How to Squat With a Bar
Everyone focuses on the most aesthetic muscle groups, from biceps to triceps and their abs, but what about stabilizing muscles that affect how you train as a whole?
Barbell squats are able to not only build your glutes, legs, and core but also your traps and obliques at the same time.
If you aren’t already squatting with a bar and this is the first time you’re considering it, it’s important to know why you should add it to your exercise regimen.
We’re going to explain why it’s important, the dangers associated with it, and how to perform a proper barbell squat so that you can begin reaping the rewards as soon as possible.
Why is Squatting With a Bar Important?
Squatting on its own is pretty great for you. It builds your glutes, makes your core stronger, and helps with your trap muscles (among other muscle groups).
It helps to create strong stabilization muscles across your entire body, which is why they’re a staple in gyms and a must for bodybuilders.
Now let’s break down all of those benefits and others, and talk about why it’s so important, and why you should absolutely be squatting in your normal gym routine.
- Strengthening Your Back Muscles: This one seems pretty obvious, but many people actually only gravitate towards squats for glute-building potential. Squats help with so many muscle groups in the back, and there’s a reason that’s important beyond just having a beefy-looking back. These muscles help you stabilize yourself when lifting, so every time you lift, you’re making it easier to lift the next time (regardless of the weight you push up to).
- Better Posture: Because squats help to work out back muscles, they also help when it comes to posture. Standing tall is more than something that just looks good; it benefits your joints, your spinal alignment, and can prevent you from becoming decrepit as you age. Posture also helps with digestion, but that’s another topic entirely.
- Improved Glutes: There are aesthetic reasons that we all want better glutes, and then there are the bodybuilding, long-term benefit reasons. Your glute muscles actually play a vital role in your stability and balance, as well as keeping the posture in your lower back (the most commonplace that people suffer from bad posture) nice and straight. The visible benefits don’t hurt either, so if that’s your only reason for training your glutes or doing squats, you’ll be helping yourself out in the process.
- Increasing Lower Body Flexibility: Squats workout your glutes, as we’ve talked about, but that also improves the flexibility in your lower body. The deeper you can squat, the more mobility you’ll gain, within reason. Eventually, you can only flex or rotate your legs so much, but unless you’re doing squats all the time as of right now, you don’t have that level of mobility. It’s a really nice feeling once you reach it.
- Less Pressure on Joints: Because you work out posture-building muscles, you take the weight and pressure off of your knees and other joints. The knees are most notable since you can feel them bother you almost immediately, but this helps across the board.
Dangers of Improper Form
Squats are simple when you don’t have a weight in your hands, but when you introduce a heavy barbell or a pair of hefty dumbbells, you run a higher risk of hurting yourself.
If you don’t maintain a proper form, this is what could happen:
- Muscle Tears: Squats work out a lot of muscles, and if you aren’t careful, you can tear them. A muscle tear can put you out of commission and push your workout success back a few weeks, and if you don’t heal right or you ignore the physical warning signs, you can actually hurt yourself even worse (in a manner that might require surgery).
- Knee Pain: Squats can help your knees and often strengthen the muscles that support your knees, but when the weight gets to be too much, you can actually damage your knees. That’s a lot of wear to bear down on your knees all at once. Before you begin doing heavily weighted squats, you need stronger thigh muscles and excellent muscle stabilization to help you shoulder the weight.
- Getting Stuck Under the Bar: This is a scary reality for a lot of lifters who use barbells when they do squats. With the way that heavy barbells go over your shoulders, it’s completely reasonable to be afraid of getting stuck. This is why you absolutely need someone to spot you when you progress in 10-20 lb increments as time goes on. Squatting with a bar at home.
- Home Injury: Further stressing the previous point, barbell squats are dangerous if you’re using an all at-home gym. Here, we advocate for getting a good at-home gym for yourself, but you just have to make sure you have the right equipment. If you’re free squatting without a cage, you should stick to a very low weight barbell to prevent injuries.
How to Perform a Squat With a Bar Properly
Performing a barbell squat looks difficult, and that’s because it is—but it’s doable, and you’ve got this. These are the steps you need to take in proper form.
#1 Stand Tall
Get into the squat rack and get ready to shoulder the burden of the barbell. You want to start by putting your neck and your back in a neutral position.
Do not drop your chin or lean it down in any way, and trust me, it will be tempting to do that when the weight comes down.
Pick an area on the wall or an object that’s in front of you while your neck is in this position, and fixate on it so you don’t hurt yourself when the barbell comes down.
#2 Align Your Chest
We want to avoid injuries, so keep your chest up and don’t curl over like you’re trying to put your torso around an enormous rolling pin (basically correct your posture).
You’re also going to push your elbows forward, and it’s not going to feel perfect, but it does help offset the weight and stress so it’s not all on your knees. The barbell is going to rest in your hands with your palms pointing away from you.
#3 Take a Stance
Your knees need to be lined up with your feet and toes. If your legs are spread out too far, the pressure comes down hard.
You want them to be lined up so that when you dip down during the squat, you can push off without relying on your joints for all the pressure control. Keep your heels flat on the floor.
#4 Pull Off
Now it comes time to pull the barbell off the rack. This can feel like a lot all at once, but it’s important to get it right. Your stance, neck alignment, and chest position will all help.
The weight comes onto your shoulders and you balance the bar along your neck while keeping it stiff in your palms. Keep that same stance, but using your hips and your knees, begin to dip downward into as deep of a squat as you feel comfortable making.
#5 Push Off
Once you’ve reached the dip of your squat, it’s time to push off, and that’s where it gets even more difficult. You’re going to feel the weight in your palms pretty heavily here.
Push off to the starting position, and either put the barbell back on the rack or continue for another dip, but be honest with yourself and assess where you are.
Other Squat Variations to Know About
These are a few other ways you can perform a squat with a barbell that isn’t quite as traditional, but they work just the same.
- Overhead Squats: Just as you’d expect—you hold the barbell overhead during the entire squat. This is something that takes a lot of muscle to do, so your traps, shoulders, and back should be developed first.
- Hack Squats: The barbell is behind you, and you reach back to grab onto it when you pull up to squat. You don’t use a rack for this one, so it’s a mixture of squatting and deadlifts at the same time.
- Zercher Squats: Beefy biceps? You can use your normal squat stance, but hold the barbell across the inside of your elbows and squeeze the bar between your biceps and your forearms while you squat.
Bar Squatting Done Right
Glutes, quads, hamstrings, and more—barbell squatting is about to change your life and make your exercise routine intensely amazing.
Beyond the aesthetics, your glutes actually play a vital role in your posture, your muscle stabilization, and your overall fitness. It’s time to take it seriously.
One excellent way to train your glutes is with resistance bands. If you haven’t already, check out our guide to the best resistance bands right here and pick up an inexpensive at-home solution to begin training your glutes as soon as possible.