows you to safely squat heavy weight.
You will need some flexibility in your shoulders to get a low bar position. If you have trouble, keep working on the low bar position over the next few weeks. Your shoulder flexibility will improve and allow a low bar placement. Remember that you want the bar to rest on your rear deltoids and not close to your neck.
One of the reasons I recommend an Olympic weight lifting bar are the markings included on the barbell. This allows you to find your optimal grip width placement and repeat every time your perform the exercise.
You want to use the narrowest grip position that your flexibility and build allows. When you do this, the muscles in your upper back and shoulders will better support the weight. This will make the exercise more comfortable for you as well.
Your thumbs should be placed on top of the bar. This allows your wrists to stay perfectly straight. There should be no wrinkles between the top of your hand and your forearm.
Here's a bad example of everything (bar position, wrist alignment, hand position):
Your wrist alignment with your forearm should be perfectly straight. The bar should be hitting the palms of your hands.
Dip Your Head Under the Barbell
Now that you have the proper grip, a narrow grip, and your wrists aligned properly, it's time to dip your head under the bar. Place the bar on your back while still resting in the rack. Don't lift the weight from the rack at this time.
Proper Bar Positioning
When learning how to do squats, most people get the bar position wrong from the beginning and this leads to incorrect form on this exercise. The bar needs to be in the correct position before lifting the weight out of the rack.
You should feel the squat bar immediately under the bone you have at the top of your shoulder blades. Your thumbs should be on top of the bar and your wrists still perfectly aligned.
Lift Your Elbows and Chest
Once you have the bar in the right spot, lift your elbows and chest simultaneously. You can try that movement right now while you're sitting in a chair. Put your arms up like you're holding a bar on your back. Now lift your elbows and chest at the same time. You'll feel the muscles in your upper back tighten. That's where the bar will sit.
Try it now: Stand up and act like you are holding a barbell across your back. Lift your elbows and chest at the same time. The musculature in your upper back will tighten and let you know where the barbell should be.
This movement alone will fix posture problems during the squat including a rounded back and puts your spine in the correct position for the squat.
This placement of the bar by lifting your elbows and chest will allow you to safely handle very heavy weights when you get there. It's important to start properly so you don't have to change your form later.
Lifting the Squat Bar from the Racks
1. You should keep your form perfect just as you would while doing a full squat.
2. Imagine you're at the top of the rep when lifting the bar from the hooks and out of the rack.
3. Extend your knees and hips just like the top of the squat movement.
4. This will get the weight off the rack safely.
5. Always have your form perfect before unracking the weight.
6. Never attempt to unrack the weight and then correct your form by lifting your chest or elbows. Always do this before unracking the weight. This is very important!
Stepping Out After Unracking the Weight
Now that you have lifted the weight out of the rack, it's time to step back away from the rack so you can start doing your reps. Always unrack the weight and step backwards with good form.
IMPORTANT: Never unrack the weight and step forwards so that you need to step backwards to rack the weight after a set.
Also, ensure there is NO CHANCE of anyone getting behind you or putting something down behind you when you are going to squat. I have kids running around the house but they know to be careful when I am in the gym. Be safe.
This is very important (stepping back to begin and forward to finish a set) for your safety as you need to be able to see the hooks where you will place the bar when you're finished.
Squats are a very taxing and demanding exercise, and you don't want to injure yourself after a set.
Take a single step with good form away from the rack. You do not need to go any further than this. One step is safer and gives you plenty of room for performing the exercise.
WARNING: Just be sure nothing is behind you before starting this exercise. At home, this could be kids, your dog, or anything else. So be safe when stepping backwards.
A single step also puts you closer to the rack for when you finish the exercise and need to rack the weight. Much safer this way.
Keep Your Form As You Step Away
1. Keep your torso tight.
2. Keep shoulders tight.
3. Keep your chest lifted.
4. Keep your elbows lifted.
5. Head position slightly downward.
You've learned enough about how to do squats. It's time to start squatting!
Now that you have the weight out of the rack, it's time to start squatting with perfect form. Are you ready? Please make sure you have all the above steps perfected before moving on to the below steps.
1. Find Your Stance
Remember the stance you used earlier when you first started learning how to do squats? You're going to go back to that stance which is heels shoulder width apart or slightly greater than shoulder width depending on your build.
You're going to point your feet out at a 30 degree angle. Make sure you have this right before starting the exercise.
2. Squatting With Just the Bar
You're now ready to start the squat movement with perfect form and just the barbell. No extra weight should be used when learning how to do squats.
You've learned how to setup properly, you know what hip drive feels like out of the bottom position, and you know how to keep tight form throughout this amazing weight lifting exercise.
Let's learn what you should be doing during the actual squat movement…
3. Take a Deep Breath
Many people take breathing for granted when learning how to do squats or ANY weight lifting exercise. Breathing properly is vital!
Take a deep breath before starting the descent with the weight. As you start the movement downwards, make sure you are looking at a spot on the floor about 6 feet in front of your position.
4. Use a Tennis Ball
You should NOT be looking upwards as this puts unnecessary strain on your neck. Leave your head in a slightly downward position which is the natural position with the form you are being taught for this low bar squat.
Leaving your chin down allows you to drive the hips put of the bottom position. Whatever you do, do not look upwards while doing the squat. It's just wrong! This is very important if you want to learn how to do squats properly.
Holding a tennis ball between your chin and neck will help you find the right head angle while squatting.
Now back to the squat:
5. Down and Up
Take a deep breath before the down movement.
Hold that breath until you've reached the bottom position and have driven your hips out of the bottom position and you're back at the top.
Then take another deep breath and repeat.
6. Good Form and Squat Depth Throughout
Ensure you have good form throughout the exercise by video recording yourself from all different directions.
Set the camera or phone at the right height to ensure you're seeing everything properly.
Check your form constantly.
Once you're able to do 5 reps perfectly and you can repeat those 5 perfect reps for several sets, it's time to slowly start adding weight to the barbell!
Adding weight is the fun part and where you're going to get AMAZING results from the squat.
If you haven't been doing the squat properly, just wait for it! The results will be absolutely astounding. You'll love it.
Exercise Videos for How to Do Squats
I highly recommend Starting Strength the Book and Starting Strength the DVD if you're learning how to do squats. The videos below are from the author of Starting Strength. He's an Olympic weight lifting coach so he knows what he's talking about. Listen to him to learn even more about how to do squats.
Here's an introduction to the Squat:
Coaching the Squat:
More Squat Coaching:
Bending Over When You Squat:
Hip Drive During the Squat:
Tactile Cueing For the Squat:
You Now Know How to Do Squats
You now know how to do squats. Continue increasing the weight when you're able to complete all sets and reps with proper squat from.
Now you will be able to watch your body change for the good as you continue to get stronger on the squat. The squat will change your body, your health, and your appearance in the positive direction. That is a 100% guarantee to you.
The squat will change your body more than any other one exercise. Put forth the effort on learning how to do squats properly, and you will be amazed at the progress you make.