The Back Squat

Squatting variations add versatility to sports training programs.

The back squat is an excellent lift for building lower body strength and toning up.

The Back Squat

The back squat is an excellent free weight training exercise for building lower body strength. Performing the lift through a full range of motion develops and shapes the hips and thighs. It also contributes to core strength and stabilization.

Transfer to Sports: Squatting and variations build the strength component of power development used in many sports. Football, basketball, and volleyball skills require multi-joint lower body power and coordination. This lift contributes to the development of the Olympic lifting variations.

Muscles: Quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals

Starting Position: It is performed by using the hands to stabilize the weights (Olympic bar or exercise bar) on the shoulders. The feet are placed comfortably wider than the shoulders and turned slightly outward.

General Movement: Lower the weight under control until the thighs are approximately parallel with the ground. Ascend in the very same way to the standing position. For a detailed analysis, see the NSCA back squat technique video.

Training Tips

Keep the feet flat on the floor as you lower the weight. Women must be particularly careful to make sure that the knees remain aligned with the feet. This helps to prevent poor technique and potential knee injuries to which women are more susceptible. See Gender Differences

If you are unable to safely reach a parallel position, perform knee bends, lunges, and step ups through the full range using your own body weight or dumbbells until you achieve the strength and technique to perform the back squat with the bar.

Keeping your head and neck aligned with your body, and looking slightly upward throughout the exercise will help maintain trunk stability.

Common Errors

  • Raising the heels off the floor. (If your heels leave the floor at all, you may need to flex more at the hips.)
  • Bouncing from the descent to the ascent.
  • Allowing the knees to invert. (Keep the knees over the feet.)
  • Rounding the back.

Alternative Exercises

An inverted leg press machine with a raised angle at the base helps better align the body to simulate a more efficient squat movement. This type of unit strengthens the lower body without placing as much stress on the knees and back.

Other machines allow you to perform a single joint action at a time without being bearing weight (in most cases), eliminating the involvement of supporting muscles and balancing mechanisms. They also isolate the muscles that you may want to target. For examples, see Thigh Exercises

Additional safety tips

  • You must lower the weight under control, but you can raise it slowly or explosively. Never bounce at the lowest point.
  • Do not add weight too quickly. Doing so places undue stress on the back, spine, and knees, even when you maintain good form. Remember: Gradual and progressive!
  • Performing half and quarter repetitions can place even more pressure on the spine. Be careful about adding weight that can further compress the spine while neglecting the benefits of the moving through the full range of motion.
  • If you perform any free weight, whole body exercises when you are tired, technique can deteriorate, making you more susceptible to injuries. Reduce intensity or use alternative exercises if fatigue affects technique.
  • Be sure to include core strength exercises for the abdominals and low back. These areas are critical for stabilizing the trunk during back squats.

Author: Dr. Denise K. Wood

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