The barbell squat has become an integral part of gym training. Though they might not rank as anyone’s favorite exercise, it’s hard to argue with the benefits they can provide. Strengthening your glutes and legs. All while working on your core.

But, while it’s popular, barbell squats do come with a list of potential risks. The movement is complex, more difficult than many other parts of your typical training routine. And getting it wrong can have serious consequences. Remember, you are putting a lot of weight on your lower spine. Get it wrong and you crush your back. Should something go wrong, the best-case scenario is that you can get out of the way in time. The worst-case scenario? Death. No, seriously. There have been cases of people getting their necks crushed under the weight of the dumbbell.

Before you take on this exercise, it’s vital that you know what you are doing. Take extra precautions to make sure that you are doing things safely. They could literally save your life. Here are the basics you need to know about performing a barbell squat safely.

What Are The Risks Of Barbell Squats?

Let’s start by walking through some of the reasons this exercise is considered so dangerous. As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of weight resting on your neck and lower back. A minor lapse in concentration can lead to major problems.

Plus, this movement can be difficult to complete. You’ll need to coordinate your whole body. Everything from the hips to the core will be involved. With so much going on, it can be easy to slip out of the correct form. From there, the risk of receiving a painful muscle strain injury dramatically increases.

Is It Worth The Risk?

We’ve just outlined the nasty injuries you could receive with a barbell squat. If done wrong, it can even prove fatal. This raises a big question. Is it even worth adding to your routine at all?

The answer is yes. There is a reason this is a fixture in the bodybuilding world. It offers unparalleled gains. Hit multiple muscle groups at the same time. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to unlock:

  • Stronger lower body, particularly around your knees, calves, and quads
  • Working your core muscles
  • Adding more flexibility to your lower back
  • Helping to burn fat

But there are a few caveats. You need to be willing to put in the effort to learn how to perform the exercise properly. Take the steps to avoid injuring yourself. Use any safety equipment that the gym has provided.

How To Safely Perform the Barbell Squat

We’ve said numerous times that correct form is vital when doing this exercise. With this in mind, here are the steps to follow when performing the barbell squat:

  1. Find your perfect foot position. The first thing to do is decide the ideal position for your feet and hips. Start by holding a relatively light weight at chest height. Place your legs hip-width apart. Squat down. Notice how you feel. Adjust your foot position slightly and try again. Repeat until you find a position that allows you to achieve a comfortable low squat.
  2. Position the bar along your back. Get your feet set, then squat under the bar. The bar should be sitting in the traps of your lower back. Avoid the common mistake of resting the weight of the bar on your neck.
  3. Position your arms on the bar. Aim for a narrow grip, to give yourself the most stability. Again, it might take a little experimentation to find the right position. Get something that feels comfortable. You don’t want any wrist pain when you lift the bar.
  4. Lift the bar and position your feet. Lift the bar out of position with your legs and walk backward. Get into the comfortable squat stance.
  5. Brace yourself and squat. Before you begin squatting, you should tense your body. Then begin your squat, placing the pressure on your hamstrings. Aim for a deeper squat to get the most benefit. Control your form as you rise again. Ideally, your chest and your hips will rise at the same time.

It can help to go through this exercise with a professional. Let them critique your form and show you the right way to perform the squat.

Safety Tips When Performing The Barbell Squat

Aside from getting the right form, there are a few other things you can do to make sure that you are doing the squat safely.

Use A Spotter

Let’s start with the basics. You should always have a spotter on hand. They can grab the weight if you are struggling. But they’ll have to keep their eye on the ball. Wait a few seconds too long and you could be facing a harsh accident. Also, make sure that they know what to look for. Train them on the signs that you are struggling to lift the weight, so they can step in and take it for you. Talk through your history with this exercise and tell them the parts that you have had problems with in the past.

Don’t Skip The Warm Up

Preparation is vital to get your barbell squats right. In particular, you’ll need to make sure that you have warmed up your body properly. There are a few key areas that you should be focusing on. First, limber your hips up. Try some frog stretches or employ some resistance bands.

The next aspect to focus on is your legs. You don’t need to do an intensive workout. Just hop on the treadmill and do a light jog. Just enough to get the blood pumping.

