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How to set up for the squat

Do you have a routine for getting underneath the bar and hitting those squats? Or do you just not look forward to leg day, get yourself in the squat rack and get out of there as quick as possible?

I'm going to say that most people opt for the latter. I get it, leg days are tough, the majority of people don't want to do them. The next day is a struggle. If you drop something you need that day, it can get picked up in 2 days time. Sitting on the toilet requires a slow-steady lowering, with some serious effort to try not to make weird grunting noises to get there. Getting up from a seat requires rocking to get the momentum to throw yourself into standing. We've all been there. But, we need to do leg day, and we should really take time to set up our squats properly and thoroughly.

Step 1: What squat are you about to do?

Let's go with the most common squat in the gym. The barbell back squat. From here on out I'm just going to refer to this as a squat, but that's the one I'm referring to.

Step 2: Rack height, spotter bar height, spotters? What rack height is required for you? That would depend on how tall you are and where you like the bar to be placed. Ideally, a bar about chest height should work. If you are a particularly low bar squatter, then it might need to go a touch lower than that. You do not want to tip toe out of the rack, that is really dangerous. If you don't have a spotter, then make sure the spotter bars are at a height which allows the most optimal depth (that's for another blog which I'll write soon) but also catches the bar at a height where you don't injure yourself. If that height is going to be higher than where you can hit optimal depth, then so be it. Safety first.

Take a look at this example of a squat rack. Notice the J-hooks (the smaller hooks up the rack), this is the height that you'd be racking and unracking the bar from. The spotter bars are the longer arms poking out.

Step 3: Is the bar central? This might seem trivial, but doing enough squats in your lifetime, this can make quite the difference. Make sure the bar is central on the rack. Not too far over to the right, and not too far over to the left. You want it to be even when you unrack, or one side is going to be working harder than the other.

Step 4: The actual squat set-up.

(A) Find the landmark for where your hands each belong. This will depend on how narrow/wide you like to grip the bar when you squat. Where do your hands normally go? If you're unsure, then you need to decide and make a mental note of it. Look at the power rings (rings with no knurling on, knurling is the rough stuff on the bar), they are a good way of finding your grip. If that doesn't work for you, then find a way of remembering. I've got some clients of mine using the distance of their thumbs to where the knurling finishes at the centre of the bar to use as a guide. Whatever works for you.

(B) Get your head looking dead centre of the bar. Drop it underneath and get the bar on your back. This should ensure that you are central on the bar itself.

(C) Feel where the bar is on your back. You have to rely on where it 'feels' right, whether you are a low/high bar squatter, you have to learn where this is for you. If you find you are really inconsistent with where it's placed, chances are you never realised that there is such thing as having the bar low or high (or anywhere inbetween). Find where it works for your squat, and keep it consistent. Refer to my youtube video to see the difference in the positioning for a high bar and a low bar squat.

(D) We are not using our back to unrack the bar, we are literally coming straight underneath it and squatting it out, so make sure you are directly underneath the bar, so place your feet underneath your hips, and your hips should be underneath your shoulders. At the moment, your foot position doesn't really matter, you're about to unrack, so even if you squat really wide, you can still unrack with a narrow stance, if you wish. Do what's comfortable for you. Personally, I squat quite narrow and I unrack a little narrower.

(E) Big, belly breath in. I refer to this as 'eating the air'.The breath is coming in from your mouth and is as much air as you can breathe in. It will expand your belly and fill the gaps around your spine, pushing out with a 360 degree breath. It's not just the belly filling.

(F) Now you can unrack the bar. But don't walk out yet. Let the bar settle. Gather your composure.

(G) Think about your walk out. Don't waste any energy, we want it ALL going into the squat itself. 2 steps that take you far enough away from the rack so that you don't hit it, but not so far out that you are 'reaching' to step, and make sure you are still between the spotter bars if you don't have spotters. A third 'wiggle' step to make sure you are in your correct position. Sometimes a slight adjustment step is required. Make sure you've walked out to the width you want to squat at. This is another one where you might have to rely on how it feels to be in your correct squat position. This will differ from person to person.

(H) Wait for the bar to settle after your walk out, then release your breath (not all of it).

(I) Big breath in, same as before.

(J) Now you may begin your squats.

(K) Rerack by walking straight forward, hit the rack first, then come down to the J-hooks. Don't 'aim' for the J-hooks. Hit the rack first, then come down once you know you're in place. Have fun walking tomorrow ;)

There you have it. That's how you set up, only 4 steps! Oh, and not forgetting A-K steps. How do you squat you say? OOOohhhh. Well, I guess I had better write some stuff on how to squat! Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,



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