How to Do Barbell Squats

Squats is a multi-muscle exercise that works nearly every major muscle group in the legs. Most people refer to the squat as the king of all exercises, and that’s for a good reason.

The barbell back squat is an advanced squat that targets the quadriceps (thighs), hamstrings, glutes (butt), hips and core. It’s  one of the most effective lower body exercises for shaping the butt and thighs.

If you have never performed squats before, start with the basic air squat and learn the proper squat form here.

Even though the squat exercise is considered a lower body workout, it’s really a full body exercise that works just about every muscle group in your body.

This type of exercises that involves more than one muscle groups and joints is well suited for weight loss and fat loss oriented people as they effectively target many body parts (and often large muscle groups) at once and torch calories by tackling more. It’s truly the fastest path to your weight loss and fat burn. 

Another benefit of multi-muscle and joint exercises like squats is efficiency. It maximizes your time in the gym by replacing many leg machine exercises and putting into one. 

Squat exercise is also often considered more superior than other leg workouts for its practicality. Squat’s movement pattern mimics the natural movements seen in our daily life such as getting up and sitting down. By training these frequently used everyday movements, it equips you for better performance in our life outside the gym. 

Why use a barbell?

Adding a barbell bar to squats intensifies the exercise and further challenges your strength and flexibility. By lifting heavier weights,  you activate your target muscles more and force them to work harder to support the exercise movements and resistance. As a result, you foster lean muscle development and increase fat burn, which certainly leads to definitions in your body and slimmer body parts (which we all want!).

Although you may get tempted to try out the barbell back squat next time you hit the gym, please note that this exercise requires advanced fitness level with sufficient strength and flexibility.

If you are squatting for the first time, it’s best to begin using just your bodyweight. As you build up your strength and familiarity with the exercise, add weights to air squats (body-weight squats). Once you are ready for the barbell back squat, begin with just a bar itself with no additional weight plates (see the image below). 

Barbell Squats

If you have a weak back or recovering from a back injury, please consult your physician before performing the squat exercise. As a general rule in fitness, it’s best to avoid using a barbell as it directly places pressure on your back.

Dumbbells and other free weights are better suited as they don’t place a heavy weight directly on your back. You can learn how to perform the dumbbell squat here. 

Exercise Table


How to perform the barbell back squat: 

  1. Place a barbell bar across your upper back by pulling your body underneath the bar. Place your hands on the bar spread wider than your shoulder width and grip the bar with an overhand grip. Let the bar rests comfortably on your upper back while your hands tightly holding the bar. Tighten your abs and pull in the shoulder blades together.
  2. Stand up straight to un-rack the bar and take a step back. Adjust your feet to spread slightly wider than shoulder width and toes point slightly outward.
  3. While keeping your back arched, bend your knees and push back your hips. Lower your body as far as you can into a squat position until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.  Quickly return to the starting position and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions to complete the set.


  • Don’t round your lower back.
  • Keep heels on the ground.
Misato Alexandre


After making healthy living a priority, Misato lost over 20 lbs in less than 90 days. Instead of weight loss being a dreading experience, living the lifestyle of health and fitness granted her more happiness and joy than ever before. She co-founded Fitwirr to make health and fitness simple for everyone and share her tips through writing evidence-based articles on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise.

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