5 Steps to Learn the Low Bar Squat

Legs 5 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

The squat has developed a cult-like following on social media and the internet, but it is absolutely butchered 95% of the time.

There are Instagrams dedicated to people with bad squats (@quartersquatgang), and countless Instagram models with bad squats posing as experts.

Enough of that.

This article is going to teach you how to squat in 5 steps.

Here’s a video detailing the whole process

Be sure to check out the videos as well because seeing this stuff is usually easier than reading, but you will always learn best when you do both.

Step 1. Set the Shoulders

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You have to learn this before doing any exercise in the gym.

Setting the shoulders simply means putting them in a stable position that will allow for a safe transfer of forces to and from your torso. Pulling your shoulders down & back so your chest sticks out is what it means to set your shoulders.

It’s easiest to show you with a video.

Watch that video, learn to set your shoulders, and then

STEP 2. Stick your Butt Out


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This one is easier seen than told as well.

Watch this video on how to do the cat/cow. The cat/cow combines setting the shoulders (step 1) with sticking your butt out. It’s usually easiest to learn to do just “butt out”, and I’ll explain that below.

For a quick description:

– stand tall with a mirror to your side
– turn your head to see your body
– tuck your butt under so your groin protrudes forward and your butt tucks under, you should feel your abs contract to pull your hips forward. This is “butt under”
– now try to stick your butt out as far as possible while staying tall, you should feel your low back muscles contract to let this happen. This is “butt out”
– work your hips from “butt under” to “butt out” several times to get familiar with the positions, watching your reflection in the mirror to isolate as much movement as possible to your hips


STEP 3. Grab a Box

Now that you can set your shoulders and stick your butt out you are ready to squat.

Grab a box, bench, or anything stable enough for you to sit on that is ~16″ tall.

You can perform these bodyweight or with a kettlebell/dumbbell held in front to help with balance. I don’t advise learning the pattern with a barbell as it complicates the movement.

Put your back to the bench/box/whatever and set your feet shoulder width apart with your toes turned out ~15-30 degrees. You should be close enough that your calves can touch the bench/box.

Now set your shoulders, and think about sticking your butt out.


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STEP 4. Sit down

Squatting is as simple as sitting down. Drive your knees wide (wider than you think) so that your thigh is pointed in the same direction as your feet as you sit back onto the bench/box.

The goal here is to sit slowly and with control.

Your knees should only move forward a couple of inches at most.

Your torso should not remain perfectly vertical, but you do need to maintain set shoulders and the “butt out” position.

Continue to drive your knees out and reach back onto the box with your butt the entire way down. You do not want to sit on the edge of the box, but rather deep onto it like you would sit in a chair at dinner.

Do not relax on the box. Keep tension in your muscles.

Make it a game to see how slowly you an sit onto the box, and ensure you do not “plop” down at the end. This is a sign that you are not squatting correctly, or your box is too high for your height/control levels.

Review the technique and if you still cannot squat (sit down) with control raise the box height 2″ and try again.

STEP 5. Stand Up

The up portion of the squat is a reversal of the down portion.

It should be done with control in a smooth motion.

Drive you knees out and rise slowly to stand.

There should be no rocking forward and your chest should not drop. These are signs that you relaxed your muscles as you sat, or the box is too low.

When you can lower yourself with complete control, lightly brush the box, and then rise smoothly back to the start position you have learned the squat pattern.

the Test

Now that you’ve read the article, watch the video to help tie it all together.

You can check form by recording a video of your squat and comparing it to our videos above.

But this test is better:

Lower yourself and hover 1″ above the box for 5 seconds.

If you feel it mostly in your knees your squat form is incorrect. Your knees are likely crashing in (drive them out wide), and they are probably too far forward (they usually don’t need to go past your toes).

You should feel a good squat in the groin, outside of your thighs, in the hamstrings just above the butt, and a little in the quads.

Great squats work all of the muscles of the legs, not just the quads. Great squats feel a certain way.

Here is a video showing the squat test.

More questions?

If you successfully learned the squat pattern from this article the next step is adding weight.

Read our guide on how to low bar squat for more information.

If you weren’t successful in learning the squat pattern from this article you should consider asking an expert for help.

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.