If you want to know how to do squats with picture-perfect form and make your squat as strong as possible, then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. The squat is one of the single best exercises for building almost every major muscle group in your body, including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, and calves, if you do it correctly.
  2. Learning proper squat technique boils down to ingraining a few simple habits, and remembering a handful of effective cues (which you’ll learn below).
  3. The barbell back squat is the most common and highly regarded kind of squat, but the front squat, Bulgarian split-squat, and goblet squat can be equally effective.

According to weightlifting purists, if you’re not squatting, you’re not doing it right.

Sure, you can get a decent set of wheels without squatting (there are plenty of other exercises you can do to train your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves), but the reason the squat reigns supreme is it’s freaking hard.

The squat requires just about every major muscle group in your body to work in concert to generate a tremendous amount of force, as well as near picture-perfect form if you’re going to ever put up impressive numbers.

You can cheat your way through the bench press and even the deadlift and eventually move heavy loads, but not the squat.

If you don’t have the whole-body strength and technique, there’s no way to wiggle or jigger the weight up. You just get stuck.

A good squat is worth a lot more than bragging rights, though.

It’s also one of the single best exercises for developing every major muscle group in your body, from nosehole to butthole, snout to tail.

If you do it correctly, that is, which is exactly what you’re going to learn in this article.

By the end you’re going to understand how to squat with near perfect form as well as the best squat variations you can do, and you’re also going to get 12 ways to increase your back squat as well as a simple, challenging, and effective squat workout.

Let’s get started.

Would you rather listen to this article? Click the play button below!

Want to listen to more stuff like this? Check out my podcast!

What Muscles Does the Squat Work?

The squat is a unique exercise in that it trains almost every major muscle group in your body, excluding arms, chest, and shoulders.

Specifically, it helps develop your…

As you’re probably aware, most of the muscles in the body have a counterpart that is opposite in function, and when you activate one, the other deactivates.

For example, when you curl a weight and activate your biceps, your triceps remain relatively unstimulated. Similarly, triceps pushdowns aren’t going to help grow your biceps.

The quadriceps and hamstrings have a similar relationship, but thanks to an odd quirk of human anatomy called Lombard’s paradox, the squat is able to engage both of these muscles simultaneously. This is one of the reasons it’s so effective (and challenging).

How to Squat with Proper Form

Big compound movements like the squat are double-edged swords.

They deliver the maximum muscle– and strength-building bang for your buck, but they also require good technique or they can become dangerous.

So let’s break down how to squat step-by-step.

First, watch the first few seconds of this video to see what we’re aiming for:

And now let’s go through the three steps of proper squat form, starting with the setup.

Proper Squat Step 1

Setup

Proper squat setup comes down to getting a few things right:

  1. Rack the bar.
  2. Position the bar.
  3. Grip the bar.
  4. Unrack the bar.
  5. Position your feet.

That’s more or less it.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

1. Rack the bar.

First and foremost, make sure the rack isn’t too high or too low.

You should be able to unrack the bar without half-squatting it off the rack and without getting up on your tippy toes.

A good rule of thumb is one to two inches below the final height of the bar when you stand up, or about at the top of your breastbone.

More or less like this:

how to squat

 

Play around with the empty bar to get the height right.

2. Position the bar.

There are two ways to position the bar for the back squat:

  • High-bar
  • Low-bar

Both methods have pros and cons, but the differences are slight and ultimately, you should do what you like most.

Low-Bar Back Squat

In the low-bar squat, the bar lies across your mid traps and rear delts, like this:

how to squat low bar

The benefits of the low-bar squat are that it allows you to move slightly more weight, it engages the hamstrings slightly more, and it often feels more secure, which is why many people new to squatting prefer this position.

The downsides are that it doesn’t allow you to squat quite as deep as the high-bar position, and it can can cause shoulder pain, especially if you’re squatting several times per week.

High-Bar Back Squat

In the high-bar squat, the bar lies across your upper traps, like this:

how to squat high bar

The benefits of the high-bar squat are that it allows you to reach a greater depth, it puts slightly more stress on your quads, and it doesn’t ask as much from your shoulders.

This is why many high-level powerlifters and weightlifters do the majority of their squatting in the high-bar position, and use low-bar for competitions so they can move the most weight.

