Often considered the king of weight training exercises, the barbell squat works nearly all the muscles in the body, as well as the cardiovascular system. The exercise is generally aimed at the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles. The abdominals, erector spinae, and shoulders act as synergists and stabilizers. Additionally, the barbell squat develops thoracic expansion and stimulates all over muscle growth by triggering the production of growth hormone.
Like any exercises that involve the use of barbells and heavy weights, a spotter should always be available to assist with a barbell squat. Due to the mass of the weights involved and the posture of the squat itself, two spotters — one at each end of the barbell — is an even better option. At the start of the exercise, the barbell should be placed on a squat rack at near shoulder height. The lifter should then step under the bar and rest it on the upper trapezius or, to use a power lifter's grip, slightly lower on the trapezius coupled with the posterior deltoids.
Before the bar is removed from the rack, the abdominal muscles should be tight, the back should be slightly arched, and the head should be in a neutral position. At this time, the lifter can take a deep breath and step away from the rack. The beginning posture for the barbell squat involves placing the feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, either parallel to each other or angled so that the toes point slightly outward.
Bending at the hips, the lifter can sink into a seated position, taking care to never round the back or bring the knees beyond the tips of the toes. During the movement, the torso should remain erect, the head neutral, and the weight controlled. When the thighs are roughly parallel with the floor, the lifter can then exhale forcefully while pushing with the legs and returning to the starting position. During the movement, the balance of weight should remain near the heels, so that the toes could almost be lifted off the floor.
As a variation, the barbell squat can be performed with the barbell inside a sliding frame, known as a Smith machine. This will avoid any tendency to lean forward, and, as there are built-in barbell hooks, can act as an added safety measure. Other variations include body-weight squats, dumbbell squats, split squats, front squats, and power squats.
Squats are a good, general, lower body exercise that have a place in nearly every resistance training program. The barbell squat is a movement that enables athletes, particularly women, to lift more weight than perhaps any other exercise. While this is wonderful for muscular development, there is always a potential for injury. Novice athletes with pre-existing medical conditions are advised to seek the advice of a doctor before attempting barbell squats or any other heavy weight training exercise.