Skipping leg day is a running joke in fitness circles, although nothing looks more ridiculous than a muscular upper body combined with two toothpicks for legs and a flat bum. If you are a man or woman and want strong thighs, big calves and a round bum that actually fills your trousers, you will have to get familiar with squats.
Weighted back squats are amazing exercises. They not only work the biggest muscle in your body, the gluteus maximus (aka glutes or bum), they also strengthen your quads, hamstrings, calves, erectors, abs, obliques (basically your core), lats and even your upper back.
- The best dumbbells for your home gym (dumbbells)
- The best barbell – Olympic bar, bicep curl bar and trap bar
- The best home multi-gym (the Adidas home Rig has a weight rack)
- The best kettlebell (for goblet squats)
The most well-known variation of squat is the aforementioned back squat, performed with a barbell on your shoulders, but you can also do front squats – when the barbell is rested on the top of your chest – or goblet squats, where you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of you.
Needless to say, you have to be extremely careful working with big weights. If you decide to do bodyweight 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 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.
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To perform a back squat, place the barbell shoulder height on the weight rack 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 neck) 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 much lower 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.
- We believe that this is the best exercise, ever
- If you want to do more than just squats, you can check out the best leg exercises too
- Squats are also included on our best full body workout list
Back Squat variations and alternatives
We'll touch on these later.
- Front squat (bar is resting on the top of the chest)
- Goblet squat (use a kettlebell or a dumbbell)
- Bulgarian split squats
- Walking/reverse/side lunges (bodyweight, resistance band, kettlebell)
- Hip thrust (barbell or weight plate)
- Thrusters (works your shoulders too)
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.