Be Strong. Be Fit.


Legs Workout (1) – Barbell Squat

August 28th, 2007 · 13 Comments ·

This is the post long overdue ever since I started this blog. Barbell squat is a must-have compound exercise to build powerful legs. One should not just want a solid upper body, yet with pencil legs or chicken legs.


Superman has a more balanced legs compared with Mr Incredible.

A season bodybuilder even teased me saying that if I do not squat, I will forever remain a boy and should not have performed any other workout. In other words, he believes that the best overall exercise is squat.

Indeed, squat works on our thighs (quadripceps), butts (glutes), hamstrings and calves. The quadriceps are the main muscle used while squatting and the calves and hamstrings play the role as supporting muscle groups. Squat is the best overall weight training exercise to improve muscle tone and core strength for the lower body. However, incorrectly performed squats may lead to injury. So, it is essential that you learn how to do a squat safely.


People have trouble doing squats are those who have very long legs and short torsos. They will have hard time being successful with this movement due to poor biomechanics.

Now, let’s look at how to perform the barbell squat properly. Remember this: Get the form correct before you added any weight on the barbell.




  1. Rest a barbell on the upper portion of your back, not your neck.
  2. Firmly grip the bar with your hands almost twice your shoulder width apart.
  3. Your feet should be spaced at shoulder width. Your toes should be pointing just a little outward with your knees in the same direction.
  4. In a controlled fashion, slowly squat down until your knees are parallel to the floor. The descent begins first with your hips moving backward, NOT with your knees bending. Imagine trying to touch the wall by moving your buttocks backwards. Also, remember not to bounce at the bottom of the movement.
  5. Once you reach the bottom position, press the weight up back to the starting position. Do not lean over or curve your back forward.

Get the form correct before you get the barbell on your shoulders.

Tips to Squat Safely and Correctly:

  • If you are a beginner, take no risk. Seek advice from for a certified personal trainer to help you getting the technique right.


  • Also, try it out a Smith machine first. This machine is built specifically to catch the bar if you are unable to stand back up. Put the safety catch pins low enough so you can squat full depth without hitting them on the way down, but high enough that they will prevent a total collapse of the weight onto your body should you miss the lift.
  • Alternatively, do it in the power cage or power rack (large rectangular rack with cross-drilled holes) shown below.


  • If you are taking heavy weight, go and grab some of the fitness instructors to be your spotter. When returning the bar to the rack, have your spotter carefully guide you in. Your fatigued state may diminish your control over the heavy weight. Spotter can help to safely return the barbell to the squat rack at the end of the set if the you are unable to do so.
  • Currently, I do not wear any belt in performing barbell squats. The usage of belt can be a topic by itself (to be discussed). Contrary to believe, a beginner may not need to wear the belt. Rather, get the technique correct with lighter weight. Only when you are pushing yourself for the maximum weight, the belt may come into picture.
  • For people who have taken BODYPUMP fitness class, the squat technique you learn applies here.


Pardon me for saying this again – barbell squats have to be done VERY carefully. Otherwise, excess strain can be placed on the spine and cause serious injury. Gradual injury over a period of time can occur too.

Still, squat is the “the King of exercises” because it induces more and faster muscle growth than any other exercise.


Franco Colombu, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ken Waller



Category: Legs

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13 responses so far ↓
  • thatjames // Aug 28, 2007 at 10:11 AM

    Can leg presses substitute squats? Cos I really hate squats. :)

  • aw // Aug 28, 2007 at 11:32 AM

    I notice the vertical stands of the Smith machines are angled (ie, not perpendicular to the floor). Do you think this be a concern? And which side should you be using it for the squat and bench press? Angled towards you, or away from you?

  • Jeff // Aug 28, 2007 at 1:22 PM

    When you say that it induces more, faster muscle growth — is that in the legs alone? Or in the rest of the body, too? I am a cyclist, and my legs are really muscular as it stands — do I still need to do squats as part of the total workout experience?

  • nn // Aug 28, 2007 at 1:30 PM

    You might want to put in your blog that it is better to start with squat without weight first. Only start the squat with weight after get the correct squat form

  • nn // Aug 28, 2007 at 1:34 PM

    Sorry, correction of my comment. You do put the recommendation to start with squat without weight.

    Another thing is about the Youtube squat demonstration. It looks like there is one mistake for the demonstrator. He locked his knee when squat up.

