Squatting is one of the most foundational movements of the human body. You will not only develop leg and hip strength, but also full-body mobility and stability. Whether your goals are to get strong, build muscle, or torch body fat, then adding squats to your weekly program is a must.
What does the perfect rep look like?
- Feet shoulder-width apart; toes at a 30-35 degree angle.
- Bar rests on upper back.
- Hands just outside shoulders and elbows pointed back.
- Eyes should be gazing down at the floor in front of you. This will anchor the movement and keep your cervical spine in a neutral position.
- Hip descend back and down.
- Keep the bar over the mid-foot for balance.
- Hips descend lower than knees.
- Lumbar curve maintained; think “rigid” not “vertical” – strong isometric contraction of the muscles surrounding your spine.
- Feet should be firmly planted on the ground; heels down.
- Knees vertical to the toes and keep them still – moving knees will release hip power. Cues that help are “frozen knees” or “tight shins,” which will help focus on force from the hips.
- Drive the hips back up; complete at full hip and knee extension.
The movement of the hips (flexion) should be the primary emphasis during the back squat. The key is to use your quads and posterior chain efficiently and to their maximum capacity during the lift. If you can’t get into the correct positions (mentioned above), work on mobility before you start squatting seriously.
The best way to improve your squat is to, well… squat, and squat often! There are a number of programs out there, many of which you can find online. Some even come with printable spreadsheets and even calculate your percentages and/or working sets for you. If you’re a seasoned lifter some of my favorites are Smolov, Smolov Jr., Hatch, and Wendler 5/3/1.
If you’re just getting started add squats into your weekly program, but start light! Trust us, with some quality sessions under your belt, your squat will increase significantly and very quickly. Start off with a 3-4 very light warm-up sets and slowly increase the weight until you reach your working weight. Try to switch up your sets and rep schemes regularly. For muscular endurance try of 15-20 reps, to increase muscle mass try 8-12 reps, and to build strength 3-6 reps is ideal. Three to five working sets with either ascending weights or using the same weight for all sets is a good starting point. Levels of intensity will vary and are very dependent on what your goals are (like time under tension, muscle fiber recruitment, etc.).
If you take the time to refine your form and the fundamental skills in the squat, you’ll see that all other aspects of your training will also improve – most notably, you’ll be able to stabilize weights across other lifts much more easily, and finally, get closer to reaching your goals.