The back squat is known as a kingpin of leg exercises in the gym and traditionally one of the first exercises which springs to mind with most people when training legs. A back squat provides many benefits to an individual as it is a compound exercise therefore you are working more than one joint at a time.
It places great load on the lower muscle groups such as a the quadriceps and gluteal muscles, there is slight activation in the hamstrings yet it has been confirmed within research that the hamstrings may be less involved in the back squat than what was once thought. The back squat is also very beneficial for strengthening the joints, tendons and ligaments in the knee and hip meaning it can be very useful from an injury prevention standpoint.
Performing a back squat also requires good mobility in the ankles to allow for force to be put through the heels, shoulder mobility to allow for the bar to sit comfortably on the traps and be pulled into the upper back and core strength to brace effectively meaning the torso can stay upright and remain stiff for efficient force transfer. A back squat can develop lower limb strength/power or even endurance. These three qualities can be dictated through manipulating sets and repetitions. For example, when aiming to develop endurance capabilities a higher rep range of 12-15 and above would be suitable with a lighter load. However, for strength a rep range of 6-8 may be more suitable with a higher load.
One aspect to consider when performing the back squat is ensuring the technique of the lift is correct. There are various cues which can be used when coaching the back squat to allow for good technique. Coaching the knees to be driven out preferably over the little toe means the gluteal muscles become more involved increasing power within the movement and working the hip structures more effectively. An upright torso would also be coached in a back squat to ensure there is no excessive forces going through the lower back, coaching cues to allow for an upright torso may be “chest up” or “keep tall”.
One other key coaching point is ensuring the individual sits into the squat engaging the gluteal muscles more, if someone is not sitting into the squat and shifting too much weight onto their toes this can lead to the knees coming excessively over the toes causing strain on the anterior structures of the knee which may induce injury. In relation to ankle mobility if you find your feet evert (fall/turn inwards) this is an indicator that ankle mobility work could be required. Equally if you find your heels lifting despite trying to keep them planted flat on the floor some ankle mobility as well as calf flexibility work could be useful.
With the use of these cues and steady progressions towards the back squat it can be a very effective movement for various physical goals. Regressions of a back squat would be bodyweight, goblet squat and front squat. These will refine technique and ensure you are hitting key positions well. I hope this piece gave you an insight to the benefits of the back squat and its purpose, also what coaching points to be considered when performing the lift to maximise performance and minimise injury risk.
Another great exercise is the deadlift, which I cover the benefits of in our Deadlift – The Benefits blog.
Any questions or if you struggle with the squat or any other exercise and would like some coaching on this feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org
Move well. Live Well.
Optimum3 Personal Training
Strength & Conditioning Coach | Personal Trainer