The Full Squat Lift Technique

If you could only do one weight training exercise to promote muscle strength, tone, power, and core strength it would be hard not to choose the full squat exercise. The beauty and simplicity of the full squat are often overlooked by recreational exercisers, but most elite and pro athletes use the squat as the basis of a well-rounded weight training program.

This king of all compound exercises takes some instruction and practice to master. Incorrectly performed full squats may lead to injury so it is essential that you learn how to do a squat safely. A session with a certified personal or athletic trainer can help you gain experience and confidence when performing the squat. It is also recommended that you check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.

Here are guidelines for the correct set-up and execution of the full squat exercise.

Use a Squat Rack

Using a squat rack improves the safety of the squat exercise. It has a full cage to catch the bar if you are unable to stand back up. Put the safety catch pins low enough so you can perform the full squat but high enough that they will prevent a total collapse of the weight onto your body should you miss the lift.

Hand Placement

Place your hands evenly on the bar to keep the bar in balance once you move out of the rack. Grip the bar with a closed grip until you are familiar enough with the holding of the bar to go to the open grip.

With your hands in the right position, you should be looking directly at the middle of the bar. Duck under the bar keeping your hands in place.

Bar Position

There are two common positions for bar placement.

  • The high bar: The bar rests on the top of the posterior deltoids at the base of the neck; hands just wider than shoulder width.
  • The low bar: The bar rests at the lower portion of the junction of the trapezius and posterior deltoid region; hands a little wider than shoulder width. This position takes longer to learn but is well worth it in the end as it provides an excellent shelf; to hold the bar and it shortens the moment arm of the lift. Both help to contribute to a higher load on the bar.

The Lifting Belt

A belt is not necessary for most people. If you become dependent on the belt you will fail to develop a strong core that is needed to correctly lift the weight in the first place. It's better to lift well within your capacities at the outset and engage those synergistic muscles than to bolster them with artificial aides early on in the training program.

Head Angle

Looking up at about a ten to twenty-degree angle in front of you of will keep your head in the correct alignment for the lift to safely continue.

Back Positioning

Hold your back in a neutral to slightly arched manner. Avoid rounding in the lower back.

The Lift Movement - Stepping Out

Lift the bar off the hooks with your legs and not by extending your back. Take one small step backward followed by a second small step with the other foot. Align your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.

The Lift Movement - The Descent

With your feet evenly spaced, take a deep breath. The descent begins with your hips moving backward, and not with your knees bending. Unhinging at the hips allows the body to drop down while still keeping the lower legs in an upright aspect relates to the floor. It also brings into play the powerful hip flexors and extensors during the movement. You now have tremendously effective synergistic muscle activity to complete the exercise.

Practice this by standing in a doorway and holding onto the doorway with both hands. Step back one foot length away from the doorway while still holding on. Lean back onto your feet, now drop your buttocks down to the floor. If you let loose of the door, you will fall backward, but notice that your lower legs are nearly vertical in relation to the floor. This is the ideal squat position at the bottom.

The Lift Movement - The Bottom

Once at the bottom of the lift, begin moving upwards by first pushing up on the bar with your hands while at the same time extending out your chest and head. Doing this counteracts the momentum of the bar as you approached the bottom of the lift.

The Lift Movement - The Ascent

The bar is now moving and you want to keep the weight centered over the middle to back part of the foot, not on your toes. Accelerate the bar throughout the lift until you reach a point where it has to be stopped, i.e. near the end at the top. Maintain control of the bar at all times.

Return to the Rack

Take the two to three small steps back into bar hooks. Make certain you place the bar into the hooks before letting go.

Performing the full squat in the correct manner will improve your muscle mass, strength and power and is one of the overall best total body exercises you can do.

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Article Sources
  • Danny M. O'Dell, M.A. CSCS*D, co-owner of Explosively Fit, Nine Mile Falls, WA.