The 3 Best Muscle Building Squats

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All hail the mother of all exercises, the squat!

Like it or not, the hard truth is, if you’re not doing the squat, you can slowly raise your right hand and start waving goodbye to your fitness goals. Now, I don’t care if you want to be a physique athlete and look all shredded and beautiful, or if you want to be a massive beast of a bodybuilder, the one exercise that engages all of your muscles, and I do mean all of them, is the squat.

…and I am not talking about doing what everyone’s favorite gym bro Mike does, half-repping every leg session and doing 10 sets of leg extensions because your knees hurt when you squat, no! I’m talking about heavy-weight, ass to the grass muscle building squats.

Because let’s face it, you’re going to be forever known as chicken-legs unless you incorporate heavy compound movements in your workouts.

That being said, squats are notorious for leaving people injured when they lack the knowledge on proper form and the basic safety measures that will enable them to stay healthy and lift a heavier weight each session. If you feel like you are informed enough, think again because the squat is the most complex movement you can do in the gym, and as such it carries many possible dangers, so taking the time to learn something new about it could mean the difference between you adding size and strength, or getting injured.

I will write a full squat tutorial in the near future for you all, so do keep an eye for that, but for now let’s go over the basics.

Without further ado, let’s talk about the key things you need to have in mind when squatting in order to become the beast you always imagined yourself being of one day.

The Most Important Accessory of them all, Technique

Before we move into heavy weight-lifting where gadgets and accessories come into play, we have to talk about proper technique. You can buy every piece of squatting equipment there is but it still won’t save you from yourself if you execute crappy form.

A belt is an awesome accessory for reaching that new PR, but becoming too dependent on it will eventually have an adverse effect on your weightlifting goals.

The first thing you need to know is that you cannot do every style of squatting and excel at it, you need to pick one and stick to it, make it your bread and butter movement.

Having said that, there are three types of squats:

  1. High-bar Squat
  2. Low-bar Squat
  3. Front Squat

The High-Bar Squat

The high-bar squat is probably the most common squatting technique out there and more often than not you will see people at the gym doing them, and doing them poorly.

high_bar_squat_bar_position

The high bar squat places the bar on top of the trapezius

In order to execute the high-bar squat, there are several key steps you need to be aware of.

  1. Stretch your hips, shoulders and hamstrings
  2. Do your active warmup
  3. Rest the barbell on the top of your trapezius
  4. Keep your chin and elbows tucked in
  5. Engage your core
  6. Place your feet slightly wider than hip width, with toes facing outward at a slight angle (max 20 degrees)
  7. Keep the bar path in a straight line, forcing the hip-knee-shoulder triangle.
  8. Move in a straight line down until you reach below parallel, distributing the weight across your mid-foot
  9. Slingshot your way up in a straight line, pushing your hips in
  10. Only take breaths at the top of the movement, breathe into your stomach

This type of squatting requires hip, hamstring and lower back mobility above everything else, as it is very easy to lose balance with improper breathing and tight ligaments.

The Low-Bar Squat

The low-bar squat is the preference for the majority of serious lifters, that is why you won’t see a lot of people executing it at your local gym – they don’t know how to, and are not aware of the benefits. Contrary to popular belief, the low bar squat is the more natural position for squatting with a straight back, while going deep and engaging your entire body as opposed to the high-bar which relieves much of the tension from your chest and arms.

low_bar_squats_barbell_position_on_delts

The low bar squat places the bar lower down on the rear deltoids. A small change but it makes a big differance in the technique required to pull it off safetly.

This type of squatting will enable you to move more weight and exert more force by engaging every muscle in your body, strengthening everything from your calves to your deltoids.

The basic pillars of low-bar squatting are:

  1. Stretch your hips, glutes, shoulders and hamstrings
  2. Do your active warmup
  3. Rest the barbell on your rear deltoids
  4. Keep your chin and elbows tucked in
  5. Keep your chest flat, not high
  6. Engage your core
  7. Place your feet wider than hip width, with toes facing outward at a slight angle (max 20 degrees)
  8. Keep the bar path in a straight line, forcing the hip-knee-shoulder triangle
  9. You will bend forward in the hips (keeping your back straight), as opposed to the high-bar squat, that is good and will give you more force
  10. Move in a straight line down until you reach below parallel, distributing the weight across your mid-foot
  11. Slingshot your way up in a straight line, pushing your hips in
  12. Only take breaths at the top of the movement, breathe into your stomach

When keeping your bar low, you will experience muscle soreness in your legs, back and even arms, so be ready for that treat.

Still confused? Check out this really good video explaining the differances between high and low squats by Alan Thrall

The Front Squat

Finally, the front squat is a very interesting exercise with some benefits, which mostly enables you to look cool in the mirror. Unless you are an Olympic weightlifter, there is no real reason you should be incorporating front squats into your routine that already contains regular squats. That is called overkill and it is unlikely you will reap any extra benefit to muscle growth or strength.

front_squat_heavy_weight

Front squats require technique above anything else, hip and wrist mobility, in order to be able to keep the bar steady at a very unnatural angle. If you do decide to incorporate them, you need to know that mobility is the key to doing them without risk of injuring yourself, and that there are a few key principles you need to follow.

  1. Again, stretch your hips, glutes, wrists, shoulders and hamstrings
  2. Do your active warmup
  3. Rest the barbell on your clavicle with your hands either crossed or with an over-hand grip, supporting the bar with no more than two fingers
  4. Keep your chin and elbows tucked in
  5. Keep your chest high
  6. Engage your core
  7. Place your feet only slightly wider than hip width, with toes facing forward
  8. Keep the bar path in a straight line, forcing an upright back position
  9. Move in a straight line down until you reach below parallel, distributing the weight across your mid-foot
  10. Slingshot your way up in a straight line, pushing your hips in
  11. Only take breaths at the top of the movement, breathe into your stomach

Now that you have the basic idea of how a squat should be executed, you can start educating yourself on the types of accessories that will one day help you reach very heavy weights, by minimizing the risk of injury and enabling you to lift for a long time. Lifting heavy boils down to confidence and technique – read our article on things that can help overcome your fear of squatting really heavy weights.

 
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About Author

Nikola has a bachelor's degree in management, branding, marketing and copywriting. He is a master with words and a warrior with the iron, the dumbbell kind. A lifelong fitness enthusiast, bodybuilder and competitive power lifter, he enjoys nothing more than teaching good form and lifting technique.

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