Benefits of Proper Form in the Back Squat

Kevin Turner- Turner Strength and Performance

hayt before and after


My daughter came home from school saying her back and knees ached terribly during and after performing squats. After hearing her say this, I decided to take a look at her form. In the pictures of her below, I identify a few of the issues that were contributing to her discomfort while also providing some examples of what we did to help correct her form and alleviate her pain:

hayt pic a

  1. Hyperextension of the cervical spine (cranking her neck backwards). Keeping the neck in a more neutral position will help protect from injury and pain. A common cue we often hear is to look up, which can contribute to cranking the neck backwards. I recommend finding a focal point with the eyes while maintaining a neutral neck position in line with the spine.
  2. Lumbar hyperextension. (In this position, she was putting a lot of stress on her lower back risking injury). In this particular case, she was sitting too far back before breaking at the knees and displaying a lack of core stability.
  3. The bar path was in front of the mid-line of her foot, pulling her forward on to her toes, forcing her to make corrections during the execution of the squat risking injury.

hayt pic b

We reduced the weight to help her develop better technique while allowing for better depth.

  1. Here we have created a more “neutral” spinal position. Her neck is in a better position while maintaining the natural curvature of the spine throughout the squat by using intra-abdominal pressure, upper back tightness and correcting her squatting technique.
  2. We slightly lowered the bar position on the back to create a more efficient bar path directly over the mid-line of her foot. This created a more stable position by having more surface area of each foot in contact with the floor and a vertically straight bar path.

This assessment above analyzed what I look for in that specific part of the movement in the barbell back squat. There were many components of the squat not pictured above that we worked on and did not address above such as:

  • Various ways of squatting to reinforce proper movement patterns.
  • Hand placement and where to place the barbell in the back squat.
  • Un-racking and walking the weight out safely and efficiently. (treat all weight with the same respect as a 1 rep. max effort lift).
  • Effective feet width and placement.
  • Scapular retraction and upper back tightness (creating a shelf for the barbell)
  • How to create intra-abdominal pressure and maintain core stability throughout the movement.
  • Continuously analyzing form and bar path.
  • Squatting to below parallel in depth, or as deep as mobility allows.
  • Controlling the descent so as to not “bounce” out of the bottom of the squat, affecting the bar path. – “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”- John Wooden.
  • Analyzing form in the concentric portion of the squat. (the pushing part of the movement).

The barbell squat is a technical lift that takes a lot practice to perfect and does not happen overnight. With that in mind, please do not feel intimidated and give yourself time to get comfortable with the movement. There are many different kinds of barbell squats such as front squats, high bar squats, low bar squats, Zercher squats and overhead squats just to name a few. The squat is a great movement that develops overall strength and is a lot of fun to perform.

Please keep in mind that each person is different and that this is an analysis on a single situation.  If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment below. As always, it is recommended that you consult with your health care provider before starting any fitness program.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s