The setup, or starting point, for any weightlifting exercise is always the most important. When squatting, the placement of the barbell on your back is very important. For the power squat, which I feel has the best carryover to athletes and strength competitors, a lower bar carry position is better. So when you take the bar out of the rack, your hands should be wide and the bar should sit on your lower-trap area, across your shoulders. And always take a deep breath and stay tight as you lift the bar out of the rack.
Next, take two small steps back as you position your feet. For the power squat, position your feet moderately wide, with your toes pointed slightly outward. This foot position will allow you to sit back into the lift. Note, however, that you should experiment with slightly differing stance widths, as if you’re too wide you’ll lean forward; the same will occur if your feet are too close together.
Once you’re in position, you’ll want to find a spot on the wall in front of you that’s at about eye level or slightly above; this is what you need to focus on during the lift. It’s important to keep your head up and look forward or slightly upward, as this will help you stay upright. Remember, your body follows your eyes—so if you’re looking down, your back will unconsciously roll forward and your hips will drive up and back, causing you to lean forward and assume a poor lifting position. This will not only make you weaker, it’ll also put you at greater risk for injury.
Taking a deep breath before you start the lift is important for inner-thoracic pressure—it helps you keep your torso solid and allows you to maintain a better upright position. Hold this breath throughout the eccentric (lowering) phase of the squat, then exhale during the concentric (pushing) phase of the lift, beginning when you’re about halfway up. This will help you to finish the lift strongly.
Something I’d recommend to everyone is to perform squats down to a box on a regular basis. When you reach the box at the bottom of the squat, the top of your quads should be about parallel to the foor. For most lifters this will feel very low; but it’s always important to squat through a full range of motion. In addition, most guys think of the first squatting movement as “sitting down,” when actually it should be “sitting back.” It’s a more natural motion and utilizes the strongest muscles in your lower body, which are your glutes and hamstrings. Squatting to the box teaches you how to properly sit back with your hips.
When performing box squats, you want to use only the box as a depth gauge. So never slam down on the box at the bottom or relax when you feel it, as this can be dangerous. Instead, stay firm and tight and only touch the box lightly. After you touch it, you want to drive your hips forward and your chest up explosively as you push the bar back up to the starting position.
If you’re performing sitting box squats, where you actually lower yourself to a fully stopped sitting position on the box, don’t relax or loosen up. Stay tight then explosively propel yourself upward.