One of the most important aspects of a successful squat is the setup. If you want to learn to squat properly, you have to learn how to set up properly.
There are several things within the setup that need to be accounted for, and we will go over them, step by step. I highly recommend checking out the post preceding this one, Crafting a Successful Squat: The Squat is Individual, as it will clarify many terms used in this post.
The first key to a successful setup is placing the bar in the rack at the right height for you.
When facing the bar, it should be close to level with your sternum. This is a good rule of thumb because setting the bar too high could result in the lifter having to tiptoe the bar back on the walkout, in order to clear the hooks. And that’s not the best situation when you have a loaded bar on your back.
Where you grip the bar is going to depend on your shoulder flexibility. To start, grip the bar with your hands just outside shoulder width. If that is comfortable, bring your grip in a little and if it hurts, take your grip out until it feels comfortable.
It will take a bit to figure out what feels best to you, but the closer the grip the better. You will make grip width adjustments after you’ve felt how everything feels with the bar on your back.
When grabbing the bar, you really need to death-grip it. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can, this will help with the rest of the setup.
Engaging the Bar
Before you get under the bar, you have to know where you will place it on your back. In order to know this, you must decide if you are going to squat high bar or low bar. This is something you will have to experiment with for yourself.
Most folks start out with the bar high on the trapezius muscles, as this feels the most comfortable in the beginning.
1. With your death grip still intact, duck under the bar and press your back up into the bar, at the level you’ve decided to place it.
2. Plant your feet evenly underneath you. Do not stagger your stance.
3. Pull your shoulder blades back, as if you’re trying to pull them together. Then pull the bar into your back as if you are trying to wrap it around in front of you.
4. Try pulling your elbows into your sides, engaging your lats, and brace your abs.
These things are very important because you must be braced to handle the weight, and it helps keep a straight bar path.
Raise the Bar – Walk out – Stance
Now you’re ready for takeoff. Having already set the bar at sternum height, notice that you’re knees are slightly bent now that you’re under the bar. This gives you room to lift the bar up and walk back safely.
1. With the bar firmly braced against your back and your core engaged, push up into the bar and stand straight up.
2. Walk back away from the hooks, no more than three steps. Start with one little step back to clear the hooks, then take the two steps that will put you in position for the squat stance you have chosen.
3. At this point your feet should be at your chosen stance width. Point your toes out. Stabilize your feet, as if they are cemented to the ground and don’t move them until your squat is done.
With your chosen squat (high bar/low bar) in mind, it is now time to get down to business. For low bar you will begin the descent by sitting back (breaking at the hips). For high bar you will begin by dropping straight down, bending the knees and hips at the same time.
1. Fix your gaze on a point a few feet in front of you, with your head in natural alignment with your spine. This will end in a slightly downcast gaze, as opposed to straight ahead or looking up. You will maintain this neutral alignment in the spine throughout the squat.
2. Ensure that you are still braced. Just before descending take a quick, deep breath through the diaphragm and hold it. Then clench your abs as if someone is about to punch you in the gut.
3. Descend, pushing your knees out over your toes, and try to spread the floor with your feet (your feet will not actually move). This will help engage the hamstrings and glutes further, resulting in a stronger squat. Keep your chest up throughout the movement. Don’t fold over, letting your bar path lean forward of your center of mass. When this happens it is much harder to complete the squat. Squat to parallel or lower.
Ascend, pushing your back straight up into the bar; and push through the entire foot, not just through the heels, as is often recommended. Breathe out near the top of the squat.