The downsides of the high-bar squat are that most people can’t high-bar squat as much weight as they can low-bar, it requires more upper back strength, and it usually takes longer to learn than the more newbie-friendly low-bar squat.

Here’s what both of these bar positions look like side by side:

how to squat high bar low bar

So, which one should you use?

Well, it mostly comes down to personal preference.

The high-bar squat is going to put a little more emphasis on your quads, and the low-bar on your hamstrings and glutes, but the differences are too slight to matter.

This is why you should choose whichever position feels more comfortable for you. For most people, this will be the low-bar squat—at least at first—but try both and see for yourself.

One thing to keep in mind:

When you high-bar squat, make sure the bar is resting on your traps and NOT your spine. This is an easy mistake to make, especially for people with small traps, and it’s the main reason people feel the need to use a bar pads or plastic molds.

3. Grip the bar.

Once you have the bar in your chosen position, grip the bar with either a thumbless or full grip.

A thumbless grip looks like this:

how to squat thumbless grip

 

And a full grip looks like this:

how to squat full grip

The thumbless grip makes it easier to keep your wrists straight, especially when low-bar squatting. The full grip makes it easier to control the bar and keep your hands close together.

Once again, which one you choose mostly comes down to personal preference. Use whichever grip feels more comfortable.

Whichever grip you choose, try to grip the bar as close to your shoulders as you comfortably can.

Some people also say that you should keep your wrists perfectly straight, but this is unnecessary. The weight of the bar should almost entirely be on your back, anyway, so if cocking your wrists slightly helps you find a more comfortable position, do it.

4. Unrack the bar.

Put your feet directly under the bar (not behind it), take a deep breath, squeeze the bar, raise your chest, and lift the bar off the rack.

Take one step back with each foot, making sure each foot is firmly planted before moving the other.

Don’t take several baby steps backward. This wastes energy and forces you to move farther to re-rack the bar at the end of your set, which can be dangerous.

The rule of thumb is this: Move just enough to get clear of the rack, and no more.

Here’s a short video that breaks it down:

5. Position your feet.

Figuring out your ideal stance width will probably require some trial and error, but to start, position your feet just outside of shoulder-width to start, like this:

squat feet position

If you want to emphasize your glutes in your squats, then you can use a slightly wider stance, but don’t force it to the point of being uncomfortable. Remember, you can always target your glutes with other exercises.

If you have trouble squatting down without falling backward, try try widening your stance an inch or two. If your hips feel pinched or tight at the bottom, try narrowing your stance an inch or two.

Proper Squat Step 2

Descent

Here’s what we want to achieve on the descent:

I want you to notice a few things in particular:

  1. The bar is moving straight up and down, not gliding forward or backward.
  2. The back stays in a neutral position throughout the movement (no rounding).
  3. The knees point at the toes the entire time.
  4. The elbows stay in place.
  5. The head stays more or less in line with the back.

That’s what a picture-perfect squat looks like. Let’s now learn how to do it.

First, take a deep breath, trapping the air in your stomach. As you breath in, you should feel your stomach expanding, not your chest.

Then, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, sealing your windpipe. Tighten your core muscles as if you were about to get punched in the gut.

Squeeze the bar as hard as you can, lift your chest, and sit down, keeping your knees in line with your toes and travel slightly forward.

Some people say you should never let your knees extend past your toes when you squat, because it places slightly more stress on the knees.

This is silly. While you shouldn’t force your toes past your knees, it will occur naturally in most people as they reach depth in their squat, and research shows the force this places on the knees is well within safe limits.

What you definitely don’t want, however, is your knees caving in toward each other, like this:

squat knee position

To avoid this, think about pushing the floor apart with your feet as you descend.

So, once you’ve hit the bottom of the squat–the point where you feel your lower back start to round–you’re ready to execute the final portion of the squat: the ascent.

Before we cover that, though, let’s go over one of the most controversial questions about squatting…

How Deep Should You Squat?

The short answer to this question is this: deep enough that you get “below parallel.”

What this means is reaching a point where the pivot point of your hip is below the top of your knees, and your femur (thigh bone) is parallel to the ground (or slightly lower), like this:

squat depth

Now, if you’ve spent any time in a gym, you know that most people don’t get anywhere close to parallel at the bottom of their squats, and this means they’re missing out on most of what the exercise has to offer.

