I covered the deadlift basics in a previous article, so now it’s time to cover the squat. As with the deadlift article, this will mainly be an assortment of videos that have helped me improve my form over the last three years of barbell squatting regularly.
High Bar Squat vs Low Bar Squat
The first video will go over the differences between the low bar and high bar squat. Accordingly, you can make a choice for yourself, whether you want to use a low bar, high bar, hybrid of the two, or a combination of more than one of these in your training.
Low Bar Squat
Arguably the best book for a description of the low bar squat: Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
So you’ll notice that Mark Rippetoe prefers the low bar squat. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Below is a video of Candito teaching the low bar squat.
High Bar Squat
This is often called an Olympic Squat. Here is a video describing the high bar squat.
Probably the best video on this topic.
And below is an older video where he briefly touched on the subject of the hybrid squat.
So You Think You Can Squat?
An awesome series of videos by powerlifter Matt Wenning about learning the squat. There are 5 parts. Part 1 is embedded below, the rest are linked underneath.
As you notice in the video series, the guys at Elitefts believe in box squatting just like Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell (creator of the Westside Method). Here is a video of Dave Tate teaching the box squat.
Also read Dave Tate’s article: Master of the Squat
My favorite assistance movement for the back squat. The front squat forces good posture, the torso must be kept upright for the duration of the lift, the upper back will be the limiting factor. Less weight will be used by most lifters in the front squat as compared to the back squat. It closely mimics the movement pattern of the clean also. The front squat requires good ankle, hip, shoulder girdle and wrist flexibility/mobility. Here is a video on how to do it.
Mark Rippetoe teaching the front squat is another good video.
If wrist flexibility limits you, here is a pretty good video on using the cross grip or a variation with straps. Personally, I use a clean grip and most people should be able to use it with 2-3 fingers on the bar (which is enough to keep the bar in place with a proper front rack position).
Because the upper back limits the movement and tends to tire out first, I like to keep front squats at low reps when weights are heavy. Otherwise your upper back will fatigue, round forward and thus put more stress on your wrists and elbows with the bar rolling forward. This will make it hard to keep your elbows up like you should and maintain a good rack position. I prefer doing multiple sets of 5 or less repetitions, but of course that’s something you have to decide for yourself.
Lower Back Rounding (a.k.a. ‘Butt Wink’)
Specifically for low bar squats, here is an interesting video on low bar squats and why you shouldn’t go past parallel on low bar squats in order to avoid lower back rounding. (Note: It’s perfectly okay to go past parallel on a high bar squat, if your flexibility allows this to happen with good form.)
Breathing During the Squat
Head Position During the Squat
Another good one from Candito. He also covers the deadlift head position in this.
Shoes for Squats
For most people, Olympic weightlifting shoes are a must when squatting high bar to full depth or front squatting to full depth. The elevated heel increases range of motion at the ankle joint and allows you to squat deeper. Alternatively, you can put plates under your heels. Some people with great ankle and hip flexibility can squat to full ATG depth without a raised heel (so wearing flat shoes or going barefoot).
For a wider stance or low bar squat, you’ll want to wear flat shoes with good stability.
Avoid sneakers with cushioning.
Improving Mobility for the Squat
If you have trouble hitting depth or are experiencing any sort of pain (actual pain, not soreness), it’s usually a form issue with the movement. This is often caused by limited mobility in the range of motion required by the squat. Most of the time, it’s a hip and/or ankle (usually both to some degree) issue, if you can’t squat ATG (ass to grass, all the way down) without your knees collapsing inward or your heels coming off the ground. Corrective stretching and self myofascial release as part of an active recovery routine can help this a lot. A low back squat (or the hybrid between high bar and low bar mentioned above) will be more forgiving with limited ankle and hip mobility than an Olympic style back squat or the front squat.
The easiest stretch to do is to put the bar on your back, squat down ATG and stay in the hole for 2-3 minutes (work up to it). This will stretch you in the position you want to be in. If you can’t accomplish that yet, an alternative would be to support yourself with a band around your waist or by holding something in front of you, then squatting as low as you can go (with good form) and trying to get down into a full squat over time. Always push your knees out to stretch your hips.
Some squat mobility videos: Tight Ankles? | Squat Stretch for 10mins | Hip Opener for Squats (Great Warmup) | Front Rack Problems? (Front Squat Specific) | MobilityWOD 3 Day Squat Series: Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 | MWOD YouTube Playlist for Calves | Pre-Squat Hip Opener (‘Couch Stretch’ Against Wall) | Hip Mobility Exercises from Candito (I do these immediately after every lower body workout.) | Hip Mobility with Mark Bell | High Hamstring Mobility
As always, this is just my personal approach to the squat and some videos that have helped me improve my form over time.