Exercise Profile
  • Target Muscle Group
  • Exercise TypeStrength
  • Equipment RequiredBarbell
  • MechanicsCompound
  • Force TypePush
  • Experience LevelIntermediate
  • Secondary Muscles
    Calves, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back
Target Muscle Group


Quads Muscle Anatomy Diagram

Barbell Back Squat Overview

The squat is the king of all exercises, working over 256 muscles in one movement! From bodybuilders to powerlifters to competitive athletes, the squat is a staple compound exercise and should be in every workout plan.

For powerlifters, it is known as one of the “big three” lifts which includes the squat, deadlift, and bench press. For athletes, having an explosive squat is a good indicator for on field/court performance. And for bodybuilders, the squat is a compound exercise that targets nearly every muscle of your lower body and core.

The squat directly targets the muscles of the quads, but also involves the hamstrings, glutes, back, and core as well as muscles of the shoulders and arms to a lesser degree.

Not everyone is built to perform the traditional barbell back squat and it can result in some pain for certain individuals. Over the years, several squatting variations have been developed to help everyone be able to train this critical movement pattern safely.

Some of the squat variations include:

The emphasis of the squat can be switched from the quads to the hamstrings by your foot placement. Some wear shoes with an elevated heel (or elevate their heels on plates) to focus more on the quads. Others keep a flat foot to put more pressure on the hamstrings.

At the end of the day it is important that you pick a squat variation and foot placement that works best for you and that you can perform safely.

Want to improve your squat? Try our 12 Week Super Squat Workout.

Barbell Back Squat Instructions

  1. Set up for the exercise by setting the barbell to just below shoulder height and loading the weight you want to use.
  2. Stand under the bar with your feet at about shoulder width apart.
  3. Position the bar so that it is resting on the muscles on the top of your back, not on the back of your neck. The bar should feel comfortable. If it doesn't, try adding some padding to the bar.
  4. Now take your hands over the back and grip the bar with a wide grip for stability.
  5. You should now bend at the knees and straighten your back in preparation to take the weight off the rack.
  6. Keeping your back straight and eyes up, push up through the legs and take the weight off the rack.
  7. Take a small step back and stabilize yourself.
  8. Keeping your eyes facing forward slowly lower your body down. Don't lean forward as you come down. Your buttocks should come out and drop straight down.
  9. Squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, and then slowly raise your body back up by pushing through your heels.
  10. Do not lock the knees out when you stand up, and then repeat the movement.

Barbell Back Squat Tips

The are many mistakes that can be made when squatting, so it's important that you have your technique down before you attempt squatting heavy weights. If you are squatting correctly, you should not feel pain in your lower back. Lower back pain is usually a sign that you are not using correct form and/or your core is weak.  

Common mistakes when squatting:

  1. Rounding the lower back: It's crucially important that you keep a straight back when you squat! You can ensure your back is straight by keeping your eyes facing forward, chest out, shoulder blades back, and back arched. Keep your core muscles tensed throughout the movement to help hold your back in place.
  2. Pushing from the balls of your feet: This puts unnecessary strain on joints and tendons. Always push up through your heels. Curling up your toes can help you get the technique right.
  3. Leaning forward: This happens when your hips move up faster than your shoulders. To prevent this keep the rep timing slow and controlled and stick your buttocks out as you go down.
  4. Knees come too far forward: When you squat down, your hips should be dropping straight down, not coming forward. Using a light weight, perfect your form standing side on to a mirror. Your knees should never track out and over your toes.
  5. Not squatting deep enough: Using squats to their full potential requires squatting down at least until your thighs are around parallel to the floor.
  6. Knees in or out: Don't point your knees in or out when you're lowering or pushing the weight. This puts unnecessary strain on the knee joints.
  7. Looking down: As soon as you look down your back rounds, simple as that.
Posted on: Thu, 06/06/2024 - 15:54

It's it possible to go to low in the squat. I have a deep body weight squat that takes my butt down to my ankles.

Posted on: Sat, 01/06/2024 - 00:15

Hi there,

Just wondering if there are anything that needs to be modified when doing a squat (for beginners) if you have pronated feet?

When do you recommend placing a plate under the heel? Or removing your shoes before squatting?

Thanks so much! Can’t wait to build strength with your programs

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 01/07/2024 - 20:18

You can do either. I would opt for the plate under the feet, myself. Remember to try to push your knees out so they don't buckle on you. I also think you could consider box squats so you have something underneath you if you find that you have trouble staying balanced during squats.

Posted on: Wed, 09/07/2022 - 15:21

How to decide the weight to carry if am a beginer please

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 09/11/2022 - 07:34

Start very light and gradually work your way up. Use the bar only to warm-up, then choose a weight you're very confident in. Also, have a spotter on standby to assist if needed.

Posted on: Fri, 09/02/2022 - 07:41

Would it matter much If I did the hip thrusts following the
Squats? Just with limited access to the barbell at the gym it would be ideal to do the exercises together whilst I have it! Thanks.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 09/02/2022 - 20:36

I certainly understand that, Wendy. Do what you gotta do. Hope the program helps you improve.

