The squat is a basic exercise and learning how to do it correctly is crucial for your bodybuilding career. Even if for some reason you cannot squat correctly, the principles that you will learn are crucial and understanding them will help you with other exercises as well.
In this article we will present you a guideline of how your first squat workout should go. The information below is aimed at beginner bodybuilders with little to no experience with squats.
1.Learn how to correctly perform bodyweight squats
The barbell squat is nothing more than a regular squat with a barbell on your back, at least on paper. If you haven’t squatted in a long time, start with regular bodyweight squats. The technique for bodyweight squats and barbells squats is the same although both feel much different.
You cannot learn how to squat correctly with a barbell, if all you do are bodyweight squats. However, air squats allow you to learn some of the basic bio-mechanical principals that carry-over to the real deal. Follow the following guide in order to learn how to perform bodyweight squats correctly:
1.Stand tall and look forward.
# You need to keep looking forward during the execution of the whole movement. If you look up or down, your spinal alignment will be affected.
2.Assume about a shoulder width stance with your toes pointing slightly out.
# Your feet should point out a little to the sides. Your stance should about shoulder width or slightly more.
2.1.Take a deep breath. Don’t exhale just yet!
3.Begin squatting down.
#Look forward and keep your feet firmly planted at the floor. Try to keep your weight evenly spread on the foot. NEVER lift your heels off the ground.
3.1 Make sure that your toes are in line with your knees.
#This means that your knees should be pointing EXACTLY in the direction where your feet are pointing. If your knees point straight forward and your toes point to the sides, your knee ligaments and tendons are put at risk due to poor alignment. If that condition is not met you will injure yourself. In order to safely lift heavy weights, proper bio-mechanics MUST be respected.
You may get away with poor form on air squats, but when the heavy barbell comes all weak elements need to be fixed.
3.2 During the whole movement keep the natural arch of your back. This means that your chest is sticking out and your lower back has its natural curve.
4.Lower yourself down as far as you can go without losing tension in your back.
5.Push-up yourself up to starting position and exhale through your teeth during the ascend.
# Proper breathing is very important. When you hold your breath, you instantly become much stronger. However, holding your breath for extended period of time can be dangerous. That’s why it’s recommended to breath through your teeth or very shallow. This will allow you to keep tense and strong while reducing some of the stress induced by breathless lifting.
Build up to about 3 sets of 20 repetitions before attempting barbell squats. However since the technique above is meant to facilitate the future learning of correct barbell squatting, it’s recommended that you do your exercises with a broomstick. Imagine it’s the bar.
Note: Record yourself using a mobile camera or a phone in order to analyze your technique.
2.Find a gym with a squat rack or power cage.
In order to squat safely and correctly you need an equipment that will allow you get under the barbell and get ready for the lift. If you are squatting very light weights, you might be able to somehow muscle up the weight and put it on your back, but when you reach meaningful weight that won’t be possible. You will also be risking serious spinal injuries. That’s why you need a squat rack or a power rack a.k.a. squat cage. The mentioned machinery allows you to get under super heavy weights and truly test you strength.
The squat rack
The squat rack is presented at the left part of the above image. It’s a very simple piece of equipment that comes with two parts – rack and safety catchers. You place an unloaded bar at the rack, put on the weights, get under the bar and squat. If something happens and you cannot lift the weight, the safety catchers will allow you to place the barbell on them.
The power rack
The power rack is not much different than the squat rack. However, it gives a little more freedom since you can reposition both – the pins part of the rack as well as the safety catchers. The power rack is not built solely for squatting. Many people use it for the bench press and other accessory lifts such as rack pulls, heavy shrugs, partial lifts…etc.
If you can’t find a gym with a power rack or a squat rack, you cannot squat efficiently and safely. There’s no other way around this problem the very same way there is no way to drive a car without wheels.
3.Find a solid Olympic bar.
When you are a beginner every bar will look the same to you. However, they are not the same. One of the things you will have to do during your first squat workout is find the right bar for the task. You need to find a thick and preferably wider bar with some solid knurling. This is a very important part and is meant to keep the bar firmly on your back.
You will also have to make sure that the bar allows the plates to rotate. When you are examining the bars in your facility, just spin the ends and see what happens. If the bearing is in good shape, the ends should spin freely and effortlessly. Don’t underestimate that step. If that bar ends are not rotating, the bar will not stay in place on your back and will sort of attempt to slight down your back. This is dangerous and should be avoided.
4.Place the bar at squat/power rack.
The bar should be placed at a pin height that places the bar directly at the height of your middle chest. This means that when you stand in front of the bar, it’s at the level of your middle to lower chest. If it’s higher, it’s really hard to unrack it and you will lose the tension of your upper back. If it’s too low, you will lose too much strength unracking it. Make sure the bar is evenly places. You don’t want it to be uneven because when you unrack it you will be thrown out of balance.
5. Get in position and squat
Stand in the middle of the rack. Grab the bar evenly and get under it.
Flex your upper back muscle and place your contracted traps (trapezoids muscles) in the middle. Assume about should width stance.
Look forward. Push a little to unrack the bar.
Step back with one of your legs and then follow with the other. All you need are about one or two steps to get clear of the rack.
Assume the squatting stance once more. Look forward and squat while keeping your spine in NATURAL alignment.
Go as low as you can and push back up. Perform a few reps and then move forward one step at a time until the bar touches the pillars of the rack. Once you now for SURE that the barbells is touching the metal just above the pins slowly and under control squat down until the pins are holding the bar.
Repeat the same procedure a few more times and call it a day.
This is plenty for your first squat workout.
Note: We are well aware that some of the points above will not be 100% clear to you. Don’t worry! This article is just an initial guideline and there will be much more posts that will explain in further details some of the point made here.
We highly recommend that you read all articles part of the squat series in order to learn more about the correct execution of the exercise.
The Squat Series So Far:
Learn How To Squat: The Perfect Squat Stance
Bar Position During Squats – Low Bar Or High Bar?
Shoulder And Elbow Pain During Squats
Thumbless Grip During Squats – Fix Your Wrist Pain
Head positioning: Where To Look During Squats?
How Deep Should I Squat?
Mark Rippetoe’s Hip Drive Explained
Disclaimer: You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other lifting program. NattyOrNot.com hold no responsability for any injuries that may occur during the practice of the above techniques. Be smart. Listen to your body! This is the only way to protect your health.