Training legs is often shied away by those who are new to weightlifting, as many people believe that they’ll achieve the physique they desire through bench-presses and biceps curls… However, nobody wants to look too top-heavy. And in actual fact, the barbell back-squat not only builds muscle in your legs and glutes, but your entire body.
The barbell back-squat is an exercise which allows you to lift a considerable amount of weight and balance the load out between your legs, glutes, calves and core. When squatting you’ll also engage your back by using your lats and traps to balance the barbell behind your shoulders and perform the lift stably.
Due to the high amount of muscles engaged in the exercise, squats are of such high intensity that they can trigger the release of HGH and testosterone which are essential if you want to create more muscle.
Using the barbell back-squat not only increases the muscle mass and strength of your legs, but it also has a number of other benefits. For instance when deadlifting, the initial drive
from the floor requires strength from the legs which you’ll gather from performing the barbell back-squat and increasing your ability to push weight.
Outside of exercising, due to the functional nature of the barbell squat, you will be able to perform daily tasks such as gardening, lifting household and garden items or even manual work with more balance and ease, as the barbell squat incorporates strength, balance and coordination all into one large compound movement!
Performing The Barbell Back-Squat Effectively
Performing a squat initially appears to be a very simple movement. You lower your body through the use of your legs and glutes until you can’t go any deeper, and you raise your body back up again. However, there’s actually a lot more to this movement and it’s important you learn how to perform it effectively in order to reduce your risk of injury, especially when handling a heavy load of weight.
If you were to place a couple of plates either side and let yourself drop right down, the likelihood is that you wouldn’t have enough control over the weight to push yourself back to an upright standing position, which could be extremely dangerous.
1) Setting up
✓ Start off inside a squat rack and place the safety bars up to a point just lower than the depth you believe you’ll be squatting to. The bar should be in front of you, placed on the racking; you’ll need to place your hands at a comfortable distance apart on the bar, usually similar to where you’d hold the bar when performing bench press.
✓ Once you’ve got a nice tight grip, you’ll need to step underneath the bar and align it on top of your traps; if this is too uncomfortable due to the lack of muscle on this area of your back, you can lower the bar slightly or use a pad or towel to wrap around the bar and make it more comfortable.
✓ Once you’ve got hold of the bar on your traps, de-rack the bar and take a step backwards. Holding your head upright and looking forward, pick an object in front of you and use this to look at throughout your lift so that your head does not tilt forwards during the lift, as this will cause your form to slip and knock you off balance.
✓ Create a slight arch in your lower back by bringing your shoulders forwards and pushing your chest out (a lifting belt can help with this in order to make your midsection feel more stable and reduce the risk of injury). Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, however if this feels too narrow you can widen this accordingly; you should now also turn your feet slightly outwards (toes outwards by approximately 45 degrees).
2) Lifting the weight
✓ When you’re ready to perform the lift, breathe in at the top of the movement and flex your lats & glutes; slowly lower yourself, making sure you control the lift and keep the weight balanced all the way to the bottom of the squat and keeping your knees above your feet without letting them fall inwards (Knee wraps can help with keeping your knees tight and balanced).
Note: Take a breath within the descending part of the squat (Do not hold your breath throughout the lift.)
✓ In order to squat to full depth you’ll need to bend over at the HIP and NOT BEND YOUR BACK, the best way to do this is by using mind-muscle connection and picturing your backside coming forward while your shoulders are coming backwards as you’re lowering in the squat.
✓ At the bottom of the lift breathe out and push up through your heels to return to your upright position. Take a step forward and carefully place the barbell back on the rack.
Training using squats
Now that you know how to perform the barbell back-squat effectively…
1) How many sets/reps should you be performing?
2) When should you perform them?
3) How often should you use them?…
If you’re looking to build your lower body up (quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes) and improve your overall muscle mass, which most of us probably are… you should do this exercise first on your leg day so that you’re fresh for the movement and can perform it optimally so that you don’t miss out on any potential gains.
I like to perform at least 5 working sets of barbell back-squats, however it’s advisable that you start off with 2-3 warm-up sets so that you can make sure your body is ready to perform the lift and you can get the blood flowing before jumping straight into lifting heavy weights.
Aim to complete 2-3 bodyweight or light sets of barbell back-squats, performing 12-15 repetitions before moving into your working sets; you could even perform some pause-reps to increase the tension and make sure that you’re pumped up for your working sets by activating as many muscle fibers as you can beforehand.
As we’ve gathered, the barbell back-squat is a movement which you can lift a considerably high amount of weight on, and which can release testosterone and HGH if performed effectively and intensely. With this being the case I would advise a repetition range of no more than 8 in order to make sure you’re lifting a heavy load which you’re able to control for a decent amount of time; the more time under tension with the heavy amounts of weights will increase the chances of testosterone and HGH being released in order for you to make the most out of the movements.
Recap on Performing the Barbell Back-Squat
1) Set the safety bars to just below your squat depth.
2) Place your hands on the bar at the same width you would when bench-pressing.
3) Step under the bar and place it onto traps (use a towel or lower bar if necessary.)
4) Unrack bar and step backwards.
5) Look forward and pick an object to concentrate on throughout the lift.
6) Arch lower back. Push chest out. Bring shoulders back.
7) Feet shoulder width apart. Feet turned out 45 degrees.
8) Breathe in, flex lats and glutes; lower yourself in a controlled motion.
9) Keep knees above feet; without letting knees dip inwards.
10) Bend over at the HIP (NOT BACK) while descending.
11) Don’t forget to breathe while squatting.
12) Breathe out and push up through heels when ready to ascend.
13) Step forward and place barbell back on the rack.
Take home message
The barbell back-squat may have appeared to be an easy exercise before you learnt the motions inside-out, however you should not be afraid to perform the movement.
If you feel uncomfortable with any part of the lift, you should always go back to basics and squat using just the bar, or your bodyweight so that you can practice and make sure you have your form nailed before attempting any heavy weights.