WSBB Blog: Squat Set Up 101

WSBB Education
Sun Jan 31, 2021

Tags: How To, Squat, Basics

Time to Read: 2.5mins

When it comes to putting together a world class powerlifting total, the squat is arguably the most important lift involved. Not only does it make up a large portion of your overall total, it is also the lift most likely to cause you to bomb out of your meet. Practicing bad squat set up and form is a quick way to not only ruin your meet day, but also a surefire way to end up injured with a pile of medical bills.

Below, we will go over a few of the suggestions and strategies we use at Westside Barbell to set our lifters up for success.

Foot Placement

This is the most important part of the squat set up, failure to properly place your feet guarantees you will squat well under your potential. The one thing a lifter needs to understand is that the squat is a familiar movement to the human anatomy, it should not take rocket science to figure out. When dealing with a beginner or completely untrained individual, we would first have them stand in front of a box and ask them to place their feet where they feel will allow them to create enough power to jump onto the box.

Generally, they will intuitively place their feet close to where they should be when they squat. Once you have the foot placement figured out for the box jump, you can then have them approach a barbell with similar foot placement. The next step is to squat an empty bar and get a feel for pelvic travel during the lift.

One of the main culprits of forward knee travel in the squat is incorrect foot placement that doesn’t allow for the pelvis to properly descend during the squat. Most times, lifters find that the foot position they selected for the box jump is narrow for a full range barbell squat, and the foot position will need to be a bit wider. Once you have comfortable pelvic travel, forward knee travel minimized, and moving relatively pain free you then will want to turn your feet outward to increase the amount of tension and activation in the glutes and hamstrings.

We suggest foot position to be turned with the toes facing ten and two o’clock, this is generally comfortable for most lifters. You do not want your toes facing directly at twelve o’clock or nine and three o’clock. I hope you can tell time because that is the best way to communicate that visual with words.

Back and Hand Placement

Once you have your feet set and know that you can comfortably move throughout the squat range of motion you have finished 80% of your squat set up. The final step is getting your torso, upper back, and shoulders set to lock into the bar and create as much tension and strength as possible. Similar to the bench press, you will want to retract your scapulas to allow for maximum amount of shoulder mobility so you can get under the bar in a position that keeps your chest as elevated as possible.

Smaller lifters will be able to grip the bar very close to their shoulder, while larger lifters will generally grip the bar closer to the outside cuff of the barbell. To increase your ability to get proper shoulder rotation and chest elevation, a larger lifter will likely need to grip the bar with a claw or three finger grip.

The Brace

Once you have your feet properly placed, back leveraged into the bar and shoulders properly rotated, the final step is to take in air, create as large of a torso as possible, and brace. Aside from learning proper breathing techniques to increase your ability to brace, one mistake beginners make is squatting from a rack that is set too high. Ideally, you want the rack height to be a bit below the position that would completely lock out your knee joint.

Having the weight set at the correct height will allow you to optimally brace against the barbell.

Failure to follow any of these three steps will result in lost pounds on the platform in the best case, injury in the worst case. Mastering your form not only reduces injury risk, but also gives you some free pounds added to the lift based on movement efficiency alone. If you have additional questions regarding how we approach the squat from both a positioning and a programming standpoint, go to the Westside Barbell online store to purchase Lou’s squat manual.

squat and deadlift manual