Posted on: Sun, 07/31/2022 - 09:54

Can leg extensions and leg curls be used to replace squats?
I have had back surgery and have rods in my back that prohibit me from doing squats without discomfort later.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 08/11/2022 - 07:56

Talk to your doctor about that, Jojo. Can't give advice based on injuries or surgeries because I'm not a physician.

Posted on: Mon, 05/31/2021 - 15:28

So due to me being careless and messing up my L4 a while back my doctor and my other professionals that I go see have cleared me to start going to lift again but squats and dead’s are off limits. I’m looking for substitutes if any one has any ideas thanks.

Andrea Bielby
Posted on: Fri, 03/19/2021 - 08:16

This video should be shown from the front. We can't see what him locking the safety locks or putting his hands where you say we need to put them.

Mark Jarrett
Posted on: Sun, 01/24/2021 - 16:30

I had both hips and right knee replacement. Should I be doing squats?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 01/25/2021 - 10:17

Hey Mark - that is a question for your doctor.

Posted on: Tue, 02/12/2019 - 06:46

Buenos días. Son muy buenos los ejercicios y sus productos realmente.
Pero me gustaría saber algo??
Cómo está es una rutina de 12 semanas quiero saber si en esas 12 semanas hay que hacer los mismos ejercicios día tras día. O hay que cambiarlos. Por favor

Posted on: Tue, 05/07/2019 - 13:36

Puedes seguir la rutina por las 12 semanas pero también puedes cambiar la rutina después de 8 semanas, los ejercicios son los mismos dependiendo la rutina que hayas elegido.

Posted on: Fri, 11/03/2017 - 21:32

How about some pictures of proper form instead of 50 paragraphs.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 11/06/2017 - 08:34

Hi Pingas,

Thank you for the feedback. I'll see what we can do about adding photos to exercises. In the meantime, if you're interested in a visual of proper form, I'd suggest watching the video that accompanies the exercise article.

Hope this helps!

Posted on: Mon, 10/09/2017 - 09:57

Squats: I have a knee replacement and one that was seriously botched and from which I remain partially inhibited in my walk and stride. What can I do with this specific exercise without having to squat to a depth I haven't seen since "boot camp!" Thanks

Posted on: Fri, 06/23/2017 - 01:39

Man o man ur site iz so incredible first of all and second . My issue iz I have been training for 2 years now , and it's very hard for me to gain weight that my top priority ATM I have a lot of background but then I don't see results I wonder why or what am I doing wrong

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 06/23/2017 - 09:22

Hi Zayed,

To gain weight you have to consume more calories that you burn.

Start here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-calculator

Use that calculator to determine your calorie needs. Then add 250-500 calories per day to that to put yourself in a calorie surplus. Test that calorie goal out for a couple of weeks and measure your results. Then determine whether to add more calories in again if you're not seeing the results you'd like.

Hope this helps!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 06/23/2017 - 13:08

Hi Zayed,

Make sure you have entered in the correct measurements and they match, i.e. lbs and inches vs kg and cms.

It works fine for me. Be sure that everything is filled in and that the measurements match.

Posted on: Fri, 06/23/2017 - 12:11

Ty sir . And to that when am calculating my intake calorie it's says fill the rest , which is am pretty sure that I did fill everything all though it won't show up to me the calculation .

Posted on: Wed, 02/08/2017 - 11:50

Love the beginner series. I'm 62, 5'7", and weigh 175. The videos made me more comfortaable about beginning a program. The only thing I'm not clear on is how much weight to begin with for each exercise? I've only done medeocre working out over the years so it's been years. Is there any guide to help direct me as to a ballpark weight to use for each exercise?
Thank you.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 02/08/2017 - 15:11

Hi Paul,

Picking a weight to start off with is highly individualized and takes trial and error. The best approach I've found is to pick a weight that you know you can do for whatever the prescribed rep ranges is for your program. If you can get them easily and have gas in the tank, feel free to move up in weight. If you cant, drop down to a lower weight.

It's always better to underestimate your strength when picking a weight in the beginning. Going for a weight that you are incapable of performing the exercises with perfect form with is an injury waiting to happen.

Hope this helps!

Paul Oliveri
Posted on: Fri, 02/17/2017 - 12:49

Thanks Josh, sounds logical.

Dale jansen
Posted on: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 16:25

Weight used depends on several factors.
Your current level of conditioning.
Your goals.
Your mechanics.
Your technique.
If you are deconditioned and/or have no training background as an athlete or a coach, a good strength coach will be pivotal in getting started.

Posted on: Mon, 11/07/2016 - 09:33

hii i m 23 year old nd my current weight is 65 and i have loss 7 kg after joining gym but i m trying to loose my lowebody completely can u plzz suggest me some workouk routine for lowerbody so dat i can reduce my lowerbody. i also wanted to add that i have tried all kind of weighted workout but still not getting d result plzz help me in this

Posted on: Fri, 09/02/2016 - 14:09

Hello, Im a 24 years old male with 72kg and 1.95m, what should be my starting weight? And after how many weeks should I lift more weight and how much should I lift?

