Ultimate Guide To Proper Powerlifting Squat Form

WRITTEN BY Martijn Koevoets

Ever wondering if you should squat high bar or low bar? Or what the best squat stance is? How wide should you grab the bar?

These are probably the 3 most common asked questions when it comes down powerlifting squat form or technique.

Right along with “what’s the best foot position?” and “Do I need special shoes for squatting?”

It’s understandable.

The squat is a complex movement and the margin for error is zero when you have a metric ton on your back.

Well, at least that’s how it feels for me when I’m trying to set a new PR.

Making sure how to do squats properly will enable you to squat in the most efficient manner possible. And that will enable you to squat more weight.

You’ll get the answers to all of the questions above in a minute. Hopefully you will discover how to adjust your powerlifting squat technique to do a perfect powerlifting squat.

Powerlifting Squat

Please keep in mind that in this blog post I’m talking about a powerlifting squat technique.

First let’s take a look at the squat as a movement and the biomechanics involved.

This is important because this will give you a solid understanding of the “why’s and how’s” in the answers to all these questions.

The squat consists out of 2 parts:

1. The eccentric phase
Also known as the lowering phase. This part of the movement is a combination of knee and hip flexion.

The most important muscles involved while lowering during squats are the iliopsoas and quadriceps. The inner hip muscles are the primary muscles that allow you to lift the upper leg towards the body.

Which is exactly what is happening when you are squatting at good depth.

2. The concentric phase
AKA Standing back up again. This is a combination of knee and hip extension.

Knee extension is done by your quadriceps while hip extension is done by 3 different muscle groups.  Your glutes, hamstrings and adductors.

These 3 muscle groups have more potential to move heavy weights than than just your quadriceps.

Maybe that’s how Ronnie Coleman came up with “heavy ass weights”. Who knows?

Anyway, as you can see it makes more sense to use your hip extensors as much as possible when coming out the hole.

Remember this. We’ll be talking about this more later in this blog post.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Grabbing the bar is the first thing you do when you are going to squat. Some lifters grab at the collars while others grab it as close to their shoulders as possible.

What is the best way? How Wide Should You Grab The Bar?

Squat Hand Position

There are a few theories and other things about hand position to consider. Don’t worry, we’ll go over them.

First thing to consider is your shoulder flexibility. If it’s good then you’ll be able to grab the bar just outside your shoulders with your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Or near to it.

If you can do this, then it’s probably your best bet.

powerlifting squat form

Here’s why.

A close grip will make it easier for you to keep your upper back tight. This will help to keep the barbell securely in it’s place while squatting.

Especially at the bottom of the squat a lot of people a prone to collapsing their chest. Squatting with a narrow hand position might help with this.

A proper powerlifting bar has the rings placed 81cm apart from each other. You can use these to make sure you always grab the bar with an even grip.

If you lack shoulder flexibility then you can grab the bar wider. In this case you could place your index fingers on the ring of the bar. Or wider if you need.

Then each next set try to move your grip in just one finger. So if you were to start with your index fingers on the rings then the next set put your middle fingers on the rings.

After a few sets you will have a very narrow and tight grip. Just experiment a few times during your training and see how it goes.

If you have shoulder or elbow issues then a narrow grip probably isn’t for you. It’s probably not for you either if you are a ‘big guy’.

You’re probably better off with a wider grip. If you can maintain upper back tightness then this isn’t a problem.  Just make sure you pull your shoulder blades together.

Carl Yngvar Christensen seems to do just fine with a wide grip. And he only squat 490kg or 1080lbs.

Personally, I’m not a ‘big guy’ and I can do a very narrow grip on squats. And right now I still seem to do better with a wide grip.

Why? With a narrow grip my upper body seems to compress in the bottom of the squat. When I move my grip out I seem to be able to keep more upright. This helps me getting out of the hole.

Now that you have your grip fixed you can duck under the bar and put the bar in the correct position on your back.

But what is the correct bar placement for squats?

Low Bar or High Bar?

If you google “high bar or low bar squat” you will get 1.100.000 results. That’s right. Over 1 MILLION results.

To say that this is a hot topic in regards to powerlifting squat technique would be an understatement.

Below is my take on the story.

Let’s look at the differences between the 2 types of squats.

