(800) 545-4772
Sign In
ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Back Squat: Proper Form, Benefits, and Common Mistakes

Back Squat: Proper Form, Benefits, and Common Mistakes

Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2022-06-13

As a personal trainer, several of your clients likely have the back squat as a part of their workout routine. It’s essential you know how to help your clients perform it correctly because it’s an effective foundational exercise that packs a ton of benefits.

Follow along as we discuss how to back squat, differences in squat form, the benefits of squatting, and some common mistakes to watch for.

How to do a Back Squat

Before we begin, it’s important to understand squat form can vary for each individual for a variety of reasons (we will discuss this later). So, we will outline proper form, knowing there will likely be modifications for some clients. Also, keep in mind, it’s important to ensure your client can perform a proper bodyweight squat before progressing to a weighted back squat.

The client will step into the squat rack and position themselves underneath the racked barbell. They’ll rest the barbell behind their neck and across their traps (use a pad to protect the spine if needed). When the bar is in its proper place (high bar position is fairly common although low bar position is also an option), the client will lift the barbell up and out of its racked position and take a few small steps backward. Their head and neck should be in alignment with the rest of their spine, the pelvis neutral, and shoulders back. Their feet should be about shoulder-width apart, with their toes pointed slightly outward. 

With their core muscles engaged, they will slowly hip hinge (hinge at the hips), bend the knees, and lower into a squat. As they lower, their back should remain straight, and the knees should stay in alignment with the toes. Once the client reaches a position where the quadriceps are parallel with the ground, they will press back up (through the heels) to their standing position. 

Squat Form Differences

As mentioned earlier, the correct squat form can vary from person to person. Anatomical differences and flexibility are common reasons for the variance in form. 

Anatomical differences

  • Hip joint angle, shape, and depth

  • Femur length and shape


  • Ankle mobility

These individual differences can impact the width of a client’s stance, foot position, trunk position, and depth of the squat. Ultimately, the proper squat form should be comfortable for the client while ensuring the heels are on the ground, the knees are in alignment with the toes, the depth is appropriate, and the back is straight (1). 

Back Squat Variation

There are many different ways to execute a squat (front squat, goblet squat, jump squat, barbell squat, etc.). However, when it comes to modifying the back squat, there are only a few things you can do. 

Aside from the location of the bar (high bar or low bar) or altering the different training variables (load, rest time, etc.), you can modify the lift with one of the more common back squat variations, the pause squat. It’s a back squat with a modified tempo (also a training variable).

The Pause Squat

The pause squat is performed with the same form as the standard back squat. However, when the client reaches the bottom of the squat, they will pause for a couple of seconds. Once they are motionless, they will press through the heels and transition up into a standing position. 

Benefits of a Back Squat

The back squat is an awesome compound, lower body exercise. Here are a few of the key benefits clients can expect from back squatting: 

1. Challenge the core

The back squat requires a lot of strength and stability in the core to be able to maintain a strong and stable spine throughout the movement. 

2. Strengthen the glute muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps

The back squat is a favorite for getting the muscles worked in the lower body. Building strength in the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps is essential for stability, athletic performance, and aesthetics. 

3. Develop grit and discipline

Squats are challenging. Maintaining form while pushing a lot of weight requires a lot of hard work, discipline, and focus. 

4. Increase calorie burn

More muscle on the body means more calories burned, even while at rest. Help clients build those large muscles so they become a calorie-burning machine. 

5. Help prevent injuries

A strong, balanced, properly functioning lower body with good posture can help reduce the chance of injury. Squats are a great way to help the body get there. 

6. Builds strong bones

Strength training is valuable for improving bone strength. The pull of the muscle on the bone helps strengthen the bone, which can help reduce bone-related injuries (3). 

Common Mistakes to Watch For

There are a handful of mistakes clients can make while squatting. As a trainer, there are many checkpoints you’ll be observing. So, the list below is not comprehensive but rather a list of a few of the most common mistakes to watch for:

1. Knees cave in (knee valgus)

There is a significant amount of stress put on the knees and hips when the knees cave in during a squat. Knee valgus can also be associated with anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries (2). The knees should stay in alignment with the toes throughout the movement. If cueing the client isn’t enough, they may need to improve their glute and hip strength. You can also use a resistance band around the knees to help keep the knees pressed out and in alignment with the toes. 

2. Heels come off the floor

The heels should stay in contact with the floor throughout the entire movement - this is essential. Clients should press up through the heels. However, the balls of the feet are still used. So, don’t let the client press so far back on the heels they tip backward. Focus on ankle, calf, and hamstring flexibility to help improve this. 

3. Rounding the upper back

If the client leans too far forward during the exercise, they will put a tremendous amount of stress on the spine. Clients should keep the back flat and the chest up throughout the movement. 

Remember, proper form is more important than heavy weight!

Are you passionate about proper form and foundational movements? Intrigued by human movement, muscle function, and performance? Become an ISSA Strength & Conditioning Specialist! The course is at your own pace, online, and includes as much educational support as you need!

Featured Course

ISSA | Strength and Conditioning Coach

ISSA's Strength and Conditioning course bridges the gap between science and application by giving students the "how" of helping athletes achieve any sport-related goal. With this course, not only will you learn the exercise science behind strength and conditioning, but exactly how to create the perfect training program for any athlete. Further, it offers one of the only accredited exams in the strength and conditioning space, making you a hot commodity to any employer.


  1. Rusin, J.S. and DeBell, R. “Anthropometrical considerations for customizing the squat pattern.” Personal Training Quarterly. 2019.

  2. Hewett TE, Myer GD, Ford KR, et al. “Biomechanical Measures of Neuromuscular Control and Valgus Loading of the Knee Predict Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Risk in Female Athletes: A Prospective Study.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2005; 33(4):492-501. 

  3. Hong, A. R., & Kim, S. W. “Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health.” Endocrinology and Metabolism (Seoul, Korea)33(4), 435–444. 2018

Sign Up & Stay Connected

Receive $50 off your purchase today!