This is because the deeper you go in the squat…

So, it’s pretty clear that quarter- and half-rep squats are inferior in every meaningful way.

Does all this mean that you need to squat as deep as possible, though? Do you need to go “Ass to Grass” or “ATG,” as the cool kids say?

Not necessarily.

Full squatting requires more mobility than most people have, and it can be particularly hard for people with long femurs or torsos. If you can full squat comfortably, though, it might offer some additional strength- and muscle-building benefits.

And what if you can’t even manage the parallel squat?

Don’t sweat it. Do your best to reach parallel every time you squat, work on improving your mobility, and it’ll come in time.

Proper Squat Step 3

Ascent

You should keep one word in mind when you’re ascending: tension.

One of the most common mistakes people make during the ascent is relaxing a part of their body, like their upper back, abs, or grip on the bar.

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and when one part of your body stops pulling its weight, it becomes much harder to complete the movement.

For example, if you relax your upper back and chest halfway through a heavy rep, then you’re going to lose bar speed and probably start tipping forward. Then, other muscles have to work even harder to pick up the slack, and if they can’t, the rep grinds to a halt.

This is why most of the cues for helping you ascend are designed to help you keep everything tight.

For example, here are some popular cues that many people find helpful:

  1. Shoot out of the bottom the second you reach your desired depth.
  2. Think of throwing the bar off of your back as you rise. This can help you ascend faster.
  3. Push the ground apart with your feet and drive your hips under the bar.

You’ve probably noticed that there’s a point just above parallel when ascending where the weight suddenly feels a lot heavier and the bar begins to slow down. (If it makes you feel better, the same thing happens to high-level powerlifters).

The key to getting through this sticking point is exploding out of the bottom of the squat, keeping the air in your lungs and working to force your hips under your body.

Before we move on, let’s take a moment to address a common problem people run into on the ascent: the rounding back.

How Do You Keep Your Back Straight?

Many people struggle to keep their back straight when rising out of the bottom of a squat, and end up looking like this:

how to squat with back straight

Some people say this is due to weak back muscles, and while that can be a factor, there’s more going on here than meets the eye.

One of the main reasons people struggle to keep their back straight during the squat is that they let their butt rise faster than their chest, like this:

And why does that happen?

The main reason is simply putting too much weight on the bar. When you try to squat more weight than you can with proper form, this is one of the coping mechanisms employed to get upright.

There are a few ways to fix this.

  1. Use a lighter weight until you can complete every rep without rounding your back at any point in the squat.
  2. Keep your back ridiculously tight. Many lifters don’t think about their legs when squatting. Instead, they focus on keeping their chest up and pulling the bar into their back as if they were trying to fold the bar in half.
  3. Think of throwing the weight off your back and forcing your hips under the bar. (This is a fantastic cue for squatting heavy weights with good form.)
  4. Strengthen your quads with more squats and accessory exercises (more on this in a moment).
  5. Brace properly. Suck in enough air that your lungs feel 80% full, and keep it trapped there throughout the entire rep. Many people let the air out of their lungs as they ascend, and this makes it very difficult to maintain a straight, tight back. Read this article to learn how to breathe properly for heavy lifting.

3 Squat Variations You Should Know

The barbell back squat is king of all squat variations, but it’s not the only game in town.

There are three other variations worth knowing that can be used instead of or in addition to the back squat:

  • The front squat
  • The single-leg squat
  • The goblet squat

Let’s look at each.

Front Squat

All in all, the barbell front squat is one of my favorite leg exercises.

From the waist down, the front squat is identical to the back squat. The key difference is that they bar is held on the front of your shoulders instead of the back.

Here’s what it looks like:

The benefit of the front squat is that it places even more emphasis on the quads and upper back, and allows you to squat deeper than the low-bar squat. It also places less shearing stress on the knees and lower back, making it ideal for giving your joints a break or working around joint problems.

The downside is that you can’t use as much weight and—shocker—it’s as uncomfortable as it looks.

It also requires quite a bit of wrist mobility to do properly which is why some people cross their hands like this:

how to front squat

That grip is more comfortable, but it’s also less stable and doesn’t work well with heavy weights. That’s why I recommend you stick with the traditional front squat grip, even if you can only keep one or two fingers on the bar.

