Compound exercises are a fundamental pillar of training in strength. No matter what leg workout you are doing, there is a place for a squat in there somewhere. It even outmatches the leg press for functional strength in a big exercise! Few exercises are close to its efficiency and its effectiveness at what it does. It hits a wide range of different lower body muscles, and you need to be in good physical strength to be able to do it well, especially with weights.

Despite all of this, there is still more than enough room for mistakes when you’re doing it. For the squat to get a chance to be the game changer of leg workouts that it is, it needs to be done correctly, safely, and regularly. Here are a few of the fundamentals you need to know.

Set Up

Woman squatting with a barbell

Setting up is a crucial stage of any exercise, especially if it is compound or even more so if it’s going to involve using heavy weights for a long time. There are a lot of options when it comes to selecting equipment, stances etc., but for this article on how to squat, we’re sticking with the more standard usage of a barbell held in front of the body for safety and form reasons, as your back has a lot more flexibility and will prevent strain. As always, make sure that you are properly warming up first with the right kinds of stretches to make sure that you are ready to perform.

Shoulder Width

Your grip is the first thing that you need to make sure you get right so that you can keep yourself in the best position throughout the entire movement and not worry about the weight slipping or even being uncomfortable. The best way for you to do this is to ensure that you’re holding the weight with a grip that allows your hands to be shoulder width apart.

Knees Behind Feet

Your feet should also be shoulder distance apart to make sure that you’re raring to go. They should be pointing outwards slightly at around a 30-degree angle to make sure that the weight distribution is going to be done the right way.

You should have a slight bend in your legs so that you are ready to start the movement, with your knees still behind your toes rather than hanging in front. Your knees should never go past your feet, so keep this in mind! Your knees should be pointing outward too, in line with your feet.

Light Weight in Front, Heavy in Back

Finally, after you've set everything up for your grip and your stance, it is time to work on holding the bar. The safest way to squat in both the long and the short term is to make sure that the weight is in front of you.

This is usually done by resting the bar across your collar with support around the bar to prevent discomfort. As you move on to heavier weights, this can become more and more hazardous, and this is usually when you begin to put the bar on your back, just below your traps. Just make sure that you can do your whole set safely and comfortably once you begin!

Technique

Man squatting without weight

Once you are certain you’ve set everything up correctly and you've warmed up, you’re ready to begin working on your technique. Below you can find the essentials.

Breathing

This is an easy one to let go under the radar or you may even feel that it does go without saying, but it is an important thing to nail on any exercise. You need to be breathing in through the downward movement, and outward through the upward movement to let your muscles work to their full potential and to get the best possible results.

Engaged Core

Keep your core engaged throughout the whole exercise to make sure that you remain strong and stable. It is the safest way to do the exercise and it’s generally a good habit to get into for pretty much any workout, especially something that is as compound as this is. This is what your abs are trained for!

Chest out

Push your chest out once you begin to lower yourself downward. This is the easiest way to make sure that you’re keeping a good form throughout your entire body, lower and upper. It pushes your glutes and your hips back too which is a huge part of the exercise, so it’s generally a great rule of thumb.

Hips Lower than your Legs

This is possibly the most important point for you to keep in mind if you really want to make sure that your squat is as good as it needs to be. This is the first step towards making serious lower body progress in the long run. When you do lower yourself down, you need to make sure that your hips are below your thighs. Parallels just don’t cut it with the squat, you need to get deeper, but not too deep. Find the balance!

Heels on the floor!

Finally, we must go back to looking at the feet positioning. Although this one isn’t particularly dangerous, your feet moving into the wrong position is likely the most common issue that you find when it comes to doing a squat properly. Your feet need to remain flat on the floor!

It is essential that you aren’t taking your heels or your toes off the floor to balance yourself. If you can’t manage it, try it without weight until you can. You need to get it right!

Once you have all of this down, you should be pretty much on point with the squat you are trying to achieve. The squat does still have a huge amount of variation for you to utilise if you need to, including changing equipment.

Dumbbells and even kettlebells are often a good way to go, but find the best type to suit your needs and you’ll soon master how to squat like a pro. You will also get huge strength benefits for your whole body in a functional way. That’s what the squat is for after all!


Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.