Once our athletes have mastered the foundational air squat (and only then), the first loaded variation we introduce is the “High Bar Back Squat”. The back squat, along with the bench press and barbell deadlift, is one of the 3 “Power Lifts” and is widely considered one of the best tools for developing raw strength.
You may see other programs and trainers utilize a “Low Bar” back squat. While this is also great tool for pure strength development, we feel the low bar variation is difficult to perform well by new athletes. It often turns into some sort of good morning/squat hybrid that goes against all of our movement tenets. Thus, we aim to first master the High Bar squat when training our high school athletes.
The loaded back squat is relatively simple in it’s execution, so long as you master the set up and always keep all 4 points of squat performance in mind during every rep.
To set up appropriately, the athlete should set the bar to roughly chest height (to allow for a little dip when getting under the bar), and grasp the bar with a double overhead grip just outside of the shoulders (or wider depending on shoulder mobility). The athlete steps into the rack and under the bar, positioning it on top of the actively engage traps which create a sort of shelf on which to rest the load.
The athlete stands to full extension in order to lift the bar out of the hooks. Once standing tall, he or she steps back away from the rack. Taking the time to get comfortable (don’t rush!), the athlete sets up in proper squat width stance and begins the prescribed reps.
As with any squat, all 4 Points of Performance apply for the duration of the set:
1. Entire foot in contact with the ground
2. Lumbar curve maintained
3. Knees tracking toes
4. Hips descending below parallel (hip joint below the knee joint).
If, at any point, these points begin to falter, we stop our athletes, drop the weight and correct the movement before adding heavier weight back into the equation.
Upon completion of the set, the athlete walks back into the rack until the bar hits the j-hooks (not by leaning forward). Then, he or she softens the knee and allows the bar to settle back into the hooks before stepping through.
Keep an eye out for our video discussion on how best to teach athletes about spotting, bailing a bad rep, and staying safe in the gym!