How To Squat With Proper Form

by Caleb Lee on September 16, 2008

Next to the deadlift, the squat is one of the most important exercises. It works nearly every major muscle group in your body… and is one of the exercises that will transform your physique the most.

If you’re not squatting already, you need to start — it’s an essential movement and you need to be doing it. The squat is a key part of the DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 Strength Training Program.

This article will give you everything you need to know to squat with proper technique…

What Is a Squat?

You simply place a barbell on your shoulders and bend through your knees until your hips come lower than parallel.  When looking from a side position, you want your hip joint to come lower than your knee joint.  Then come back up.  There are many different ways to squat, here’s just a few:

  • Bodyweight Squat – No weights, Like the Hindu squat or heels flat squat…
  • Overhead squat – Lock a barbell overhead and squat…
  • Olympic squat – High bar position, close stance and deep “Ass to grass”…
  • Front squat – Have the barbell resting on your front shoulders and squat…

This article will talk about the basic barbell back squat, otherwise known as “squat”. The video below is me doing a basic barbell squat:

Why You Should Squat

Every muscle in your body works when you squat.  Your legs move the weight, your abs and lower back stabilize, your upper back remains tight, your arms squeeze the bar, etc.  The squat is a full body exercise.

You can build an enormous level of strength and transform your body with nothing else but the squat (and some supporting upper body movements).

Take champion powerlifter Kara Bohigian. She weighs between 135-165lbs (depending on what weight class she’s competing in) and here are her best lifts: 565 squat , 451 bench, 501 deadlift — That’s a 1,422 total!

Why do I bring her up? 1. She is a total babe and 2. Here is what she says about how she trains for powerlifting:

“I never deadlift until the warm up room at a meet. I have a very unconventional training regimen but it’s garnered favorable results thus far. I train as an Olympic lifter which involves completely raw, rock bottom front and back squats, power clean & jerks, snatches, clean pulls and snatch high pulls. Throw on a squat suit a few weeks out and I’m all set.”

She still deadlifts 501 pounds even though she never does this exercise in practice… and the majority of her training involves squats. Nuff’ said. Here are some more reasons why you should squat:

  • Builds muscle – Heavy weight training increases your muscle mass and optimizes your sex hormones…
  • Stronger Legs – Squats strengthen your legs better than any other exercise, the benefits are too many to list but in most cases guys at the gym spend too much time on upper body exercises…
  • Hip mobility – Squats help you build and maintain hip flexibility and mobility…
  • Knee stability – As long as you squat with proper form you will strengthen (not harm) your knees…

How To Get Good Hip Mobility/Flexibility

You need good hip flexibility and mobility to squat correctly. You should do this simple squat exercise each day to build up the necessary flexibility and mobility — see the picture and directions for performing below…

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • Reach down and grab your toes, bending your knees as needed.
  • Your chest should be pointed forward, knees out and toes curled (just like bottom position of a squat).
  • Do 1-3 sets of 8-10 reps each day.

Equipment You’ll Need

Of course you need an olympic barbell set with weight plates, but you need to have a squat rack, power rack or something to hold the barbell and keep you safe. You could clean and press a barbell overhead then lower it onto your back to squat, but you won’t be able to do as much weight.

It’s best to get a good squat rack or squat stands if you have 1.) a good spotter and 2.) a place you can safely drop your barbell if things go wrong (weight plates should be bumper plates in this case).

How To Unrack The Bar Safely

Set the bar in the power rack at about mid-chest level (if you can’t get this exact spot, put the bar on the next spot down — go for a shorter height if you’re not sure).  Get your fee directly under the bar and squat till you’re underneath it enough to put it on your back. Keep your eyes looking up towards the ceiling so your head stays up. Tighten everything and squat up to unrack the bar.  Take one step back with one leg and another step back with the other leg and then squat (never do more than 3 steps — it’s useless).

Before Your Squat

You will have to think about many things at first.  By studying the tips below, begin with an empty barbell and focus on your technique.

