Setting up for a big squat, especially if you’re looking to get a PB, is essential. If you set up correctly you’ll more likely achieve that big back squat you’re chasing. Think of it like you’re creating a foundation from which you’ll work from – if that foundation is weak, you could fail, but if it’s solid, you’ll give yourself the best chance possible.
The setup for a squat mainly has two phases: the unrack and the walkout. We take a closer look at what you need to do in these two phases.
During the unrack, you’ll approach the bar and lift it off the rack. Before you even touch the bar, getting your mindset right is vital. You need to have a clear and motivated attitude – you must know that you will get this weight and that you’ve worked hard for it. Practicing sports visualisation is a great tool to use in this regard.
Once you get to the bar, get your grip perfect. The best grip setup will be where your hands will grip the bar just outside of your shoulder width. Use a full grip and not a false grip (i.e. wrap your thumbs around the bar), and also keep your wrists as straight as possible. Once that has been done, you’ll want to maintain a tight grip and you’ll pull on the bar – this will force you to keep a tighter upper body and your chest up throughout the movement.
Once your grip is correct you’ll want to set up the bar on your back. You can either use a high bar or low bar setup position. With a low bar position, the bar will sit across your upper back, almost across your shoulder blades. With a high bar position, the bar rests at the bottom of your traps and near the top of your shoulders. Either are fine to use, and it really comes down to your personal preference and shoulder mobility.
Once you’ve got the bar on your shoulders and your grip is correct, you’ll want to keep a tight posture. You’ll pull the bar down and your shoulder blades towards each other. This will also engage your lats and push your chest upright. Your elbows should ideally face downwards and will be positioned alongside your torso – you’ll want to maintain that elbow position through the back squat – just make sure they do not point backwards.
Lastly, in this phase, you’ll take a big breath tighten your mid-line and lift the bar off the rack.
Now that the bar has been unracked you’ll want to get ready and squat – wasting little time so that you do not unnecessarily fatigue your working muscles and your central nervous system. Although you want to move quickly, you don’t want to rush at all – you could loose your good positioning and focus.
Take between two to three steps backwards from the rack. When taking these steps backwards you’ll also want to get into your squat stance (i.e. feet just outside of shoulder width and toes slight pointing outwards) – that means that in those two to three steps backwards, they’re not only backwards away from the rack, but also slightly outwards to get that squat stance. During this time you’ll have maintained that initial big breath and that tightness you established with your arms, shoulders and torso. Just before you attempt your squat you will take another big breath, tighten up again (i.e. tightening the abs and pulling the rib cage downwards) and then initiate the squat.
Your setup is not complete and from here you need to squat correctly and with your maximum strength. Read this great article on squat strength so that you perform a quality squat which you can be proud of.