The former Women’s Physique Olympia champion, Dana Linn Bailey, has offered her three tips to improve one’s back squat. On Feb. 14, 2023, Bailey celebrated Valentine’s Day by sharing ways athletes can better bias their glutes with a barbell squat, how she achieves better knee flexion during a squat session to get a better range of motion when training quads, and where her eyeline stays during each rep depending on the type of squat she’s doing.
In the video below, Bailey demonstrates the squat using the tricks that enabled her to improve how much weight she can load and the comfort she feels moving deeper into a squat. Check it out below, followed by a breakdown of each piece of advice:
[Related: Cydney Gillon’s Advice to Rookie Bodybuilders: “Love Yourself Before You Start a Sport That Is Subjective”]
High-Bar vs. Low-Bar Squats
Early in her bodybuilding journey in high school, Bailey learned to squat with the barbell in what would be considered a “high-bar” position, meaning the bar sits on the rear delts as they’re packed together to create a pseudo-shelf. This is an effective way to set up a squat. However, it has pros and cons depending on the athlete’s goals.
Since high-bar squats situate the barbell higher on the back, the torso can remain further upright when dropping into the hole. This garners more knee flexion and, therefore, a more lengthened quad. Since the quads will reach their fully lengthened position through the movement, a high-bar squat is a great way to train them. On the flip side, it is less effective at building the glutes.
Low-bar squats position the barbell lower on the back, pinning it underneath the rear delts. With the barbell in this lower starting position, it compels the lifter to hip hinge more so that the center of mass stays aligned over the middle of the feet — the barbell’s path remains the same in both high-bar and low-bar variations.
Since the torso is tilted farther forward with a low-bar squat, the knees will achieve less flexion, but the hips with achieve greater flexion. Since the hip joint moves into more flexion, the glutes stretch farther at the bottom of the squat. As was the case with the quads in a high-bar squat, the glutes trained through their full range of motion with a low-bar squat will bias them more.
Not everyone has the requisite calf or ankle mobility to effectively train through their full range of motion in a barbell back squat. Without fixing that lack of mobility, gains are likely left on the table, as hypertrophy will improve when muscles work through their fully lengthened and contracted positions.
In Bailey’s case, she struggles with tight calves. A remedy for that is heel elevation. Bailey recommends lifting shoes designed with an elevated heel, but a wedge or a pair of weight plates under the heel of flat shoes can also do the trick.
By elevating the heel, the need for the ankle to flex as far or the calves to stretch beyond one’s comfort zone is remedied without limiting the amount of knee flexion one can achieve. As previously mentioned, more knee flexion means a more lengthened quad and, therefore, more gains.
Eyeline For Neutral Spine
Many athletes, including a young Bailey, used a cue of spotting while performing the squat. This is done by isolating a focal point to maintain one’s gaze throughout a rep. This can help with balance but should be used with necessary adaptations.
The goal is to maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the lift. For example, in a high-bar squat, the torso is more upright, which allows the lifter’s gaze to remain more parallel to the ground. However, in a low-bar squat, maintaining that same eyeline could hinder the lift since there is more hip hinge in the starting position.
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Featured image: @danalinnbailey on Instagram