  • Chest up – keeps your back from rounding and keeps upper back tight…
  • Look slightly down– look forward and slightly down to keep your back straight and neck in line (picture below shows proper starting position)…
  • Bar position – The bar will rest on the muscles of your upper back (It should be just below the bone at the top of your shoulder blades)…
  • Grip width – The more narrow your grip the tighter your upper back, if this is hard do shoulder dislocations…
  • Thumbless grip – This keeps your wrists inline with your forearms and helps you focus on holding the bar down on your back…
  • Straight wrists – keep your wrists straight, they shouldn’t go forward or backward…
  • Tighten your upper back – imagine your are pinching a quarter between your shoulder blades…
  • Elbows back – this will protect your elbows from injuries… When you’ve completed the previous steps the bar will look like the picture below–its placement on your back):
  • Toes out – Proper position is toes out at 30 degrees…

  • Weight on the heels – Always push from your heels to activate the correct musculature, max strength and keep balance…

How To Do First Part Of Squat (Eccentric)

Now that you’ve unracked the bar correctly, and all of your muscles are tight, and you have this mass of weights sitting on your upper back…  and now you are ready to squat.

  • Hips back – You should always think of sitting back and down butt first like you would into a chair (see the picture below)…
  • Knees over toes – Don’t let your knees go over your toes in the bottom position…
  • No “knee knocking” – don’t let the knees buckle in…
  • At Least Parallel – Your hip joint must come lower than your knee joint, get your spotter to help you (the three photos below show (from Left to Right) the bottom position of the squat, a parallel position, and the last one is a full “ass-to-grass” squat where the hamstrings are “resting” on the calves)…

How To Do The Second Part Of The Squat (Concentric)

You hip and other leg muscles will be tight at the bottom position of the squat. You want to keep that tightness and without relaxing “drive your heels through the floor” to return to a standing position. Here’s some tips to help:

  • Squeeze Your Butt -  Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can while coming up…
  • Push through your heels – lift your toes slightly if necessary and drive down through the floor with your heels…
  • Keep Your Eyes focused– concentrate on a spot about 6 ft in front of you on the floor…
  • Keep our knees out – Remember to never let your knees buckle in…
  • Push up With Your Hips – Imagine pushing up with your hips and the form should take care of itself (see the picture below from Starting strength):

Key Points To Remember

  • You need to squat. Just do it.
  • Squat below parallel.
  • Always make sure that you keep your weight back and over your heels.
  • You do not want your knees to expend past your toes.
  • Keep your whole body tight.

Here’s a video of Mark Rippetoe teaching more on how to squat:

Start squatting today to get the results you want. Need a good program? Try the DoubleYourGains’ 3-5 Program — the squat is a key part of this program and you’ll discover the other exercises you should do with it as well.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave January 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Hey i just came to this site. I’ve been doing squats for a few months now, and i have a couple of problems. One is, even with pathetic poundages, I tend to lean forward waaaay too much on this bloody exercise. What is the problem? I maintain my lumbar curve (and i deadlift 80 lbs more than I squat) so back strength can’t be it!
Two, I’m having disproportionate development. My calves and hamstrings are still skinny, my quads have improved marginally, but my glutes have balooned! Seriously, it’s aesthetically disgusting, especially on such a skinny guy. Why is this? I know a guy who squats double me, yet he’s all calf and quad, with nothing in between!


Caleb_Lee January 27, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Hmmm, hard to tell, maybe your abs are weak? That's why you get teh forward lean?

Good for your glutes though! Glad to hear they're growing :)


Kristian June 15, 2010 at 3:08 pm

What if you can not bend your knees 90 degrees without lifting the heel up?


Caleb_Lee July 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm

do the exercise after the subhead "How To Get Good Hip Mobility/Flexibility"

and read this:


Dylan April 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Do you a a reference for that squatting form diagram label 2-15 that you show above? I would like to use it in my dissertation, but need the reference source. Thanks a lot.


Caleb_Lee April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Sorry, I don't have it handy.


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