There's a reason veteran weightlifters call the squat the king of the leg lifts. Whether you're doing front squats, back squats, or basic air squats, this fundamental power move demands huge strength from your lower body and core. Do it right, and your size and strength gains will continue to progress.
Do it wrong, though, and you're just spinning your wheels. Here are five common problems that could be holding back your squat and the potential fixes you can try to correct them.
1. Your body is misaligned
This seems really basic, but lots of smart, experienced lifters fail to properly align themselves under the bar. When you get under the squat bar for a back squat, make sure your hands, torso, and feet are aligned evenly for optimal performance and results.
2. You're walking out inefficiently
When you lift the bar off the rack, walk it out in as few steps as possible. You shouldn't need more than three steps—total. The first step gets you out of the rack, the second step sets up your first foot, and the third step places the opposite foot in the squat position. This isn't a farmer's carry—save your energy for squatting the bar.
3. You're not tensing your body
Being loose might help you on the dance floor, but not in the squat. When you're squatting, any loss of tension anywhere from head to toe is a leakage of power that should instead be directed into the barbell to squat maximum weights. Make sure your back stays strong, and that your lats are tensed, as if you were trying to bend the bar over your body. Also, tense your legs as if you were trying to open a chasm between your feet—the lateral force will help secure your knees as you move the weight.
4. You're not prioritizing the squat
If you really want to improve your powerlifting ability, you need to ensure you're eating properly, sleeping adequately, and correctly scheduling your workout week. If your top training priority is to increase your squat, then do your big squat day on a day that works best for you and your body.
5. You're not practicing technique
Squatting is a skill. If every single rep looks different, you're not getting any "practice." Every single rep and every single set needs to be viewed as technical reinforcement.
Sure, you need to hit your body with heavy weight to get stronger. But it also doesn't hurt to go light in some workouts just to focus on your squat technique—maintaining proper form, avoiding "butt winks," and employing other muscle groups to get stronger.
Not only that, improper squat form robs you of the desired result. Old-time powerlifters would say that every inch you squat improperly roughly equates to 40lbs you've taken off the lift. Squatting 400lbs isn't too impressive when you barely move at all.