A Back Squat Progression to Master the Movement

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The back squat is a staple in most strength and conditioning arenas.

It might not be good for every population but tons of people are performing them.

One of the biggest topics that comes with the discussion of the back squat is form.


I am not going to let people perform terrible back squats but the form police need to chill out for a minute.

The battle now becomes working on form while also providing a training effect.

There are a lot of things that go into the back squat.

We need:

Ankle mobility

Knee stability

Hip mobility

Core and glute stability

T spine mobility into extension

This is only scratching the surface as to what can go wrong with a back squat.

It might seem simple but it is one of the most complex lifts out there.

People that are new to squatting struggle with the back squat because there are only 2,547 possible cues to coach the squat.

Once someone can sit back better, they now need to keep their chest up. Once their chest stays up, they need to sit lower. Once they sit lower, we are back to sitting back more.

It is too easy to get caught up with the small details and completely stunt progress.

We could sit here and do corrective exercises for 12 weeks ensuring that the person will no longer want to train when they haven’t done anything in a 3 month block. We could also give the person really light weight on the bar and hope it starts to clear itself out.

Neither of these options are the best option. Forcing a back squat too early will yield terrible results.

If there is a time crunch to learn the back squat then there are a lot of problems at play. Like I said, no one is going to get a training effect through really light squats and learning the pattern.

There is a way to teach the squat pattern, while developing strength and stability in the movement.

The (not-so) secret lies in other variations, posterior chain work, and single leg work.

Front Squats

I have started to really become a fan of the front squat for athletes and adults that are new to squatting.

The front squat is great because it allows for a more upright torso, it is much easier to achieve a good depth, and less weight goes on the bar because it is a harder lift.

The movement is taught much easier with a front squat.

I was listening to an interview with Donnell Boucher, who works at The Citadel, and he mentioned that everyone front squats for their entire first or second year.

If this approach is good enough for some of the best athletes in the country, then it will be perfect for everyone else.

To make this approach even better, I start everyone with a Goblet Squat. Holding a kettlebell at the chest and squatting with it, is an important strategy in teaching the squat.

It takes the upper body out of the equation and fixes squats like magic.

When teaching the squat, the kettlebell is my most effective tool.

Posterior Chain Development

A strong set of glutes and hamstrings is important for improving squatting patterns.

As we lower into the bottom of the squat, these muscles are responsible for sitting back into it.

If they are weak then squat depth with suffer.

Training these muscles to become stronger helps build stability throughout the body. Stability is key when it comes to strength training.

Single Leg Work

Training on one leg is a great way to build hip and core stability in addition to leg strength.

Loads are lighter with single leg exercises and allows people to perform them with ease, but get a lot out of it.

Adding single leg exercises is a no brainer.

If someone is new to exercise, they need to adapt to the demands put on them. One of the mechanisms that needs to adapt is the nervous system, a process that takes about 6 weeks.

Once the nervous system adapts we can pile on strength, size, etc.

That being said I am proposing a 12 week progression to learn a squat pattern while also getting really strong.

Week 1-4

2x per week

Goblet Squats x6

Barbell RDL x6

DB Split Squat x6 each leg

This is obviously not a complete day of working out but additional core work or upper body work can be added.

Also, the low reps flies in the face of a linear periodization scheme that starts with 10 reps per set. When people are new to learning the movements, quality reps diminish after about 6.

For the first phase, six will be appropriate for learning the movements.

Week 5-8

2x per week

Goblet Squats x8

Barbell RDL x8

DB Reverse Lunge x8e

Now we can add in more volume since the movements are the same/similar. Halfway through this phase it will seem like something just starts to “click” and that will be the nervous system adaptation.

Weeks 9-12

1x per week

Goblet Squat x8

Hex Bar Deadlift x6

Walking Lunge x6e

1x per week

Front Squat x6


Bulgarian or RFE Split Squat x6e

The exercises have become harder and more variation is introduced in this cycle. Following this we can continue with the front squat or start to learn the back squat.

Just remember to still include some heavy lifting with an exercise that is already learned.