Bulgarian Split-Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is quickly becoming more and more popular among high-level strength and conditioning coaches, and for good reason.

Here’s what it looks like:

Research suggests that it may be as effective at increasing back squat one-rep max as the back squat itself while placing less strain on the lower back.

Furthermore, it differs from the front squat in that it more heavily involves the hamstrings.

It also prevents you from favoring one leg more than the other, which can happen fairly easily with barbell squatting, making it helpful for preventing and fixing muscle imbalances.

The main downside is that, like most dumbbell exercises, you can’t use as much weight, which usually relegates the Bulgarian split-squat to an accessory exercise.

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is similar to a front squat, except you use a dumbbell instead of a barbell.

Here’s what it looks like:

As the name suggests, you hold the a dumbbell close to your chest (don’t let it drift forward!) as if it were a large goblet, and otherwise, it’s a just a squat.

The main benefit of the goblet squat is convenience—you don’t need a barbell—so if you’re traveling or can only go to a (crappy) gym that doesn’t have barbells, then the goblet squat is a workable alternative.

It’s also helpful when you have shoulder or back pain that prevents you from doing a barbell variety of squat.

A Simple, Effective, and Challenging Squat Workout

You now know how to squat.

You know the best variations.

Now it’s time to hike up your (knee) sleeves and get to work.

Here’s a simple and effective squat workout that incorporates several of the variations you just learned as well as some additional exercises to target the hamstrings.

High- or Low-Bar Barbell Back Squat

Warm-up and…

Experienced Squatter: 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80 to 85% one-rep max (1RM)

New to Squatting: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 75% of 1RM

Front Squat

3 sets of 4 to 6 (experienced) / 8 to 10 (new) reps at 70 to 80% 1RM

Bulgarian Split-Squat

2 sets of 4 to 6 / 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM

Romanian Deadlift

3 sets of 4 to 6 / 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM

(Optional) Standing Calf Raise

3 sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70 to 80% 1RM

And a few odds and ends on how to do this workout:

You shouldn’t go to absolute muscle failure every set.

Muscle failure is the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving and have to end the set.

We should take most of our sets to a point close to failure (one or two reps shy), and we should rarely take sets to the point of absolute failure.

Personally, I never train to failure for more than two to three sets per workout, and never on the squat, deadlift, bench press, or military press, as it can be dangerous.

Instead, I reserve my failure sets for isolation exercises like hamstring curls, leg extensions, calf raises and the like, and it’s usually a natural consequence of pushing for progressive overload as opposed to deliberate programming.

Rest 3 to 4 minutes in between each set.

This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight.

For instance, if you squat 135 pounds for 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can squat it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 reps or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase the weight on the bar.

12 Scientifically Proven Ways to Increase Your Squat

how to increase squat

No matter what you do with your diet and workout programming, you’re going to get stuck from time to time, and especially on a big lift like the squat.

I wish this weren’t the case, but it simply gets harder and harder to gain muscle and strength as you inch your way toward your genetic potential, and the closer you get, the more you’re going to have to break through plateaus.

That’s where these 12 strategies come in. They’ll not only help you break out of ruts when you fall into them, they’ll help you from getting stuck in the first place.

Keep Learning Proper Form (And Stick to it Ruthlessly)

You really can’t overemphasize proper technique when it comes to squatting.

It may look simple, but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye, which is why even the world’s best weightlifters are constantly playing with their grips, bar and foot positions, cues, and the rest of it to improve their performance.

This is also why many people who aren’t progressing on their squat can benefit from auditing their form.

Of course, step one would be going through the steps listed earlier in this article and making sure the fundamentals are in.

It’s also helpful to have a cheat sheet of sorts with cues that reinforce proper technique. Here’s mine:

  • Keep your chest up.
  • Throw the bar off your back.
  • Grab the floor (with your feet).
  • Force your hips under the bar.
  • Push the floor apart.
  • Bend the bar over your back.

It also helps tremendously to have someone video you squatting from several angles and then compare your reps to a model, like the video shared earlier in this article.

Look closely at how you’re moving in each phase of the squat versus the model, make notes of what you see to be different, and work on improving them one at a time in the gym, on camera, until each becomes ingrained.

Improve Your Hip, Knee, and Ankle Mobility

Some people think they “just aren’t built for squatting” because they can’t get their form right.

