man squatting with barbell

How To Squat With A Barbell | Beginner To Perfect Form

The barbell squat is one of the best lower-body exercises. Nothing else can compare to it… Well, except for the deadlift.

There is a reason why this compound exercise has stood the test of time and is used by professional athletes, Olympic lifters, bodybuilders, and powerlifters. 

It activates all your leg muscles! 

Interested in jumping higher? Start squatting. Want to build a strong core? Start squatting. Want to develop tree trunk legs that make shopping for jeans difficult? Start squatting.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “Barbell squats hurt my lower back” or “I had a friend who got a herniated disk from squatting”. Let’s dispel these myths right now. Barbell squats are perfectly safe and anyone can do them with practice.

They are only dangerous if you are either not using proper form or ego lifting.

That being said, in this guide, we will teach you the perfect squat form in three steps so you know what to focus on to get the best results and avoid injury. 

How To Squat With A Barbell

There are two types of barbell squats and they are based on where you put the barbell on your body. 

The Barbell Back Squat

The back squat is what most people think when they hear the phrase “barbell squat” because it is the most common type of squat. This type of squat targets the posterior chain, also known as the back of the body.

There are two types of back squats: 

  1. The high bar squat

  2. The low-bar squat

The difference between these two types of squats is the position where the bar rests on your back. 

A high bar back squat will have the barbell resting on your trap muscles while a low bar back squat will have the barbell resting on your posterior deltoid. 

In order to do the barbell squat properly follow these three simple steps:

Step 1: Setting Up Your Stance

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the same direction, and turned about 30 degrees outwards.

Step 2: Engaging The Weight

Retract your upper back muscles with your shoulder blades coming down and together. Place the barbell either on top of your traps (for a high bar position) or on top of your posterior delt (for a low bar position). Lift the weight up and take one step backward.  

Step 3: Squatting

Take a deep breath, brace your core, and initiate the movement. Your hips should move back as if you were sitting in a chair, with your knees bending to 90 degrees or lower. 

If you plan on squatting lower ensure that your chest remains in an upright position and that your butt doesn’t curve inwards (this is called butt wink). 

Once your quads are parallel to the ground push through your entire foot to the starting position. As you complete this movement, ensure that you maintain a neutral spine position by keeping your chest upright and core engaged.

The barbell front squat

Front squats are another great squat exercise. This variation engages the anterior chain or the front of the body. The result is that the quads are more strongly activated during this movement.

Step 1: Setting Up Your Stance

Similar to the back squat, your feet should be shoulder-width apart, facing the same direction, and turned about 30 degrees outward.

Step 2: Engaging With The Weight

This is where a front squat is different from a back squat. The barbell will be placed along your shoulders near your collarbone. This forces your body to be in a more upright position as you begin the squat movement.

Your arms can either form a triangle with your index and/or middle finger balancing the bar or you can have your opposite arm balancing the bar on your opposite shoulder. The key is to ensure that your arms are straight and upright during the entire movement.

After choosing your arm position, lift the weight and take one step backward.

Step 3: Squatting

Take a deep breath, brace your core, and stiffen your upper body. Your hips should hinge back as if you were sitting in a chair with your knees bending to 90 degrees or lower.

The front squat is designed to keep your chest more upright allowing you to sink deeper into the movement. The result is that you will need to lean forward and strongly engage your core as you push back to the starting position.

Read More: 6 Killer Leg Exercises For A Killer Leg Day

How To Safely Fail A Barbell Squat

An important part of being able to squat safely is understanding how to fail this movement. If possible, always ask for a spot if you are unsure whether you can lift the weight! 

How To Fail Alone

If you happen to be alone when squatting, I recommend using the guard rails as they will catch the weight.

If you forgot to add the guard rails, the safest thing is to imagine a string is placed around your hips and pulls you very strongly away from the bar the second you drop the weight. 

How To Build Up To Barbell Squats

Before we start talking about barbell squats let’s address the elephant in the room. Barbell squats can be super intimidating. 

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, and here are some tips to help you build up to weighted squats. 

Start With Your Easier Squat Variations

Starting with similar squatting motions as the barbell squat is a great way to build muscle memory. Muscle memory allows your body to remember specific motions to the point where you don’t even need to think about them.  

Here are some of our favorite squatting variations that anyone can easily do without hurting themselves. We encourage you to try each of these motions as you read this article. 

Chair Squat

A chair squat is exactly what it sounds like, you perform a squat with a chair behind you. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with the movement. After all, the movement of a barbell squat is like sitting in an imaginary chair. 

Bodyweight Squat

Bodyweight squats are an excellent way to develop the proper form of a barbell squat with very little risk of injury. After all, a barbell squat is the same movement, the only difference is that you add weight! 

The front squat is designed to keep your chest more upright allowing you to sink deeper into the movement. The result is that you will need to lean forward and strongly engage your core as you push back to the starting position.

How To Avoid Injury & Promote Workout Safety

Now that you have a better idea of how to properly do a barbell squat we have several tips that can help you avoid injuries and promote workout safety. 

Have A Warm-Up Routine

Squatting is a very taxing exercise and you should not immediately just into it. Think of squatting like going for a run, you don’t immediately start bursting into a full-on sprint. 

Similar to running, start with a warm-up routine that activates your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. A primed muscle can generate a lot more force!

Know Your Limits

When you start going to the gym, you should find and understand your limits. Once you understand your limits, we encourage you to push yourself and get outside your comfort zone. After a couple of weeks, you will notice a difference!

However, don’t confuse pushing your limits with, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. 

If you don’t feel well on a certain day, save your strength for another workout. There will always be another opportunity to squat! 

What Equipment Do I Need To Do Barbell Squats?

Squatting involves three pieces of equipment. You need an Olympic barbell, a squat rack, and weights. Explore our Olympic training bundles to get everything you need to start squatting.

What if you only have an Olympic barbell, bumper plates, cast iron plates, or squat rack? Is this enough to start squatting? Unfortunately, no. You will need more equipment to ensure that you are working out safely and effectively.  

Well, you’re in luck because at Montreal Weights we have everything you could ever need. Check out our Powerlifting collection page to see how we can take your home gym to the next level.

How To Squat With A Barbell FAQs

Should beginners do a barbell squat?

Yes, all beginners should do back squats as long as they don’t have any major pain or mobility issues that would be aggravated by this movement. 

Is barbell squatting good for you?

Yes, barbell squats help strengthen your entire lower body, lose weight, and reduce your chances of injuring your knee joints.

Why do I struggle with barbell squats?

You lack upper back strength, core strength, or both. Upper back and core strength help your spine remain neutral and provide stability during the exercise. These muscle groups are essential for holding the weight up as your lower body moves.   

How should I hold my barbell when squatting?

It depends on the type of barbell squat you’re doing. For a front squat, the bar should rest on the shoulders near the collarbone area. For a back squat, the bar should rest either on top of your traps or on top of your posterior delt. 

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Julien Méthot

Passionate about fitness from a young age, Julien co-founded Montreal Weights in 2020 with the vision of providing Canadians with all the necessary tools to workout & stay fit from home. 

Over the years, Julien has helped build a dynamic team that continuously strives to help create the best possible home gym setups for Montreal Weights customers across the nation. 

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