Exercise 101: Back Squat Using Free Weights

Name of Exercise —Free weight back squat
Purpose —To develop strength in the legs, hips, and back
Muscles Used —Muscles of the thighs and buttocks

Starting Position:

Note: This exercise can be performed using a barbell or dumbbells.

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  • Grasp the bar of the barbell or dumbbell with a closed, overhand grip.
  • Lift the barbell and place it across your upper back, just below the base of your neck. Or, you can lift the dumbbells up to shoulder height.
  • Maintain your chest in an “up and out” position.
  • Pull your shoulder blades toward each other while keeping your head slightly up.
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed slightly outward.

Downward Movement:

  • Begin to slowly squat down by bending your knees. Control the downward movement by slowly flexing the muscles around your hips and knees.
  • Keep your back flat, your elbows high, and your chest up and out.
  • Keep your heels in contact with the floor and your knees aligned over your feet throughout the movement.
  • Continue moving downward until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  • Maintain a rigid position at the bottom of the movement. Do not relax the trunk area.

Upward Movement:

  • Begin to push yourself back to a standing position by extending the hips and knees at the same rate.
  • Again, keep a flat back, high elbows, and your chest up and out throughout the movement.
  • Extend the hips and knees until you are back in the starting position.

Trainer Tip:

It is critical that you remember to:

  • Prevent your knees from going beyond your toes in the downward motion
  • Control the speed of your movement during the entire range of motion

Repetitions, Sets, and Weight:

The number of repetitions (reps) and sets you should do depends on your strength goals. In general, muscle strength works to increase basic function of the muscle and is the typical workout choice. Muscle endurance is important to people who participate in endurance activities such as running or biking, and muscle power is beneficial for athletes who need to use sudden quick movements (eg, sprinting, basketball, football). Beginners should begin with a basic routine and gradually move toward a strength, endurance, or power routine.

Beginner : 1 set of 8 to 10 reps
Muscle Strength : 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Muscle Endurance : 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps
Muscle Power : 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps

Use a weight that is heavy enough to perform the desired number of reps and sets for your skill level using good form. Once you are able to perform more reps and sets than is outlined in your category, try to increase the weight you lift by 5% to 10%. Your strength goals may change as you progress.


American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise


Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology


Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning . 2nd ed. Human Kinetics; 2000.
News and Publications. American College of Sports Medicine Website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/ . Accessed January 17, 2008.

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