This is nonsense. With the right know-how and instruction, everybody who’s generally healthy and functional can squat to at least parallel with some weight on their back.

The most common reason people believe otherwise is poor lower body mobility, and particularly ankle and hip mobility as well as hamstring flexibility.

If you want to learn how to improve your mobility for squatting, check out this article:

How to Improve Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting

Learn to Brace Properly

“Bracing” refers to creating and maintaining tightness in your body while performing an exercise.

In weightlifting circles, this generally refers to how well you can trap air in your torso and hold it in under heavy loads.

This creates what’s known as intra-abdominal pressure, which helps stabilize your body, keep your torso rigid, and prevent the bar from moving while squatting.

The bottom line is you should be holding your breath during heavy squats, and if you aren’t, then you aren’t going to be able to lift as much weight.

So, how do you brace properly?

Simple:

Every one to two reps, take in a breath that fills your lungs to about 80% of their maximum capacity, drawing the air deep into your stomach, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and don’t let that air out until you’re past the hardest part of the lift.

If you want to learn more about proper bracing and breathing while lifting, check this out:

⇒ The Complete Guide to the Valsalva Maneuver

Lift Heavy Ass Weight

Professor Ronnie Coleman said it best:

There’s a never-ending debate as to the “ideal” rep range for building muscle, but there’s little argument about the fact that heavy lifting is best for getting stronger.

How heavy is “heavy,” though?

Well, the “strength” spectrum of usually starts around 80 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), or the 4 to 6 rep range, and goes up and down, respectively, from there (up in weight, down in reps).

What this means is if you’re currently doing the majority of your squatting with lighter weights—70 to 75% of 1RM for 10 to 12 reps, for example—you’re going to benefit greatly by emphasizing heavier lifting instead (80 to 85% of 1RM for 4 to 6 reps).

You don’t have to stop the 10- to 12-rep work, but don’t neglect the lower rep ranges that help you get stronger faster.

Want to learn more about the right rep range, intensity, and volume for strength training? Check out this article:

⇒ The Definitive Guide to Strength Training: How to Get Strong…Fast

Use the Right Equipment

Aside from a barbell, you don’t need any special toys to squat properly.

If you want to get the most out of your squats, though, then there are a few pieces of equipment that can be extremely helpful.

Weightlifting Shoes

What do most people squat in?

Running shoes. Perhaps the worst choice for the exercise for three reasons:

  1. Their squishy soles allow your feet to wiggle and shift under heavy loads, forcing you to waste precious energy stabilizing yourself that could be spent on, you know, squatting.
  2. Their their fragile sidewalls also stretch (and sometimes tear) when you torque your feet against them.
  3. Their flimsy laces also don’t hold your feet in the proper position.

That’s why I highly recommend you pick up a pair of good weightlifting shoes.

They provide a stable, hard surface to help with balance, which is particularly important with exercises like the squat, deadlift, and overhead press.

They provide a snug fit that keeps your feet from wiggling around, which saves energy and even helps prevent injury, and allows you to safely “screw” your feet into the ground (a good cue to help keep your knees in line with your toes).

And they provide good traction so your feet don’t slip or shift during a lift.

The bottom line is the right weightlifting shoes not only improve your performance of important lifts like the squat and deadlift, but they reduce the risk of injury as well.

Check out this article to learn more about weightlifting shoes and my personal recommendations:

⇒ The Minimalist’s Guide to the Best Shoes for Weightlifting

Knee Sleeves

I’ve stayed away from knee wraps because research has shown they may increase wear and tear on your knee joints, but when I looked into knee sleeves, I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike wraps, sleeves provide joint support and heat retention (warmer tendons and ligaments can stretch easier) without nearly as much compression.

While I don’t have any knee problems, I’ve definitely noticed that sleeves make my heavy squats and deadlifts more comfortable.

Here’s the pair I currently use:

rehband knee sleeve

Weightlifting Belt

Multiple studies have shown that a weightlifting belt can improve your performance on key exercises like the squat and deadlift, but it probably doesn’t reduce your risk of injury.

I’ve spent long periods of time squatting with and without a belt and can vouch for the same. When used properly, you’re stronger with a belt. Period.

As whole-body strength is closely related with muscularity (the stronger you get, the bigger you get, generally speaking), a weightlifting belt can help you gain muscle faster over the long haul.

