Squats 101: A Beginners guide to Optimizing the Squat

by Atomic Strength Nutrition January 02, 2018

Squats 101: A Beginners guide to Optimizing the Squat

Squats 101: A Beginners guide to Optimizing the Squat

Real weightlifters everywhere rejoice on a squat day. The squat is perhaps the most complete full body exercise for developing raw strength and power in the legs. It is true that a strength program is not complete without squat progressions - however, getting started can be very difficult. When a squat is performed correctly you set yourself up for success in all of your other lifts.

Here is a Beginners guide to optimizing the squat

Setting Up

Before we start a squat it is important to create a balanced and strong setup. Here are a couple cues to help clients start the squat off in the right position.

Close hand position: Using a wide grip is never a good idea for beginner lifters - we want to develop strength and mobility in the wrist and shoulders while we are still training with lighter weights.

Depressed/Retracted Scapula: The main reason squatters will start to fall forward on the descent is due to poor strength in the thoracic spine. Improve strength and stability in the Upper back by retracting and depressing the scapula.

NOTE: We suggest a high-bar back position.

Elbows underbar: Now that the hands and scapula are in the correct position we can move the elbows under the bar. This will help to stabilize the squat, open up wrist flexors and extend the thoracic spine.


A simple rule for squatting is to always prepare for a lift as if it's your max - after all, that's what we're training for. Descend as fast as your technique will tolerate: Your squat descent should follow your personal strength. Some may find a slow descent works best, while others benefit from a faster descent.

Foot and Knee Placement

Find even weight distribution: Some clients may have longer limbs and require a wide stance, while others benefit from a close stance. Use what is comfortable for the client while even weight is distributed. Turn the feet slightly out, and place even pressure on the heel, outside of the foot and big toe.

Move both hip and knee: Mobility is the most difficult aspect for most clients. Stress movement in both the hip and knee. So long as the form is lean, and weight is axially loaded (over the spine) we can fall over the knee without risking injury.


Push through the heels and look slightly up (without cranking the neck). Elbows stay under the bar, back and chest stay tight and try not to let the knees fall inward.

Overload Methods

Most beginner squatters will find the best way to overload is by using a simple 8x3, 6x4 transition. You will also want to work in some supplement or accessory exercises to keep the muscle adapting to various stimulus’. Here is an example:

Week 1,2 - Hit Legs 2x

HB Bar Squat: 8x3 @135, 3110

Front Squat: 8x3 @105, 21110

LumberJack Squat: 8x3 @95, 2110

Week 3,4 - Hit legs 2x

HB Bar Squat: 6x4 @155, 3110

Front Squat: 6x4 @125, 21110

LumberJack Squat: 6x4 @105, 2110

Week 5 and 6 you will move back to an 8x3 for the same weight as week 3,4 - followed by another 6x4 with increased weight the next week. This is a simple strength training method to overload the muscle with the same amount of reps week by week.

Stay tuned for more training tips to improve other lifts and optimize your time in the gym.

Atomic Strength Nutrition
Atomic Strength Nutrition


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