It can also help to do some deep breathing exercises. These will help you work your core. Not only will these help you get your body and mind ready for the squats, but you’ll also be lessening the amount of muscle soreness you feel over the coming days.

Put Safety Mechanisms In Place

Ideally, you’ll have a human spotter. But that won’t always be possible. So, what should you do if you are training on your own? Simple. Use the safety equipment that comes with your squat rack. That there are a few forms that this can take, including:

  • Safety straps
  • Pin and bar
  • Safety bars

There are pros and cons to all approaches. But, at the end of the day, what option you choose doesn’t matter too much. They all serve the same purpose. To catch the bar if things get too much. That way you can fall to the floor and not have to worry about a heavy bar falling onto your neck or head.

The good news is that getting the safety gear set up is fairly easy. Perform a barbell squat using just the bar. Go to the depth that you intend to squat to. Set your safety bars one or two notches below your intended squatting depth. That way they catch the bar if things go wrong.

Use A Weightlifting Belt

Getting the right form is important. But it can be hard to apply the theory to practice. Your core might become disengaged. This ripple through the rest of your body. Before you can notice the change, your form is wrong and your risk of injury is rising.

The good news is that there is an easy way to stop this from happening. Use a weightlifting belt. These are designed to keep your core constantly engaged. This will allow you to spend more energy focusing on lifting the weight.

Know Your Limits

Don’t push your body too hard. Too much weight will only lead to injury. If this is your first time with the barbell squat, experiment with the amount of weight you can lift. It might take a few sessions to find your maximum weight. From there, you can work on slowly increasing the amount you are lifting.

There are lots of things that can affect your ability to squat effectively. You might be coming off an injury. Or you might be just starting out and unsure of your abilities. There’s no shame in wanting to take things slow. Like in any bodybuilding discipline, there are two ways that you can have an effective workout. Either you do fewer reps at higher weights or you use lighter weights but do more reps. Either way will produce impressive gains.

Know The Right Way To Bail On The Squat

If things start to sideways, you should bail. Ideally, you’ll be placing the bar onto your safety bars. This stops it from smashing into the ground, which can injure you and damage your equipment. Not to mention your fellow gym-goers won’t appreciate the clanging sounds of weights slamming on the floor.

How you bail will depend on the type of barbell squat you are doing. First, you will need to wait until you are at the bottom of the squat movement. The weights are close to the floor or the safety bars, so they don’t have far to fall.

If you are doing back squats, you need to keep lowering your position until the bar is close to safety. Then, bring your chest forward. The bar will roll across your back and onto the safety bars. If you aren’t using the safety bars, you’ll need to get low, then shuffle forward after letting go of the weight. Just make sure your ankles are out of the way before the bar hits the ground.

If you are doing front squats, you’ll need to use your arms to throw the bar forward. While you do this, lunge backward to get your body out of the way.

Getting The Most Out of Your Barbell Squat

Barbell squats are a highly effective exercise. But there are some ways you can boost their effects even more. First, you should consider changing the type of bar you are using. Going straight to a barbell might not be possible for amateur lifters. That’s fine. Start with some wall squats, named because your back is kept flat against the wall. You can also try using a dumbbell to do some goblin squats. Another option is to change the type of bar that you are using. This can help you get a comfortable grip.

The next thing to do is try a new variant of the barbell squat. Play around with where you are placing the weight, changing the type of muscles you are working. Keep things fresh by mixing in some squat alternatives. You can play around with lunges, leg presses, or landmine squats.

As with any type of exercise, it’s a good idea to keep track of your progress. This will help you stay motivated. Over time, you’ll notice the amount of weight you can comfortably squat continue to rise. This will be accompanied by a noticeable increase in your muscles and a growth in your self-confidence.

If you want to take the punishment to the next level, you can introduce the hold rep. This is exactly what it sounds like. Go down into the squat position as you normally would. But, once at your maximum depth, hold the pose for five to six seconds. Feel your legs and core burn. This shouldn’t replace your normal set. Rather do it at the end of your regular set. You only need to do one or two. I guarantee you’ll feel the effects in the morning.

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Barbell squats are a great option for bodybuilders. Work your core, add flexibility to your lower back, and strengthen your legs. All at the same time. What’s not to love? Just make sure that you always put your safety first. You don’t want to end up with a nasty injury because you didn’t take the appropriate precautions.