If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of lifting belts, then check out this article:

⇒ 5 Studies Answer: Should You Use a Weightlifting Belt?

And here’s my favorite weightlifting belt:

inzer belt

Wrist Wraps

Wrist wraps are thick strips of nylon or canvas cloth that wrap around the wrist.

Some people find that wrist wraps help relieve pressure on their wrists when squatting, but I’ve never found a need for them.

If you want to give them a shot, though, they might help keep your wrists more straight, especially during high-bar and front squats.

Here’s a good pair:

inzer wrist wraps

Get in the Right State of Mind

The right mental preparation can make a significant difference in all of your weightlifting.

Don’t approach a set lethargically. Get pumped up and excited (the right music can help a lot).

Research shows that doing this can increase force production, and the same study also found that distraction can significantly decrease force production.

So, before you start your set, put your headphones on, tune out your mind and the rest of the gym, and pump yourself up.

Another simple but effective mental “trick” for increasing strength is visualizing successfully performing your reps before you do them.

I know, I know—it sounds woo-woo but research shows it actually works. Check out this article to learn more:

⇒ The Absolute Easiest Way to Get Stronger (Immediately!)

Lift Explosively

Many trainers and coaches promote super-slow reps as best for building muscle and strength, but research shows the opposite is actually better.

  • A study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney found that subjects following traditional “fast” training on the bench press gained more strength than slow training.
  • A study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that very-slow training resulted in lower levels of peak force and power when compared with a normal, self-regulated tempo.
  • A study conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that even in untrained individuals a traditional training tempo resulted in greater strength in the squat and greater peak power in the countermovement jump.
  • A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found that four weeks of traditional resistance training was more effective for increasing strength than super-slow training.

Furthermore, research shows that, when bench pressing, lowering the bar quickly (1 second) and, without pause, then exploding it upward results in greater power gains than a slow descent followed by a pause and explosive ascent.

(FYI, most of this type of research has been done on the bench press because it’s easier to find study subjects who know how to bench properly. All of the same rules apply to squats.)

So, don’t sit down or rise slowly when you quat. Descend and explode upward as quickly as you can while still safely controlling the bar.

Squat More Frequently

squat more frequently

The ideal training frequency for building muscle is a heated subject. What we can know for certain, though, is this:

If you want to get better at something, you want to do it more frequently.

This applies to pretty much everything, including squatting. The more you squat, the faster you’re going to improve your technique, which will translate into faster muscle and strength gain.

This is why every powerlifting program worth a hoot has you squatting, deadlifting, and/or bench pressing two to three times per week. Many bodybuilding/”aesthetic” programs, like my Bigger Leaner Stronger (men) and Thinner Leaner Stronger (women), do as well.

So, if you’re currently squatting once per week and are stuck, increasing frequency to squatting twice or even three times per week can be enough to break you out of the rut.

Keep in mind, however, that the more frequently you do an exercise—and especially a whole-body exercise like the squat—the easier it is to run into symptoms related to overtraining.

Check out this article for an effective workout routine that involves several squat sessions per week:

⇒ 3 Science-Backed Leg Workouts for More Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength

Try Different Kinds of Squats

Changing your exercises too frequently can hurt your progress because you’re having to constantly learn new and reacquaint yourself with movements.

Generally speaking, focusing most of your efforts on getting really good at fewer exercises is going to pay better dividends over time.

That said, pounding away at the exact same exercises for months or years on end can also be counterproductive.

As you learned earlier, different kinds of squats emphasize different muscle groups, and therefore rotating through them systematically can prevent slight muscle imbalances that can get in the way of progress.

For example, let’s say you’ve been low-bar squatting for months and have hit a plateau.

Instead of continuing to grind away at it, you could switch to front squats for 8 to 12 weeks to improve your quad and upper back strength, and then return to low-bar squatting and find it stronger than before.

Personally, I like to change my main compound movements roughly every 8 to 12 weeks, depending on what I’m doing with my diet and how things are going.

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough

Whenever someone complains about not gaining weight, size, or strength, my first suspicion is they’re not eating enough food. And I’m very often right.

Here’s a simple fact of muscle growth that many people don’t understand:

If you want to gain muscle and weight as quickly as possible, then you need to eat enough calories. If you don’t, you simply won’t gain much to speak of.

