Saturday, August 23, 2014

The High-Bar Back Squat

The back squat is arguably the best movement for developing full-body, functional strength. Here are instructions on how to correctly perform the high-bar back squat.


  • In the power rack or squat rack, set the barbell (BB) at the level of your upper chest. Record the notch you use on the power or squat rack. Use the same notch each time.

  • In the power or squat rack, set the safety pins or arms at the appropriate level. The safety pins or arms should be about 6 inches below the BB when you’re in the bottom position of the squat. When you squat down, the BB should not touch the safety pins or arms.

  • If you’re using a power or squat rack in front of a mirror, make sure you’re facing the mirror straight and the rack is aligned straight, parallel with the mirror.

  • Use collars on the BB.

  • Center the BB on your back.

  • Place the BB on your upper trapezius. In particular, rest it an inch or so above the spine of your scapulae (the topmost bone on your shoulder blades).

  • Keep your upper back tight. Flex your upper trapezius and bull your neck into the BB.

  • Point your elbows down and slightly back. Through the entire range of motion (ROM), keep your elbows down. When squatting, do not point your elbows back too much (i.e. do not lift them up). If you do so, your chest will likely drop and your upper back will likely round. For high-bar back squatting, your elbows must point down. See the above photos.

  • Use a closed grip: wrap your thumbs around the BB.

  • Remove the BB from the rack by doing a partial squat.

  • Take two steps back. Establish your stance.

  • Once you unrack the BB, do not shift its position. Stay tight in your upper back. Keep the BB secure. Do not let the BB roll or move at all.


  • Stand tall.

  • Through the entire ROM, look straight ahead.

  • Place your feet just outside shoulder-width apart.

  • Point your toes out slightly (30 degrees).

  • Make sure your stance is perfectly symmetrical. Look down and check. You can use a horizontal line (e.g. a straight line on the floor or a straight piece of tape) as a frame of reference.


  • Squat down.

  • Initiate the movement by bending or breaking at the knees. DO NOT initiate the movement by sitting back (i.e. breaking at the hips). For the high-bar back squat, you must break largely at the knees. In contrast, for the low-bar back squat (an entirely different movement), you must sit back and break largely at the hips.

  • As you squat down, your knees should travel outward and track over your feet. DO NOT let your knees collapse inward. Push your knees out.

  • As you squat down, you should feel the weight in your heels.

  • Keep your head and chest up. Continue looking straight ahead.

  • DO NOT round your upper or lower back. Keep your core super tight.

  • Squat down to just below parallel: your hip crease should be just below the top of your kneecap.

  • Or you can squat all the way down. These are deep squats (a.k.a. ass-to-grass).

  • Descend in a controlled manner (1-2 seconds), but not too slow. This reinforces the movement pattern and allows you to squat better.


  • Squat up. Use your legs, butt, and hips to do so.

  • As you squat up, drive through your heels. Feel the weight in your heels.

  • As you squat up, lead with your head and chest.

  • Drive up as powerfully as you can. EXPLODE. Contract your butt HARD. Try not to pause or slow down.

  • As you squat up, apply force equally through both legs. Stay balanced.

  • As you squat up, fully extend your hips and knees. Use full ROM. At the top, contract your butt HARD.


  • Before and during the set, visualize every rep with perfect form. Then execute the perfect form that you have visualized. This makes a big difference.

  • Hold your breath as you perform each rep. This helps you stay tight in your core. Breathe between reps.

    • Inhale deeply
    • Squat down (while holding breath)
    • Squat up (while holding breath)
    • Exhale deeply
    • Repeat
  • Through the entire ROM, keep your head and chest up, keep your core super tight, and look slightly up.

  • Do not pause at the bottom of the squat. Rebound up. This is the bounce.

  • When you’re doing heavy squats, get aggressive but still visualize and execute perfect form. In particular, be aggressive when unracking the BB. This will make your set easier.

  • Once you unrack, do not waste extra time standing with the BB on your back. Unrack. Set your stance. Squat for X reps. Rack. Get in. Get out. It’s easier.

  • When you’re doing back squats, if your chest drops excessively and the movement looks like a Good Morning, then that is technical failure and the rep(s) doesn’t count. Do not count very ugly, technically unsound reps. Decrease the weight as needed. Ultimately, technically sound form is more important than weight.

  • Never go until absolute failure: when you get stuck in the bottom position and you must dump the BB, or when you squat up and the BB collapses onto you. If you seriously think you will absolutely fail the next rep, then stop. In fact, you should stop once you reach technical failure, which precedes absolute failure.

  • ADVANCED: When you’re doing heavy squats and setting up, squeeze the BB tight with your hands. This will help keep your core tight.

Here is a video of Dmitry Klokov, a high-level Olympic weightlifter, performing the high-bar back squat. He has near-perfect form but he is squatting ass-to-grass, which isn’t always necessary. However, after finishing the last rep, he dumps the BB behind him. In general, DO NOT do this. Return the weight to the rack.

Last revised 9/21/2015

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