The key to squatting a ton of weight is learning how to squat in a way that suits the mechanics of your body.
People argue online about the specifics, but they miss the bigger picture — different people need to squat in slightly different ways because body shape, limb lengths, and joint mobility all factor in.
There are two styles of barbell back squat: the high bar and the low bar. As the name would suggest, the bar is held in a lower position in the low-bar style than in the high-bar squat style. Neither one should be considered better than the other, but you need to be aware that the technique differs slightly for each.
Working with world-class experts, my team and I spent 3 years developing a 46-lesson video curriculum to teach you how to master the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift.
We call it The Big 3 Basics. It is our first video product. I’d like to share with you one of the 18 squat videos and a written guide covering parts of the course. I hope you take a ton out of it.
VIDEO: HOW TO LOW BAR SQUAT
Here’s an overview of the steps involved in the low-bar squat.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE LOW BAR SQUAT MOVEMENT
Let’s go through the steps to perform the low-bar back squat.
- Take an even grip on the bar.
- Align the center of the bar with the center of your chest.
- Get under the bar and position the bar on your rear deltoids.
- Retract your shoulder blades and lift your chest.
- Stand straight up and unrack the bar.
- Step back to a position where you can perform the squat.
- Adjust your stance width and toe angle to confirm they are correct.
- Breathe in and brace your core.
- Squat down and stand back up without a pause.
Though some of the finer points differ, this broad overview applies equally to high-bar squat, except for the bar positioning. We’ll look at this next.
Getting Into Position
1) LOW BAR PLACEMENT VS. HIGH BAR PLACEMENT
In the low-bar squat, the barbell rests on the rear deltoids. In the high-bar squat the barbell rests on the traps. Here’s how the bar placements compare.
In order to get the bar in a stable low-bar position, you need to create a shelf to put the bar on using the deltoids and back muscles.
Retract your shoulder blades and pull the elbows up and back. The back muscles will be pushed out when you do this and it will create a good platform to stabilize the bar on.
If you experience pain or discomfort in this low bar position, try retracting your shoulder blades more or positioning the bar higher on your back.
2) THE TWO TYPES OF BAR GRIP FOR YOUR SQUAT WORKOUTS
There are two different types of grip you can use for the low bar squat. The thumb-around grip wraps your thumb around the bar. The other, thumbless grip, places the thumb on top of the bar.
There are a few components involved in stabilizing the bar in the low-bar position for your squats.
Pull the elbows up and back, the rear deltoids will bulge and make it easier to put the bar on. But how far back you can pull your elbows depends on your shoulder flexibility and grip width.
Troubleshooting The Low-bar Grip
If you are using the thumb-around grip, as you try to pull your elbows further back, it will bend your wrists. This adds stress to the joints and you may feel discomfort in your wrists.
If you experience pain or discomfort in your shoulder joints, you may be forcing yourself into a position that doesn’t agree with your shoulder flexibility. Try a wider grip and see if the pain becomes easier.
Neither grip is better or worse, you can use whichever feels more comfortable to you.
If you have trouble finding the right grip position, see Troubleshooting 4: The Low-bar Grip.
Unracking The Barbell and Setting Your Stance
3) HOW TO UNRACK THE BAR
Let’s go over the steps to position the bar on your shoulders.
- Take an even grip on the barbell. If you’re new to the low bar style, it might be a good idea to start a little wider.
- Align bar at center. Bring the chest to the bar and make sure the centers of the bar and chest are aligned.
- Position on delts. Get under the bar and put the bar on your rear deltoids. Retract your shoulder blades and lift your chest. When your shoulder blades are retracted, the muscles of the back will be tighter, more pronounced, and make it easier to put the bar on. This also helps stabilize your upper body.
- Adjust the angle of your elbows. When you pull your elbows back and up, the rear deltoids will tighten and bulge making it easier to put the bar on. But it can cause discomfort in the wrists and elbows if you lift your elbows too far. Adjust the angle of your elbows so that you can keep the bar stable on the back without discomfort.
- Adjust grip width. Once your elbow angle is set, try narrowing your grip width. This will make it easier to retract your shoulder blades. Narrow your grip gradually and find the most stable position without discomfort.
- Unrack the bar. Check to see that your feet are directly under the barbell and stand up. Being careful not to move laterally to the right or left, walk straight back, and take your squat stance.
4) SQUAT STANCE WIDTH AND TOE ANGLE
Once you walk out to the squat position, set your stance.