Posted on: Thu, 03/24/2016 - 05:32

Hi! Im trying for fatloss and weightloss, doing barbell squats, twice a week on rack. 4 sets of 20 reps, with 10kg plates. Im doing walking lunges with dumbbells(5 kg), leg curls, and 4 sets of 20 reps of double staircase step ups with 5 kg dumbbells. Im following this routine since 2 months. My query is, what should be the variation in my routine, after this. I mean should i try for more plate weight, or more sets. Primarily i want to lose weight, and fat.
Pl guide me into this!
Thank you!

Posted on: Sat, 01/23/2016 - 15:55

Hello! I have a small injury on my lower back and as a consequence my doctor told me to avoid squads. How can I replace them?
Thanks in advance

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:23


Start with these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf1uQj10G-4

Also, keep in mind that general medical practitioners aren't as knowledgeable regarding biomechanics, rehabilitation, or exercise physiology so take their advice regarding lifting with a grain of salt.

It would be wiser (in my opinion) to see a professional who specializes in movement such as a physical therapist who would be able to accurately diagnose your injury and then prescribe an effective rehabilitation strategy.

Posted on: Thu, 12/31/2015 - 04:22

Hello I am thinking about getting back in the gym again. Last time I was working out I used this routine but never really saw improvements with my squat. I am no longer sure if squatting is for me at all. Maybe I am just acting like a girl but I have had major back surgery in the past and my spinal cord is no longer completely straight.

Should I
A.Just keep trying at lower weights I feel comfortable at until I can progress
B.Supplement squads with other workouts
C.Find a new routine all together because squatting is so important for this one

Patt Smith
Posted on: Wed, 03/23/2016 - 08:58

Dude A all the way man. Squats are SO crucial to your time in the gym. Squat twice a week. work low weight and get your form perfect for every rep before you go up in weight

Posted on: Sat, 10/10/2015 - 00:52

Should feet be at shoulder width apart or wider. Currently I place my feed wider than shoulder width, they say its a wider squad. Please let me know if i should change my stance. Thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 10:22

That will depend on a number of factors (mobility, hip anatomy, goals, preferences, etc.) but suffice it to say, wherever you're comfortable and allows you hit depth safely using proper biomechanics.

Posted on: Mon, 05/05/2014 - 11:38

Is there another video showing better squat form where the person does an actual full ATG squat?

Posted on: Mon, 12/09/2013 - 09:36

For the first exercise in the chart it shows "reps: 963 sets". So how many reps should I perform?

Posted on: Mon, 08/26/2013 - 06:37

i can squat about 40kg my max is 50kg but im not sure what weight i should use for each set of reps any help?
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 4 12,10,8,8

Posted on: Fri, 10/07/2022 - 13:19

I asked that earlier and am wondering same thing?

Odiachi Sylvester
Posted on: Thu, 08/08/2013 - 14:45

This site is just to good to ignore the informations it carries. Keep it up!

Posted on: Fri, 07/12/2013 - 21:39

Squat till u puke

Posted on: Sat, 05/25/2013 - 11:43

Hi, I have been squating regularly for a few months. Since I started with a small weight, I don't use a belt. However, I am gaining strength and I think at some point I'll need a belt. When should I start using a belt?
I am 1.76m and 80kg, currently squatting 70kg, 4 sets of 8 reps. I have no back issues. Thanks in advance.

Posted on: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 09:52

Hello. I can do more than 10 reps for this exercise, but adding more weight could be a problem. Not for the squat itself, but just getting the bar onto my shoulders feels awkward. Any advice?

Posted on: Sat, 05/11/2013 - 22:26

I find that after doing squats, they no longer seem to hurt my hamstrings. But I still feel the burn everywhere else where i normally would.

I have access to dumbbells only and tend to hold two of them by my side as I do the squats. Should I up the weight, or do more reps of squats to feel that hamstring burn again?

Posted on: Sat, 03/23/2013 - 08:04

I'm like Chris. I can't do squats. My form just goes to mush. I have tried ever since PE in Jr high school. teachers and Chavez upset with me. I've tried for several several years to do them. I just never am about to get them right

Posted on: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 20:39

That is because there are million people telling you a million different things. Go back to the old school. I go back to the old trainer in high school 1985. Put a flat bench or a chair behind you in the squat rack. Get under the bar and put yourself in your athletic base (middle linebacker base, for reference.). Now, sit down. Touch and back up. Remember to sit like an adult, not like a teenager. Do not sit all the way into the chair or the flat bench but touch the front and explode back up. Go light and work on your form.

Posted on: Fri, 05/10/2013 - 13:43

yes, when starting use a bench to sit on, pretend it's a scale, only put about 1/3 of your weight on it, then come back up

Posted on: Mon, 03/18/2013 - 14:43

how safe is this technique for someone , already with a history of back aches?

Posted on: Sun, 02/17/2013 - 23:59

Can i replace the barbell with a dumb bell instead. unfortunately they do not have a bar bell at the gym.

dillon easler
Posted on: Sun, 01/20/2013 - 00:28

What if you cant get you arms back that far to grab the bar