Somewhere along the way, the squat—always the kind with a heavy barbell against your traps—became the demarcation line between hardcore and softcore. Make them the foundation of your leg days and you were serious. Avoid them and you were just taking up gym space. That line has grown fuzzy at best since the squat-free reign of Dorian Yates. Clearly, there are many ways to inflate your wheels to monster-truck size. And yet a loaded bar at eye level in a power rack can still separate a gym’s true participants from its spectators.
1. SET THE BAR
If your gym has a barbell that has a strip of knurling in the center, that’s a squat bar, even if it’s stranded far from the squat rack. Use it. The center knurling will subtly bite into your shirt and traps to help you keep the bar steady.
2. RACK IT
The bar should rest in the supports of a power rack at just a little lower than shoulder height so you can comfortably lift it off by standing straight. Position the safety bars so they’re just below the depth the bar is going to go. Many people leave the safeties too low, as if they’re only an obstruction to avoid. Even if you have a spotter hugging your waist and especially if you don’t, the safety bars can be your best friend if you fail and need to bail. However, that’s only true if they’re high enough that you can set the bar on them without folding yourself up like a lawn chair.
3. TIGHTEN YOUR BELT
Whether or not you wear knee wraps or sleeves is a personal choice, dependent mostly on your knee health. However, we do recommend you wear a lifting belt for at least your heaviest sets of squats. In addition to supporting your spinal erectors, a cinched belt will pull your waist in and remind you to keep your upper body tense.
4. GET A GRIP
Generally, your grip should be approximately the same width you take when you bench-press. If your shoulders are so tight that this grip is uncomfortable, you can go wider. Just understand that then the bar will be less stable. You may have seen people squatting with their hands against the collars or even over the edge of the plates, but this is not recommended for your heaviest sets, and your lighter sets should prepare you for your heaviest sets. Once you’ve set your grip, squeeze the bar, and keep doing so throughout the set. This helps you contract your shoulders and back.
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