What is a Back Squat?

Kimberly Coghlan
Kimberly Coghlan
Back squats exercise the muscles in the upper thighs and buttocks.
Back squats exercise the muscles in the upper thighs and buttocks.

A back squat is a weightlifting exercise that builds upper leg muscles. During the exercise, weights on a barbell typically rest on the shoulders behind the head. Shoulder pads or weight collars usually are required to lessen the pressure of the weights. With the weights on his or her shoulders, the lifter squats into an almost seated position before rising to a neutral standing position.

When performing a back squat, the weight is positioned on a lifter’s shoulders.
When performing a back squat, the weight is positioned on a lifter’s shoulders.

Though back squats require the use of many muscle groups, the exercise primarily targets the quads of the upper thighs and the glutes of the buttocks. This exercise typically should be completed with barbell weights. It also can be performed with the help of a weight rack, which tends to be a safer form of the exercise. The back squat is one of many competitive exercises performed in power lifting. Though all types of squats are considered difficult exercises, the world record for the amount of weight lifted in a single squat exceeds 1,000 pounds (about 454 kg).

Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.
Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.

The back squat is an efficient exercise in building upper leg muscles; however, the exercise does put a tremendous amount of pressure on joints and knees. For this reason, it is not a recommended exercise for people who may have prior knee problems of joint stiffness. It also places pressure on the back and compacts the spine.

To minimize injury during a back squat, it usually is important to use proper form during the entire exercise. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. The bar that contains the weight should be evenly balanced on the shoulders with weight collars or pads safely and securely in place. Hand positions should be a little more than shoulder-width apart.

Other methods that lessen injury rates include having two spotters on each side of the weights, especially if the lifter is not using a machine to brace the brunt of the weight. In addition, it is important for the lifter to keep his or her legs straight forward and the back straight during the exercise. Breathing correctly during a back squat can also lessen injury: The lifter should exhale while rising.

The back squat is a weightlifting exercise that typically should be performed by experienced weightlifters. To maximize the benefits of the exercise and minimize the risk of injury, the lifter should lift enough weight to make the exercise difficult but not so much that the exercise cannot be completed with fluid motions. While performing a back squat, there should be no jerking or bouncing, as this severely increases the risk of injury.

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    • Back squats exercise the muscles in the upper thighs and buttocks.
      Back squats exercise the muscles in the upper thighs and buttocks.
    • When performing a back squat, the weight is positioned on a lifter’s shoulders.
      When performing a back squat, the weight is positioned on a lifter’s shoulders.
    • Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.
      Performing squats can help strengthen the thighs and other muscles of the legs and lower back.