7 Tips to Improve Your Back Squat


Are you struggling with your back squat or are you learning how to back squat?

Well, check out these 7 tips to help get your back squat on track and squatting like a pro.

Number one, work on your setup!  

This is how you start your lift, so if you're setup incorrectly you're going to be having a tough time actually maintaining good posture while squatting.

Perform a mental checklist when you're squatting so you can do it without thinking about it.

Grab the bar in a good grip, keep the grip tight, and pull yourself underneath the bar.

Rest the bar inbetween the neck and traps on the shoulders (placement varies from a high to low bar so go with what feels right and tight), contract the lats to pull the bar into you.

Take a breathe, step back from the rack evenly with only two steps, adjust your feet outward a bit (as necessary), then proceed to step number two.

Do this every time and you'll have no trouble getting the basic setup correctly.  Then making adjustments is easy, because you're in a solid position to squat.

Number two, breathe from the diaphragm!  

Basically you're going to want to breath into the abdominals, not to the chest.  Picture the expansion of a balloon below.  Your body has to have something to brace the abdominals against.  This column of air you create is it!  This is probably the most important piece of squat setup that people fail at all the time.

Taken from Elite FTS, by Chris Duffin, https://www.elitefts.com/education/breathing-is-not-bracing/

Now once you've gotten air into the lower abdominals think a yoga breathe, but your actually going contracting your abdominals, obliques, lower back and hip muscular around this column of air to create stability.  Brace like you're going to take a punch.

Keep mindful that you want to also pull the chest down a bit, tuck the chin and rotate your pelvis forward out of anterior pelvic tilt.  Refer to the first skeleton above for proper alignment strategy.

Think in your head - breathe, nose first, then more through the mouth (if necessary, depends on how hard you need to brace), contract the core, squeeze the glutes, and set the chest and neck down a bit.  This should feel like a super tight and slightly uncomfortable position.  If it does you're doing it right, because it's tight and you're getting ready for a big lift.

Three, push or unlock your hips first!

This is a common vault that a lot of people start of squatting first with their knees coming forward first.  Basically this just places a lot of excessive force on the knees and you'll end up with a lot of knee pain eventually.  Always lead with the hips!  That way you can use all of your leg musculature to push up those heavy weights.

Four, bend your knees!

As much as we see a lot of people bending their knees first, many people don't bend them enough.  Remember, you want to start with the hips, but once the hips are unlocked start bending your knees.

You should have more knee bend than hip hinging in this lift, otherwise you're making it into a good morning or a stripper squat (I linked a stripper squat, simply because it's funny and I just recently saw this on Youtube).  For many this is a good squat!  It might be a squat variation, but ideally we want to achieve a nice solid knee bend that is in alignment with the toes and can be over the toes or vertical with the toes depending on your hip and knee biomechanics.

Five, as your descending you want to think about getting the hips between the knees.

This is an ideal scenario for the squat since you're still in control of the weight and you're not simply 'parachuting into enemy lines' or dropping and rebounding off the bounce at the bottom.  You're using the legs to absorb that weight up on your back and then explode it back up to the top.  Getting a good depth takes practice and time, but basically think about going to the bathroom out in the woods.  You want to get low and keep those hips out to allow your hips enough room to get close to the ground.

If your legs are too close together and you feel like you can't go deep or are stacking ontop of your quads, then consider widening your stance a bit until you can get close to your hips between your knees.  This will vary for some individuals with longer legs and depth should be varied to account for individual differences, but the goal should always be a full range of motion for as much leg development as possible.

A good way to try and improve your depth and even teach great squat position is to use the goblet squat as a warm-up or foundational exercise before you back squat.  Check it out here - Goblet Squats!

Six, push evenly through the heals and mid-foot.

You ideally should be able to wiggle your toes all the way through the lift, as you're trying to drive through the power base of the feet.  You should not have your heel elevating off the floor, since that's going to create a lot of stress on your knees and you may need to consider reseting your foot position or even getting a heal lift and/or ankle mobilization to help out with poor mechanics.


Seven, drive through the hips and legs pushing through the floor aggressively.

Squats are a compound movement involving almost every muscle in the body, especially if the weight is heavy.  The key focal points are the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core musculature.

You want each of this muscles working in unison to drive that weight onwards and upwards, so keep tight and drive through the floor like you're trying to push the ground away!  Be aggressive on your ascent, but controlled on your descent.

Return to the top position of the squat, which should look like you're standing tall, chin tucked, core braced and ready to repeat the action.

There you have it.  Seven quick tips to help improve your basic squatting ability.  Now let's get busy and go kill some squats!


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Jess Howland

Jesse "Captain Smash" Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold's Gym. He's a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.