If you don't Squat, you're not training period. The Squat is the most important weight training exercise because it works your whole body, not just your legs. That's why Squats are key to the StrongLifts 5x5 Program.
This guide will teach you how to Squat with correct technique using free weights so you achieve maximum strength and muscle gains without hurting yourself.
What Are Squats? Bend through your knees with the bar on your back until your hips come lower than parallel. Once your hip joint is lower than your knee joint you Squat up again. Here's a free video where I show and explain proper form on Squats:
This article deals with the low bar Squat - bar low on your upper-back. The reason StrongLifts 5x5 uses the low bar Squat is that it's THE Squat version where you can use the most weight. More weight means more strength and thus more muscle gains since muscle size is directly related to strength.
Why Should You Squat? Every muscle works when you Squat: your legs move the weight, your abs & lower back stabilize it, your arms squeeze the bar, etc. The Squat is NOT just a leg exercise, it's a full body exercise. That's why you'll do it 3x/week on StrongLifts 5x5. As a result, here's what you can expect...
- Build Muscle. Muscle size is directly related to strength. That's why the best bodybuilder ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could Squat close to 500lbs. Getting stronger at Squats is the fastest way to gain muscle.
- Gain Strength. Squats strengthen your legs by working them through a full range of motion. This helps all sports but also daily activities. No more bending over to pick up an object, you can just Squat.
- Gain Flexibility. Squats are proof that weight training doesn't make you inflexible. You need flexibility to Squat, and regular Squatting will help you maintain that flexibility. Especially if you sit a lot at work.
- Strengthen Your Knees. Unlike what ignorant people will tell you, Squatting CORRECTLY will strengthen your knees by strengthening their surrounding muscles. Many of my SL Members got rid of knee pain by doing Squats. Read the success story of SL Member Michael.
Won't Squat Blow My Knees? If you do them wrong for months, they will. Just like any other weight training exercise (or movement!) will get you injured if you do it wrong long enough. Many idiot personal trainers and "highly educated" (but dumb) doctors will tell you to do half Squats to keep your knees safe. This is the WORST advice ever - you'll HURT your knees if you do what they say.
Here's why: your knee joint is strongest in a fully flexed/extended position, not the positions in-between. On top of that, partial Squats only strengthen your quads, not your glutes and hamstrings. That will result in muscle imbalances and injuries. Half reps are also less effective for strength and muscle gains.
If you use common sense, you'll see that Squatting parallel is the logical thing to do. Here are some examples to get you on the right track...
- In many parts of the world, Squatting deep is "normal" and people do it a lot. As an example, watch this video of the Asian Squat.
- Babies sit in the bottom Squat position all the time without injuring their knees. The fact that most guys lose this ability over the years, doesn't mean that Squatting parallel is bad for your knees.
- Thousands of weightlifters Squat deeper than described here and with heavier weights than most guys will ever handle. Nonetheless, weightlifting has the lowest rate of injury compared to any other sport.
I also invite you to read the success story of SL Member Michael who had the worst knee pain ever until he finally started to do the Squats I describe here.
How to Avoid Injuries. Always Squat in a Power Rack. Set the safety pins so they can catch the bar would anything go wrong. The rest is technique - start light, add weight gradually, and remember form always comes before weight.
How to Unrack The Bar. ALWAYS STEP BACK to unrack the bar, never forward. You don't want to injure yourself stumbling over your own feet while walking the weight backwards into the uprights after a draining set.
- Set the bar in the Power Rack at about mid-chest level.
- Position your feet directly under the bar.
- Squat under the bar and put it on your back.
- Tighten everything and Squat up to unrack the bar.
- One step back with one leg, one step back with the other leg.
The Squat Setup. You'll have to think about a lot of things at first. Study the tips below, start with an empty barbell, focus on your technique.
- Chest Up. The low bar position becomes easier with a low bar position. You can also tighten your upper-back better as a result.
- Forward Look. Look at the ceiling and your neck will hurt. Keep your head inline with your torso, but don't start looking at your feet.
- Bar Position. Put the bar low, below the bone at the top of your shoulder-blades and on your back muscles - NOT on your spine.
- Grip Width. Narrow grip makes it easier to tighten your upper-back. Do lots of shoulder dislocations if this position feels uncomfortable.
- Tight Upper-back. Bring your shoulder-blades together. Tightening the upper-back gives the bar a solid base to rest on. Remember your back supports the weight, not your hands.
- Foot Stance. A narrow stance doesn't work for the low bar Squat because your belly will be in the way of your legs. Heels should be shoulder-width apart.
How to Squat Down. You have unracked the bar correctly. All your muscles are tight and ready to Squat. The key to the Squatting correctly with a low bar position are your hips: you must have tension in your hamstrings at the bottom.
- Knees Out. Never allow your knees to buckle in unless you want to injure them. Push your knees out as you Squat down.
- Hit Parallel. Your hip joint must come lower than your knee joint. Ask someone to judge your depth or tape yourself. No Partial Squats.
How to Squat Up. Your hip muscles will be stretched when in the bottom position if you Squat correctly. Use that stretch to bounce out of the hole. If you Squat this way, you'll be lift a lot more weight while keeping your knees safe.
- Push Your Knees Out. Same as for the way down: don't let your knees buckle in. Push your knees out as you Squat up.
- Squeeze Your Glutes At The Top. Power comes from the glutes. Squeeze them hard as you lockout the weight. It will also keep your lower back safe.
Always use free weights for Squats. Machines are not only less effective for muscle and strength gains because they balance the weight for you, they also force you into fixed/unnatural movement patterns. Check StrongLifts 5x5 for a Squat focussed training program that results in fast muscle and strenght gains.