Last week we touched on the primal movements; what they are and why you should be doing them. This week we are going to specifically break down the squat and it’s progressions. The squat is movement that mainly targets the quadriceps and glutes, but requires stability and engagement from the whole body.

I am going to show you the movement progressions I like to use for weight loaded squats and how to progress them from easiest to most challenging. The squat is great movement to develop overall strength, musculature, and athleticism making it a staple movement in many effective training programs. While doing a fully loaded overhead squat or barbell back squat may seem daunting, there are many progressions to take you there.

The movement variations we are going to go over are the goblet squat, the front squat, the high bar back squat, and the low bar back squat. Each variation provides it own unique benefits and challenges making them more or less suitable for trainees depending on their goals and needs.

The Goblet Squat

The goblet squat is the first progression I use with novice trainees who want to start moving weight. Because it is centrally loaded it forces the trainee to maintain a more upright position during the squat. This is fantastic for people who need to groove a proper squat pattern.

To perform the goblet squat, set your feet about hip width apart with the toes turned slightly outward. While holding the dumbbell, try to maintain tension across the upper back by staying upright and pinching your shoulder blades together. This will help you stay stable as you squat down. To squat, drive the knees forward and apart while actively pushing your heels into the ground. Perform a controlled lower as low as you can, and then ascend by exhaling and pushing you feet through the ground to extend your knees and hips in a controlled manner.

The goblet squat.

The Front Squat

The front squat is great for developing strength and power. And because of it’s more upright position it’s fantastic for carry over into sports that require more vertical jumping patterns.

To do front squats, approach the bar and set your hands slightly outside of shoulder width, step under the bar and bring the elbows forward so they are pointing at the wall in front of you, and the bar is now sitting across your shoulders and collar bones. Step out of the rack and set your feet slightly wider than hip width apart with your toes slightly flared outward. Lower into the squat while pushing the heels in to the floor, push your knees forward and apart. To stand back up, push your heels into the ground and squeeze the quads and glutes, whole maintaining a vertical torso position.

Because of the taxing nature of the front squat, it’s best to do 6 reps or fewer as the most people will generally fatigue in their upper back and start to collapse forward during the movement. The front squat is usually best performed for 1-6 reps for as many sets as need based on your training objectives.

The front squat.

The High Bar Squat

The high bar back squat is differentiated by placing the bar on your back but atop the shoulders, this allows for a more vertical torso position while squatting which is a more athletic position than the low bar squat. This movement is also more quad dominant than a low bar back squat.

To set up for the back squat, step under the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar into the top of your shoulders. Make sure your hands are even on the bar and that you are in the center. Step out of the rack and set your feet about hip width apart with the toes flared slightly out. Descend into the squat by keeping the chest up and imagining you are going to sit down in between your feet. Stand up from the bottom position by coming up the same way you went down.

The high bar back squat can be performed for a number of sets and reps depending on your goal. I typically wouldn’t program a back squat for more than 10 reps as I generally prefer to keep this movement more heavily loaded for strength gains, and use other squat variations for high rep hypertrophy or endurance work.

The high bar back squat.

The Low Bar Squat

The low bar squat is advantageous for moving ultra heavy loads because it allows you to lift the barbell using more drive from the hips. Because it places more emphasis on hip movement, it also requires less mobility from the ankles creating a more vertical shin position. This is achieved by placing the bar across the shoulders blades instead directly atop of the shoulders like in the high bar squat.

Such a small change in placement can make a huge change in movement and overall load used. The low bar squat is generally the squat of choice for powerlifters and people who want to be able squat as heavy as humanly possible – the high bar squat is more suited towards Olympic weightlifters and other athletes due to its more upright position. The low bar squat is also a viable option for trainees who have little ankle dorsiflexion but want to back squat in their training.

That low bar back squat is generally best performed for 6 reps of fewer with heavy loads, but it can also be done at higher reps provided the intensity (% of 1 rep. max.) is reduced as well.

Because of the lower bar placement in the low bar squat there is more of a forward lean in the torso making the movement more hip dominant than the front squat or high bar squat.

With all these variations for the squat, you should be well on your way to improving your performance and fitness. Whether you want increase your muscle mass, power, or strength there’s an appropriate squat variation for you.

Get out there and get squatting, and if you don’t know where to start contact me to get started with online coaching.