Big On the Basics: Squat

Big On the Basics: Squat

I remember years ago seeing Tom Platz’s legs for the first time and being astonished to see that much muscle mass on a frame. Tom, known for his massive legs, got that way with squats. So, I figured, it only made sense that squatting was the ticket to big legs. I powerlifted and squatted for 8 years and gained some big wheels. However, I was already genetically predisposed to having big legs. Now that I am bodybuilding I rarely squat anymore, but have continued to make great progress in leg development. Although squatting will be a fundamental exercise for some people, it isn’t always necessary for everyone.

If you powerlift, you need to train squats because you have to do them in competition. Bodybuilding doesn’t require squats, but we must develop the leg fully. The squat is a great option for bodybuilders who need a leg movement that emphasizes hamstrings and glutes. Since the squat requires more hip flexion than other lifts, the glutes will go through a larger range of motion and be activated more from the stretched state. This is great if glutes and hams are your weak points.

If your legs are well balanced, the squat also remains a good overall leg builder. For someone who needs to bring up quadriceps, a front squat or Hack squat is a better option due to less hip flexion and greater knee flexion. Lower back health is another factor to consider. It might be safer for some lifters not to squat as they cannot tolerate loading weight on their backs.

The squat is one of the most incorrectly performed lifts in the gym. You see all kinds of squat techniques, but rarely see a correct one. A properly performed squat with good form can really translate into strength improvement in all other leg lifts. Let’s break down the squat technique.

The Set Up

The Set Up

1. The bar height should be set so you can lift the bar out of the catches without having to do a calf raise.

2. Hand placement: will vary depending on bone structure and mobility. If you have shoulder problems, take a wider grip or use a cambered bar.

3. Walking out the weight: with both feet shoulder width apart, lift the bar up from the catches. Step back once with one foot, and then move the other foot back to match the first foot. Don’t waste energy taking big or too many steps setting up.

4. Foot placement:

  • Wide stance: feet are 3ft or more apart (depending on your height) and feet should be turned out 45 degrees from body. Emphasis is on hamstrings, glutes, and adductors.

  • Shoulder width stance: feet are less than 3 ft apart feet and should be turned out 30 degrees from body. Emphasis is on overall leg development.

  • Close stance: feet are narrower than shoulder width and feet should be pointed straight ahead. Emphasis is on quadriceps.

5. Bar placement:

  • Low bar causes more glute and hamstring involvement due to high degree of hip flexion.

  • High bar causes more quadricep involvement due to less hip flexion and greater knee flexion.

6. Head placement: keep a neutral spine throughout the lift. Look straight ahead during the lift.

7. Torso: scapula should be squeezed together to create a shelf for the bar to sit on. Chest should be held up high.

8. Initiating the movement: your hips should initiate the first movement. Start by pushing the glutes backward as if you were sitting in a chair, then proceed to bend at the knees.

9. Squat depth: will depend on joint structure and mobility. I recommend going as low as possible right before you are unable to maintain a neutral spine. The lower the squat, the more the glutes will be involved.

10. Knee and ankle angles: both should be at 90 degrees with the ground. If you find your knees drift inward as you squat up, it’s likely you have poor mobility and are not activating the glutes. Warm up using some glute isolation work prior to squatting.

11. Finishing the movement: once your achieve squat depth, push your hips forward and up to return to the start position.

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Executing a squat correctly can bring you closer to monster-sized legs. Keep in mind the reasons why you’re using the squat and be a stickler for form. Once you nail down the form, continue to progressively increase the weight. If you get up to Tom Platz’s incredible squat of 500 lb for 23 reps, you should have some big legs beneath you.