Mastering Back Squat: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Written By Charleh Knighton  |  Beginners 

Back squat: it's one of the most fundamental lower body exercises out there. I mean, who doesn't do some form of squat when they hit the gym, right? But here's the thing: not everyone does them with proper form or reaps all the benefits this compound exercise has to offer.

Compound exercises are those that work multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously, unlike isolation exercises that focus on a single muscle group. When you engage multiple muscle groups during a single exercise like squats, you not only burn more calories but also trigger a greater metabolic response.

Plus, compound movements improve how your muscles function together, enhancing your overall functionality. That's why squats are often called the "king of exercises" when it comes to building lower body strength.

In this article, we're going to explore the ins and outs of back squat technique. We'll provide you with valuable insights and practical tips to help you achieve optimal performance and get the best results.

Why the Back Squat Matters?

Back squat matters. Your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and calves are responsible for almost every move you make, from getting out of bed to sitting down in a chair. By incorporating strength training exercises like squats, you can strengthen and tone these muscles in your lower body.

Squats also have the added benefit of improving bone mineral density, making your hip and leg bones and joints more resilient. This can lower the risk of developing conditions like osteopenia or osteoporosis. So, squats aren't just about building muscle strength; they're also great for your overall bone health.

How to nail a proper back squat technique

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of the proper back squat technique:

  1. Foot Positioning: Start by placing your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward. This is a common stance, but feel free to adjust it based on your comfort and performance.
  2. Bar Placement: Position the barbell across your upper back, just below the base of your neck. There are two common locations for the barbell: the high bar position, popular in CrossFit and Olympic lifting, and the low bar position favored by powerlifters. Choose the one that suits you best.
  3. Grip: Find a grip that feels comfortable for you. Your shoulder range of motion will determine what works best, with more range of motion allowing your hands to be closer to your shoulders.
  4. Squatting Motion: To start the squat, bend at the hips and knees simultaneously. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly below. Keep in mind that everyone has different ranges of motion, so squat to a depth that feels comfortable for you.
Mastering Back Squat The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Ascending and descending: Common mistakes you can avoid!

Now, let's focus on the ascending and descending phases of the squat. To come back up, drive through your midfoot while keeping your chest and hips moving upward at the same speed.

Remember not to release your breath until you reach the top of the squat. Also, try to find a spot to look at during the movement that's neither straight down nor excessively up.

To optimize your back squat technique and minimize the risk of injury, it's crucial to avoid some common mistakes.

Let's go over a few:

  1. Knee Collapse: While a slight amount of knee collapse is okay and can indicate inner thigh muscle engagement, try to keep your knees in line with your toes as much as possible. This helps produce force efficiently.
  2. Hips Shooting Up: Avoid letting your hips shoot up out of the squat's bottom position, as it can turn the movement into something more akin to a good morning exercise. Keep your hips and shoulders moving upward at the same speed. Remember to maintain a "proud chest" throughout the squatting motion.

What's the best back squat variation?

None! They're all equal, and give you a different stimulus.

Once you've mastered the basic back squat technique, it's time to explore some variations and progressions to focus your training on the overall goal - to get better at CrossFit!

Here are a few examples:

  1. Front Squat: This variation places more emphasis on the quadriceps and upper back muscles. Instead of positioning the barbell on your upper back, you'll bring it to the front of your shoulders. Keep your torso upright and elbows high throughout the movement.
  2. Overhead Squat: This demanding exercise requires excellent mobility, stability, and core strength. Hold the barbell overhead and perform a squat while keeping your arms extended and balancing over your midfoot.
  3. Bulgarian Split Squat: This exercise targets each leg individually. Stand with one foot positioned forward and the other elevated on a bench or step behind you. Descend into a lunge position, lower your back knee as far as comfortable, then stand back up, driving through the front foot and knee.

What benefits do I get from back squats?

The benefits of the back squat are too good to ignore. Let's highlight some key advantages:

  1. Muscle Hypertrophy: The back squat activates multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core. This contributes to muscle growth and development.
  2. Strength and Power: By progressively increasing the load and intensity, the back squat helps build strength and power in your lower body, ultimately improving your athletic performance.
  3. Functional Movement: The squatting motion mirrors everyday movements like sitting, standing, and picking up objects. As a highly functional exercise, it enhances your overall mobility and functionality.
  4. Bone Density: Weight-bearing exercises like the back squat stimulate bone remodeling and increase bone density. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis and promotes skeletal health.

Back squat workouts you can try in the gym!

Now, let's talk about a couple of back squat workouts you can try:

1 Rep Max


For max load:
Back squat 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 reps

Plan to increase the weight over all the sets and rest between 2 to 3 minutes between them.

Back Squat for Time:

9-7-5 reps for time of:
Back squats
Handstand push-ups
♀ 110 lb ♂ 165 lb

If the weights are too heavy for you, reduce the load in order to complete the reps in 1-3 sets with minimal rest. Perform push-ups if you don’t master the handstand push-up.

CrossFit Total

For load:

Back squat, 1 rep
Shoulder press, 1 rep
Deadlift, 1 rep

Get comfortable with heavy lifts.

Conditioning and strength

For time:

20 back squats

40 toes-to-bars

60/40-calorie row

♀ 155 lb ♂ 225 lb

Reduce the weight and perform hanging knee raises if the exercises are too advanced for you right now.

To sum it all up, mastering the back squat is a journey that requires dedication, practice, and attention to detail. By following the proper technique, avoiding common mistakes, and exploring variations and progressions, you can unlock the full potential of this incredible exercise.

So, make sure to incorporate back squats into your training routine and enjoy the benefits of increased strength, muscle growth, and overall physical fitness.

If you’re looking to improve your strength for CrossFit, then why not check out our supplementary program - WPx Strength. See you on the inside!

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