Legs Workout (1) – Barbell Squat

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 (quadriceps), 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.

Steps:

  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