barbell back squat

leg exercises

The barbell back squat is one of the most powerful moves in the weightlifting world. For that reason, it deserves your attention and it will of course reward you tenfold for getting it right. Before you do anything else; make sure you familiarise yourself fully with this exercise. Beyond the basics, you should consistently be working on improvements.

How to perform a barbell back squat

Firstly; if you’re not yet comfortable using the squat rack, start with a barbell that you are able to raise over your head and rest on the back of your shoulders. Do your squats like this until you reach 20 kg’s (45lbs).

You should however note that in order to progress this exercise, you absolutely must work your way up to the power rack. With that said; as soon as you are able to comfortably squat 20kg (45lb) barbell, you should move onto the rack.

It should be noted that it really pays to get this right from the start, therefore you should pay close attention to what you’re doing. Both form and bar position are crucial to your overall performance.

To begin the exercise; you should position yourself under the bar and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Turn your toes out slightly if it’s more comfortable for you. The bar position should be just below your shoulders, not on your neck. Further position yourself by sticking your bum out and keeping your chest high.

As a guide; when gripping the bar, you should keep your elbows tucked in and your hands in a position that’s comfortable, use the knurling in the bar to balance your hand placement.

Finally, you are ready to sit back into your squat. Keep a neutral back and look straight ahead of you keeping your chest high throughout. Finish by powering back up and squeezing your glutes at the top.

Another important factor is to ensure that you are squatting low enough, make sure that you can squat to parallel before you even start loading.

Barbell back squat: Common mistakes to avoid

Maintaining good posture throughout this exercise is imperative. You should also be mindful of what is happening with your knees and ankles, they should not be caving inwards.

A barbell back squat should always be performed on a firm and solid surface, this includes what’s on your feet! Try to avoid squatting in trainers with gel bottoms, we see this often with beginners and you should know that it is not ideal. Either go barefoot, get yourself some flat soled shoes, or lifting shoes, it really does make a difference and it does matter.

Another mistake to avoid is getting stuck on your weight, use the rack and use it correctly, this is the only way you will be able to progress. For further reading, see; How to use a squat rack.

Reps and sets

The barbell back squat is one of your foundation moves, any good workout plan will base itself on your squat and other power moves. How many reps and sets you perform with each exercise depends entirely on where you are physically and your desired outcomes. Just know that this compound exercise is your fast track to overall lower body strength and power.

Beginners should keep it simple; 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps is an ideal starting point. Don’t over complicate things early on, worry about laying a solid foundation and the rest will come with experience.

More advanced lifters should consider their current strength and goals, see our One Rep Max Calculator for further guidance.