The barbell back squat is a great exercise and is certainly useful for some people at some of the time. But it has a very steep learning curve which means that even the most experienced of squatters will still have a LOT to learn.
However, the squat movement pattern is CRUCIAL for all of the people to work on, all of the time.
The confusion lies in the fact that the barbell back squat is an exercise where you lift a bar from a rack, often by placing it across the back of your shoulders and then lower yourself down towards the floor.
Whereas the squat movement pattern refers to any time that your body flexes and extends (posh way of saying ’bends’) at the knee, and very often at the hip at the same time. Say for example you happen to ever sit on a sofa, on a chair, in a car, at a desk or on the toilet then your will be using a squat pattern. Ever placed one foot in front of the other when walking, running or climbing stairs? More squatting. In fact, in your normal day-to-day life a squat pattern is 100% unavoidable.
So, the barbell back squat IS a squat movement pattern, but it just ISN’T a necessity for so many people for so many reasons.
Instead, you would be well advised to work your way through these four bodyweight squat pattern movements, only moving on to the next progression when you have comfortably nailed the previous one for a solid 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
A – Start in a split stance as if you are stepping over a giant puddle. Keep the heel of the back foot elevated and make sure that your torso is directly above your hips, which are placed evenly between your two feet. Keeping your eyes fixed on the wall ahead lower your back knee down towards the floor in a controlled manner, then drive back up to the start position.
B – Find a solid bench or box roughly knee height and start with one foot placed firmly on it. Push this foot into the bench as hard as possible and lift your body up onto the bench. Pull the knee up towards your chest to enhance the range of movement and to test your balance or place the moving foot onto the bench if you struggle. Then step back down to the floor with the same foot and complete the rest of the set.
C – Start with your feet together and step back with one foot, keeping the heel of the back leg off the floor and lowering the knee of the back leg down towards the floor, but without touching the floor. Push off from the back leg and return to the start position. Keep your eyes fixed on the wall ahead and ensure your head and shoulders stay directly above your hips at all times.
D – Stand with your back to the knee height box or bench. Stand on one leg and lower yourself down into a seated position on one leg. If you have the strength to then return to the top on one leg, great. However, if you struggle you could either push your hands into the bench or tap the other heel onto the floor to help.
If you work through these four exercises in your own time, then you will undoubtedly be increasing the strength of your quads and increasing the range of skill your body has at performing the squat pattern – without any of the painful lessons that a barbell back squat is so desperate to teach you.