Set your feet at roughly the same width you use for a body-weight squat. Then point your toes out. Once your stance is set, look down at your feet to confirm your stance width and toe angle.
For some people, narrower or wider than this can work better. In order to find the low-bar stance width that works for you, squat down to the bottom, then try adjusting wider and narrower. Find the width that allows you to get into the low bar squat bottom position without discomfort.
Adjust your toe angle according to your stance width. Your toes should point out during the squat. How far out they should point depends on your stance width.
Troubleshooting The Stance
When the heels are shoulder-width apart, pointing the toes at an angle of about 30 degrees is a good starting point. Generally, the wider your stance is, the more angled your toes should be. And the narrower your stance, the more forward your toes should point.
When your stance width and toe angles are set, squat down and adjust your bottom position. Point your knees and toes in the same directions and see if there’s any discomfort in the ankles, knees, hips, or lower back.
Try different stance widths and toe angles to find the combination that works best for you.
For more detail on finding the correct stance for you, see Troubleshooting 6: The Stance.
5) TRAINING TO BRACE YOUR CORE
Take a breath, hold it, and brace your core.
- Take a big breath as if you are storing air in your stomach. Then hold your breath and tense your entire abdomen. Contract your abs hard as if you’re preparing to take a punch in your stomach.
- If you successfully increase the intra-abdominal pressure, your stomach will feel hard to the touch and your abdominal muscles will stabilize your torso.
- Start breathing out while still keeping the abs tense. If you gradually let the air out while keeping the abdominal muscles tight, you should feel pressure against your stomach from inside.
- Repeat this cycle until you get the feel for bracing your core.
For more detail on learning how to brace, see Lesson 5.3: Bracing Your Core.
THE LOW BAR SQUAT MOVEMENT
6) SQUATTING DOWN (THE LOW BAR DESCENT)
Squat down while you push your knees out. Make sure your knees are pointing in the same directions as your toes.
Do not let your knees cave in. If you think about actively pushing your knees out as you squat, this can help correct the angle of your knees. If your stance is very wide, it can be difficult to point the knee travel to be in the same direction as your toes. In this case, try narrowing your stance.
For more detailed steps on the descent part of the squat movement, see Troubleshooting 7: The Descent.
Whether high bar or low bar, it’s essential to maintain good balance when squatting. One way of helping you do this is by looking at the bar path and bar position at the bottom. To see the bar path most clearly, take a video of your form from the side.
If your balance shifts forward as you squat, your knees will move forward or your heels may come off the floor. To help adjust your balance, as you squat down, start the movement by hinging at the hips. Think about sitting onto a chair and feel the weight on your heels.
If your balance shifts back as you squat, your toes may come off the floor or you may feel you are about to fall backward. If you want to adjust your balance, think about starting the movement by bending at the knees. When you do this, the bar position seen from the side will move forward a little.
Important: In the image above, you can see where the balance point is for our lifter. However, you may be different. Limb lengths, load on the bar, and bar position all affect things. So, don’t take this example to mean your balance point should exactly match. But know that filming yourself to see how the bar position changes when adjusting your technique, can be a useful tool to assess whether it was effective.
For more detailed steps on troubleshooting the bar path… yes, you guessed it… see Troubleshooting 8: The Bar Path.
7) HOW DEEP TO SQUAT — FINDING YOUR FULL SQUAT DEPTH
You may have noticed in the low bar squat overview video at the top of the page that the three lifters all squat to slightly different depths. This is because the right depth differs from person to person.
As a general rule, you should aim to squat as deep as possible without pain or discomfort, and while your back remains straight.
For most people, a good target is where the thighs are parallel to the floor or deeper.
To check how deep you are squatting, you need to view your form from the side. You can either film yourself, or get a coach or training partner to check your form.
Troubleshooting Squat Depth
Once you get to the bottom, take a pause to see if there’s anything uncomfortable about the position.
- Is there any discomfort in your ankles?
- Are your knees pointing the same direction as your toes?
- Is there any discomfort in your hips?
- Did you squat deep enough? The standard depth is where your thighs are parallel to the floor or deeper.
- Confirm that your lower back isn’t rounded.
- Is your chest held up?
- Is there any discomfort in your neck?
If you have any discomfort, adjust your stance width, toe angle, knee angle, and squat depth. When you find the right positions for your body, you should be able to perform your squats to depth with a natural motion.