When you do a high bar squat, the bar will be placed upon your traps. Like this.

powerlifting squat form

Because the bar is placed higher on your back, your upper body will need to stay a bit more upright. And to make this happen, your knees will have to travel a bit more forward.

This is to keep the bar directly in the center of gravity. The bar needs to be precisely in the middle of your feet. Else you run the risk of falling forward or backward.

To illustrate the difference in knee travel between a high bar squat and a low bar squat I  stole this image from Starting Strength written by Mark Rippetoe. I only added the yellow and red line to drive the point home.

Powerlifting Squat Form

Because your knees are traveling more forward, your quadriceps need to work harder. This is because your knee flexion angle is higher in a high bar squat than it is in a low bar squat.

You can see it in the image above, but in the image below shows what I mean.

Knee Flexion

During a low bar squat the bar is placed on top of your posterior delts. By doing this you will accomplish 3 things:

  1. The distance from the bar to your hips is shorter. This enables you to use more weight.
  2. The will be more stable in it’s position on your back.
  3. The more horizontal position in the bottom of the squat makes sure you will place more stress on the right muscle groups to squat more weight. The hip extensors will do the bulk of the work.

Remember when I told you that hip extension is done by 3 different muscle groups. Your glutes, hamstrings and adductors.

And that these 3 muscle groups have more potential to move heavy weights than than just your quadriceps.

If you want to squat as much weight as possible then you’re probably better off with low bar squats.

Below is a picture showing the difference in bar position. Left is the high bar position, right is the low bar position.

Powerlifting Squat Form

Right you have the bar on your back. Time to walk it out and start squatting.

Now is a good time to discuss squat stance width. Another hot bed when discussing powerlifting squat technique…

After that we’ll talk about foot positioning.

Squat Stance

Squat stance width is dependant on a lot of things. The flexibility of your hips, the length of the bones in your upper and lower legs. The anatomy of your hip joint.

That’s why stance width for a perfect squat form is different for every individual.

If you have a short  back and long legs then you are probably better off with a more narrow stance. Because of your long legs you will almost be folded double in the bottom of the squat.

Below is a video of Steve Goggins where you can see what I mean.

Layne Norton is popular bodybuilder / powerlifter that exemplifies this too.

If you have a relative long torso and short legs then you are probably better off with a wider stance. Depending on the anatomy of your hip joint.

If you can squat like Jim Brown then you are just made for squatting and you should be able to hit huge numbers if you put in the effort.

Here’s what I mean. This is a video of Jim Brown squatting.

But with a narrow stance you have a should still be fine if you long torso. This is Brett Gibbs setting yet another an IPF world record. He set squat records in the junior and open division.

To squat the most possible weight it’s probably good to try and get your stance wider over time.

With a wide stance squat you will engage your quadriceps in to the same degree as with a narrow stance. But your glutes and hip muscles will be able to produce more force.

A wider stance also makes sure your hips are closer to the bar. Because your hips are not moving as much back as with a narrow stance.  This will also allow you to use more weight.

It’s the same reason why you should squat low bar instead of high bar when you want to squat the most weight possible. But you already read that earlier in this blog post.

This doesn’t mean that you should squat with your feet outside the power rack. Because everybody’s hip anatomy is different and yours might not allow to squat that wide. A wide stance means jack if you can’t hit depth.

Chuck Vogelpohl

While a wide stance like above might make sense, it might not be the right thing for you to do.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a squat stance width that is just a little outside of your shoulders and experiment from there.

Which brings us to the next question.

What’s proper foot position for squats?

Foot Position

Before I say anything about this, I want you to do a little experiment. Stand up and put your feet in your squat stance width. Point your feet straight ahead or t turn your feet out for no more than 15 degrees.

Now “screw” your feet into the ground while pushing against the floor. Imagine your legs working like a corkscrew.

Now do this again with your feet pointing out 45 degrees and 90 degrees.

Powerlifting Squat Technique

You will notice that the more your feet are turned out, the less you can squeeze your glutes.

As you know by now, the glutes are very important for squatting big weights. So less tension in the glutes can’t good.

Another experiment for you to try is to criss cross a mini or monster mini band across your knees and assume a bottom squat position. You will notice it’s easier to produce force against the band when your feet are point straight ahead.

You will also be more stable in the bottom position of the squat.

Ok, one more exercise: crisscross a band across your knees again and do a crab walk. Step side ways.

Try and tell me your feet weren’t pointing straight forward.