  • Mun // Aug 28, 2007 at 9:11 PM

    To thatjames: Leg Press also works on quadriceps, hamstrings and calves, but not so much on glutes (butts). Somehow, because of the angle of the muscles being stressed, you do not find other exercise which can totally replace the other one. Just like dumbbell curls will never replace straight barbell curls for biceps.

    To aw: As for squat using Smith Machine. Some believe it takes the body through an unnatural range of motion, which may cause injuries and imbalances. My advice is, if you are a beginer to learn squat, try it out using Smith machine. Otherwise, barbell squat without Smith Machine is preferred. Also, I have always tried to avoid Smith Machine which is angled.

    To Jeff: Theoretically, the major muscle growth will be on the thighs. However, many believe that squat will help other muscles growth, including upper body. I have no solid proof on this claim.

    To nn: Thanks for pointing out. I am trying to get other squat videos which shows front and side barbell squat done correctly. Found others but they are more for hardcore bodybuilding type and I do not want to frighten this blog readers (many are beginners). If you find any better barbell squat video, do let me know.

  • Angie Tan // Aug 29, 2007 at 12:07 PM


    i’m not strong enough to perform this using the barbell, but i think my trainer will ask me to perform this when my body is stronger.

    i’m doing a modified version using the ball (back on the ball against the wall) and holding weights in my hands.

    the squat is very intense and i think i strained my knees in the process because i’ve not done it before.

    otherwise, it’s a good exercise.

  • webchic // Aug 31, 2007 at 8:50 PM

    I use to hate barbell squats when I first do it in the pump class 2-3 years ago but now find it cool after being pick so many times to squat correctly ( I like to be at the front due to my short eyes sight,hehe.) and now I really enjoy it especially when I can feel it right with 30 kg weight on the bar and the track of music was just long enough for me to feel totally satisfy after all( I am 164/54 kgs). Good point from nn I was being pick on that point from my instructor often before. Cheers!

  • Os // Nov 25, 2007 at 4:02 AM

    Sorry for the bump but I would like to know if I do squats will I get a huge butt?

    Because I most definitely do not want big glutes.

  • avpwilson // Aug 15, 2009 at 3:41 AM

    To Os: I don’t think you will get a huge butt, but you will be building muscle in your butt which will make it more firm and if you continue and lift heavy you could get some mass but it would take a while.

  • John // Aug 16, 2009 at 3:41 AM

    Well illustrated article. When you start the movement it is important to move your butt back first.
    The timing that works for me is:
    Down Phase=Butt back, down 1,2,3
    At the bottom=Hold, hup
    Going up (powering up) = 1, 2

    “Butt back, down 1, 2, 3 hold, hup, 1, 2

    The end of a set is usually heralded by at least one swear word but that is not compulsory!

    Stay Well Stay Happy

  • Patrick // Mar 19, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    In response to Jeff:
    I bought a book called “Judo Training Methods by T Ishikawa” For its weight training regimes.In it it says that the squat is the king of exercises because of the benifits it has including growth encouragement of the lower muscle groups along with the chest and back too. The more reps you do it has the potential to increase your lung capicity while working out the heart (cardio)

    This was a surprise to read as I attend a Cystic Fibrosis clinic where they encourage us to exercise to keep well but have never mentioned the squat. I started doing the Squat and after two weeks started to add weights. I have been doing weighted and unweighted squats for 10 months in my case my lung function tests ( breathing capicity test) has increased by 10% going from 68% to 78% something i haven’t blown since I was 12. I have also noticed I am lasting longer in my judo bouts aswell as boxing rounds. I will defo be continuing hope this has helped.

    To Os your Gluts are a big muscle so it would take time for you to get a “giant ass” I have noticed my jeans sit better, plus the benifits outweigh a giant butt. :-)

    To Mun
    When I am in hospital which is once every 6 weeks I have to do the squats with dumbells instead because they do not have room for barbells on the CF ward, Is the dumbell squat pointless or is it just as good as a barbell?
    Oh also the dumbell weight is dropped to 30kg instead of my usual 60kg simply because i can’t fit 60kg on.
    Thank you.

    27 years old.

  • Mun // Mar 19, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    Hi Patrick,

    Yes, dumbbell squat is good too. In fact, if you cannot find any weight, try Wall Squat. Nothing but just your body weight.

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