For example, I know that I need to eat somewhere between 3,300 and 3,600 calories per day to consistently gain weight. If that sounds like a lot of food to you, it is.

It only goes up from there, too. By the end of my lean bulks, I’m usually eating upward of 4,000 calories per day.

I can’t complain, though because I’ve seen much worse. I’ve worked with hundreds of “hardgainers” that couldn’t gain a single pound until their daily intake exceeded 4,000 to 4,500 calories per day, seven days per week (no missing meals on the weekends!).

So, the takeaway here is simple: increasing your calorie intake is an easy way to get your numbers, both weight and strength, moving up.

What you don’t want to do, however, is bludgeon yourself with a truckload of food every day. Get out of hand and you’re going to gain a lot of fat a lot faster than you’d like.

Here’s how to do it right:

⇒ How to Gain Weight (and Muscle) as Fast as Possible

“Microload” Your Weights

As a natural weightlifter, your number one goal should be increasing your whole-body strength over time.

So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining the size you want.

The reason for this is while you can gain a fair amount of muscle in the beginning without gaining much strength, once you graduate to an intermediate lifter, strength and size become closely correlated.

In other words, once your “honeymoon phase” is over and your body is no longer hyper-responsive to resistance training, you’re going to have to get a lot stronger if you want to continue getting bigger.

This process is generally pretty straightforward:

You work in a given rep range until you hit the top for one, two, or three sets, and then you add weight to the bar, and usually 5 pounds to each side (or per dumbbell if it’s not a barbell exercise), and work with that until you can move up again, and so on.

Sometimes this doesn’t work, though, and you find yourself stuck at a given weight and rep count for several weeks. This is where “microloading” can help, which is a fancy term for adding less than 5 pounds to the bar.

For example, let’s say you’re following a strength training program that dictates three sets of 5 reps before adding weight to the bar, and you’ve been stuck at 5 x 5 x 4 for several weeks now.  You’ve tried moving up 10 pounds anyway, but can only get 2 reps with good form.

In this case, you can use smaller (“fractional”) plates to increase the weight on the bar by just 5 or even 2.5 pounds, which may allow you to get the reps you need.

So, let’s say you increase the weight by just 2.5 pounds (227.5 total pounds) and get 4 reps. You can now work with this weight until you can squat it for three sets of 5 reps, and then add another 2.5 pounds to the bar (230 total pounds), work with it until you can move up, and so forth.

Here are some high-quality fractional plates I recommend:

fractional plates

Strengthen Your Quads and Back

Although squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening your quads and back, you’ll probably reach a point where doing additional quad- and back-specific work will benefit your squat numbers.

As far as the quads, my favorite accessories are:

  1. The leg press
  2. The leg extension
  3. The dumbbell lunge

And for the back, I like:

  1. Romanian deadlifts
  2. Barbell rows
  3. Weighted hyperextensions

The Bottom Line on the Squat

The squat is one of the single best exercises you can do for developing whole-body muscle and strength.

Simply put: if you can squat and you’re not, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s not an easy lift to master, though.

Learning proper form can take weeks, getting good at it can take months, and getting really good under heavy loads can take even longer.

That said, the rewards are worth the work.

It’s also worth getting good at the squat variations discussed in this article, including the high- and low-bar back squat, front squat, Bulgarian split-squat, and goblet squat.

You’re going to hit sticking points along the way as well, even when you do everything right.

When this happens, work your way through the 12 tips shared earlier to break through those plateaus and keep building those gams:

  1. Keep Learning Proper Form (And Stick to it Ruthlessly)
  2. Improve Your Hip, Knee, and Ankle Mobility
  3. Learn to Brace Properly
  4. Lift Heavy Ass Weight
  5. Use the Right Equipment
  6. Get in the Right State of Mind
  7. Lift Explosively
  8. Squat More Frequently
  9. Try Different Kinds of Squats
  10. Make Sure You’re Eating Enough
  11. “Microload” Your Weights
  12. Strengthen Your Quads and Back

Happy squatting!

P.S. Would you mind doing me a favor? I love researching and writing these articles, and the more they get shared around, the more I’m encouraged to write. 🙂

So if you enjoyed this, would you share it on Facebook and Twitter?

It really helps spread the word! Thanks!

What’s your take on squatting? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!