Keeping your feet straight enables you to put more tension in the right muscles for squatting. Which is good.

It’s true that keeping your feet straight makes it harder to reach proper depth. This is because you are putting your hip extensors and hip flexor in a very strong position for flexion.

If you are an experienced lifter and are squatting with your feet turned out then you are leaving pounds on the platform.

But like with squat stance width. Keeping your feet straight doesn’t mean jack if you can’t hit proper depth.

Just to be clear. When I mention your feet pointing straight ahead, I don’t mean as straight as a line pointing forward.

I actually mean that your feet are pointing anywhere from 0 degrees to max 15 degrees to the outside. This is natural and normal.

Right. So far we covered:

  • Squat hand position
  • Low bar or high bar
  • Squat stance width
  • Squat foot position

This last thing to discuss is a favorite amongst women. It’s shoes!

Powerlifting Squat Shoes

When you’re at the gym you will see a lot of folks squatting with their heels on a pair of small plates of a thin piece of wood. Because Arnold.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Doing this will make it easier to hit depth in the squat. This is also the reason for the existence of olympic shoes and powerlifting shoes with a heel.

The heel height varies per brand and model. Olympic shoes will often have a higher heel than a true powerlifting shoe.

But whether or not  you need to wear shoes with a heel is dependant on a few things. It depends on your squat form, which depends on your overall build.

If you squat wide and don’t have much forward lean then flat soled shoes are great shoes for squats.

If you have long legs and use a narrow squat stance, then olympic shoes might just be what the doctor ordered to improve your squat.

But before jumping to conclusions, you  might want to check your hip mobility and ankle flexibility.

Squatting with a heel makes sure your schins tilt more forward.This in effect causes your knees to  come forward more, which in effect decreases the need for your ankles to stretch.

The pictures below show exactly what I mean.

Powerlifting Squat Technique

As you can see wearing olympic shoes also increases the knee flexion angle. Just like with a high bar squat.

And just like with a high bar squat this increased knee flexion angle causes your torso to remain more upright. And to keep the bar exactly in the centre of gravity your knees will have to travel forward.

This in effect tends to make the squat more a knee extension movement than a hip extension movement.

If you have strong quads and you want to squat even more instantly? Then investing in a pair of olympic shoes might do the trick.

Just keep in mind that with a larger knee extension angle the shearing forces on the knee are much bigger. so there is also a slightly bigger chance of a knee injury. So be mindful of any slight knee annoyances you might get.

If your build allows for it then I’m convinced flat soled  shoes are the best option. Flat soled shoes will allow you to have a wide stance squat, and to create more tension in the hip extension muscles.

In the world of powerlifting there is 1 lifter that comes to mind that can squat wide with olympic shoes. His name is Dan Green. Only one of the best powerlifters of all time.

Dan Green

Let’s say Dan Green is the exception that proves the rule. You can argue powerlifting squat technique all day, but you can’t argue with the results Dan is producing.

Using a flat soled shoe will also make it harder for you to reach proper depth. And it isn’t exactly comfortable in the hole of the squat.

The difficulty to reach below parallel in the squat as required in the the IPF is why there aren’t many IPF powerlifters that squat with a flat soled shoe.

The End

This turned out to be quite the blog about powerlifting squat technique and how to squat properly. But I hope it was worth the effort and you got a ton of information from it.

If you want a shortcut to improve your squat RIGHT NOW then don’t forget to download your 1 page squat cheat sheet below.

(NOTE:  Want to build your own powerlifting program in just 5 simple steps? Yes… it’s really that simple! Get my personal simple 5 step formula here for free!)

Lifting is hard. We all need some opinions on our technique now and then…  And a squat form check can help. Click here to see some of the form checks I did for visitors of Powerlifting University.

If you enjoyed the Ultimate Guide To Powerlifting Squat Form blog post feel free to tag and share this with your friends. They will appreciate it.

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Author: Martijn Koevoets
Martijn is head honcho of Powerlifting University, a powerlifter, author, blogger, online coach & extreme metal aficionado. He also loves a good whiskey. He has been featured on websites like EliteFTS, JTSStrength, JMAX Fitness and more.

Get your hands on my cheat sheet for setting up training programs that took a 132lbs. skinny weakling from not being able to bench the bar to deadlifting 3x his own body weight and winning silver at the nationals.

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