How to squat right: the barbell back squat is the best exercise for a toned butt and strong legs

If you know how to squat correctly, you can avoid injuries and build leg definition quick

How to squat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Don't know how to squat? Learn the ways of the glute-force here for quick leg gains and a toned butt. There is no way around it if you wish to get fit. Squats can help you doctor this issue by being the awesome compound exercise it is.

We'll discuss what's called a barbell back squat in this article – you are best off using one of our best dumbbells or a best kettlebell for doing goblet squats. The squat is one of the best glute exercises that really works the biggest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus (aka glutes, bum, ass, bot-bot, derriere and some ruder ones). However, weighted back squats also strengthen your quads and hamstrings (thighs), calves, core, lats and even your upper back.

'Skipping leg day' may be a running joke in fitness circles, but really, there's little that looks more ridiculous than a muscular upper body combined with two toothpicks for legs and a flat bum – unless, of course, you want to resemble a pigeon.

• How to get a big butt locked DOWN: best home workout for glutes

There really is no reason not to love squats, so long as you know how to do them right. If you don't, on your first day at the gym, some smart fella will tell you so. A weighted back squat is such a good exercise that we included it among the Big 5, five compound exercises that can give you a full body workout – and big gains in no time.

Stay safe!

Needless to say, you have to be extremely careful working with big weights. If you decide to do weighted back squats with a barbell, you will not only need a rack to store the barbell on between sets, your muscles also need to be ready to push that much weight.

Best way to avoid injury is to get a training buddy who can spot you when you do your squats. Don't attempt heavy back squats alone at home without a proper weight rack either.

Once trained, your glutes will be able to push a lot of weight, more than your arms can handle. So, not only you won't be able to load the weight onto your shoulders from the floor, even if you did, getting it off from up there might prove to be extremely difficult.

If you are working out at home by yourself, we recommend doing thrusters or goblet squats instead of weighted back squats.

And always, always warm up before exercising and make sure you don't push your muscles too much. Rest is equally as important as the exercise itself.

How to squat

Rest the bar on the traps, not your vertebrae 

(Image credit: Future)

How to squat right

To perform a barbell back squat, place the barbell shoulder height on the frame and load the plates on the bar, then fasten them securely on both ends. Grip the barbell with an overhand grip a bit further than shoulder width apart and step under it. Without lifting the barbell off, place it on your traps (and not on your vertebrae/spine) then push it up so the whole weight rests on your shoulders.

Step back a bit (still being inside the squat rack) so the bar can move freely as you do the squats. Legs shoulder width apart, core engaged and inhale as you are going down. Stick your bum out in the lowermost position but don't lean forward too much because it will put too much pressure on your lower back.

You would like to go as deep as possible without spraining your knees. Don't half rep and just bend forward with the bar (there is an exercise called good morning when you bend forward with the bar, but you perform it with less weights). Concentrate on your glutes and core as you do the squats, if you feel a lot pressure on your lower back, you are probably leaning forward too much.

If you are in the gym, it might help to do some squats with only the barbell and watching your form in the mirror. There is no shame trying to perfect your form and as I said before, you won't impress anyone performing exercises with a bad form and injuring yourself.

Barbell back squat variations and alternatives

  • Thrusters (this squat works your shoulders too) 
  • Goblet squat – this variant generally involves holding a kettlebell under your chin while doing a deep squat. You could use a dumbbell instead, at a push
  • Front squat (bar is resting on the top of the chest)
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Walking/reverse/side lunges (bodyweight, resistance band, kettlebell)
  • Hip thrust (barbell or weight plate)

On recovery and nutrition

To avoid any injuries and to help recovery, stretch after every strength training session (and after every cardio sessions as well). Foam rollers can be found in most gyms and you can buy them on Amazon too, a quick and inexpensive way to massage the tired muscles.

Resistance bands are not only great for workouts (see lunges above) but they are also an effective way to stretch your hamstrings after you did your squats.

You might want to keep an eye out for your protein intake as well. If you are doing strength training, try taking in around 2 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight per day. So, if you weigh 70 kg, you'll need to eat 140 grams of protein per day. Humans haven't got protein reserves, so you have to continuously take protein in throughout the day. 

And make sure you drink plenty of water as well. A decent gym water bottle doesn't cost all that much.

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Matt Kollat
Matt Kollat

Matt is a fitness fanatic (a.k.a. fitness and nutrition writer) who's been rambling on about all things health and fitness for over two years now here at T3. His achievements include a short-lived fitness podcast called Fit Mentality Podcast and being a judge on the Fit&Well Awards 2021. In his free time, he works out at home, runs, cycles and loves a good ol' walk around the city. He writes about general fitness stuff, fitness tech, workouts, workout gear/equipment, nutrition and much, much more.