For more detail on finding the right bottom position of the squat, see Troubleshooting 9: Back Posture & Finding The Right Depth and Troubleshooting 10: Keeping a Straight Core.
8) STANDING BACK UP (THE LOW-BAR ASCENT)
Once you find a good comfortable bottom position, stand back up. Check to see if you can stand straight up smoothly without any discomfort.
Troubleshooting The Ascent
If you find your knees caving in, check to see if your stance is too wide or your toes are pointing too far out, as this makes it hard to keep your knees in line with your toes.
If you can’t quite get the hang of how it feels to push your knees out, practicing with a resistance band can be useful.
When you stand up and lockout, the knees can be hyperextended in some people. (This is more common with the low bar squat than the high bar squat because the torso leans forward more.)
Hyperextending the knees can place them under unnecessary stress and may lead to joint problems. If this happens, stop at the point where your knees are straight. Do not completely lockout, leave some play in your knees.
During the ascent, some people will have their butt sticking out. When this happens, if the lower back is in an arched posture, it can place it under unnecessary stress.
When you stand up, try squeezing your butt. When the muscles in your butt contract, it can remove the arch in the lower back and help keep your torso straight.
Just bear in mind your body won’t be perfectly vertical in the full standing position when you low-bar squat, but tilted forward slightly so you are balanced with the barbell over the middle of the foot.
If you can stand up in a smooth motion, repeat the whole movement a few times. When you reverse the movement at the bottom, get a bounce to stand back up without a pause. Through repetition, you will develop your ability to perform the same movement comfortably, stably, and reliably
For more detailed steps on the descent part of the squat movement, see Troubleshooting 7: The Ascent.
9) RACKING THE BAR
When you are done with the movement walk the bar back in the rack. Walk straight towards the rack and hit the barbell gently on the pillars. Do not hit the bar too hard into the rack or it could bounce back and miss the hooks.
Lower the bar along the pillars and rest it on the hooks. If you have the hooks set at the right height and the bar is balanced, you shouldn’t need to look check to see if the bar will clear them.
HOW TO SQUAT SAFELY
To squat safely you not only need to have good technique (as covered above), but you need to know how to use the rack correctly.
Occasionally, you may wish to have someone watch over and assist if necessary. This is called spotting. However,
- Learning how to adjust the rack should come first so that you have confidence when you train alone, and
- I would advise you don’t rely on strangers to give you a spot — they may be incompetent and cause you an injury.
Finding The Correct Hook Height
The hooks should be set so that the bar is somewhere between the midpoint of your chest and your armpit.
If the hooks are too high, it makes it harder to rack the bar, which isn’t safe when you are using heavy loads.
If the hooks are too low, you will need to lower yourself more than necessary to get under the bar. This might cost you some extra energy that you could have otherwise used for working sets.
The ideal hook height will be slightly lower with the low-bar squat than the high-bar squat. If you find that your rack doesn’t adjust with small enough increments to the point you would ideally like, choose the lower option.
It is better to be safe with lower hooks than to risk losing balance with hooks that are set too high. If you’re unsure, start with a lower position and gradually move the hooks up until you find an appropriate position for you.
Finding The Correct Safety Pin Height
The safety pins are there to help you squat safely. Yes, you will rarely use them, but you can’t always predict when you might need them, so I suggest you set them every time you squat. The pins should be set at a height where you can lower the bar onto the pins without rounding your back. A good rule of thumb is to set the pins an inch or so below the bar level when you are in the button position.
For guidance on hook height and safety bar positioning, see Troubleshooting 1: Rack Adjustments.
How To Correctly Spot The Squat With Two People
When attempting a one-rep max, or when pushing yourself to the limits towards the end of a set, you may need to be spotted.
Here’s how you do it:
- The spotters should position themselves on each side of the barbell and stand with their hands held just below the sleeves of the bar.
- Spotters should not touch the bar as the lifter is performing the movement.
- As the lifter squats down and stands up, the spotters should do so as well.
- When the lifter is unable to lift the weight on their own, the spotters should hold the bar with both hands.
- Spotters should pay attention to each other, and aim to assist with the same amount of force, at the same time. If the spotters fail to synchronize, it can tilt the bar and put the lifter off balance.
- The lifter should try to lift the weight and complete the movement themselves, even when being spotted.
I recommend you practice spotting with a couple of friends, before you give one when it really counts.
LOW BAR SQUAT FORM FAQ
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