A great squat is made of much more than simply hitting your prescribed reps for a set.
Sure, executing perfect reps is important for training adaptations, however, there’s a case to be made for the importance of the un-racking, walkout, and re-racking process. It may not be glaringly apparent to beginners, but squat walkouts can be an absolute make or break for well-executed sets. Mastery of your squat walkout comes with three major benefits including:
- Consistency with various sets, reps, and loads.
- Mental confidence at heavier weights.
- Primer for bracing and the body’s nervous system.
There’s really no perfect one-size-fits-all squat walkout, but there are string of cues that will resonate with you best. Below, we’ve built out five steps to mastering the squat walkout, and hopefully some of the steps below can be adapted and integrated into your current squat walkout process!
Step 1: Assess Grip Width
The Goal: Finding a grip width that allows you to pack the lats and maintain a strong, stable upper back posture without elbow flare or extreme discomfort.
How-To: Pack your lats, traps, and upper back, then grip the bar as narrow as possible. Feel if this is a realistic width to perform reps with, generally, you do not want to force a width that causes shoulder, elbow, wrist discomfort. Once you find a width that is comfortable and allows your torso to remain contracted, make a mental note as to where your hands are at on the bar.
Tip: If you lift in a commercial gym or niche gym, then it’s always a good idea to use similar bars, as their knurling rings will be consistent and allow you to easily nail your grip width every time.
Step 2: Place the Bar
The Goal: Moving the barbell into a position that is comfortable and in-line with the style of squat you’re aiming to perform (high-bar vs. low-bar).
How-To: High-bar squats will usually have the barbell lay across the traps, while low-bar squats will have the barbell positioned across the rear delts. Everyone’s bar position will be slightly different based on preferences, squat style, and mobility.
While there will be vast differences across everyone’s bar placement, a consistent that should run true for everyone is maintaining a braced torso no matter the barbell’s placement. If mid-set the torso is losing tightness, or the placement is causing a ton of discomfort, then it may be time to re-work placement or pre-squat upper body mobility work.
Tip: Let your bar placement be dictated by your training goals. For example, if you’re looking to simply improve leg development, then opting for high-bar squats are often a great bet, and if you plan to compete in powerlifting, or eventually want to, then familiarizing one’s self with low-bar will be a better bet.
Step 3: Dial In the Feet
The Goal: Establishing a consistent foot positioning that allows an even un-rack.
How-To: For most lifters, a parallel foot position will serve them best when first getting under the bar and un-racking squats. This allows lifters to brace evenly and achieve their positioning before physically lifting the weight. A parallel foot positioning is also great for ensuring an even starting position when beginning the physical walkout portion of the squat set.
Tip: Play around with foot positions in warm-ups and integrate new methods on lighter days. Some lifters like a slight stagger with their foot, while others prefer parallel.
Step 4: Hips Under and Brace
The Goal: Creating a harmonious un-rack that primes the body and boosts confidence before walking the weight out.
How-To: Once you’ve established your grip width, bar placement, and foot positioning, brace by contracting the lats, pulling the bar down onto the back, and getting the hips under the bar. Ideally, the bar will be in-line with the mid-foot when undergoing this process.
By lining the bar up with the mid-foot, the hips can come under the bar more comfortably and you can begin to “feel the weight” on your back. Essentially, doing this correctly is a great method for boosting confidence and ensuring the torso is properly braced for moving a prescribed load.
Tip: When bracing and moving into your walkout, avoid breathing into the chest, as this can move the bar. Think: “Breathe into the belly and brace that internal pressure into the obliques and abdomen.”
Step 5: 3-Step Walkout
The Goal: Building a consistent 3-step squat walkout that can be used during every training session.
- Brace and un-rack the weight.
- Step back roughly 2-3 feet (let your height and rack dictate the length) with the foot that you normally plant when kicking a ball. So if you’re right footed when kicking a ball, then you’d step back with your left foot first. I prefer using this foot first because it’s used to being planted in athletic settings, and is often the more stable leg in unilateral positions.
- Ground that first foot, then step back with the second foot an even amount so each of the feet are in-line (or very close to being in-line) with one another.
- Take a third baby step with the first foot that you stepped back with to achieve an even stance, and to screw the feet into the floor.
For the example above, if you’re right footed when kicking a ball, then your sequence would go as follows: left foot steps back, right foot steps back an even amount, then the left foot takes a third baby step to evenly align with the right.
Tip: Be conservative with the steps and avoid putting the body into positions where the barbell feels unbalanced. The goal is to create an even stance while maintaining consistent, braced postures. If tightness is being lost, then re-work the length of the steps taken.
Are these five steps the only way to walkout squats? Not at all.
What’s most important with strong squat walkouts is consistency. If you can create consistency with your walkout and build a set of cues that work for you, then you have a better chance at boosting confidence heading into sets, and this is especially important for athletes like powerlifters who will be walking squats out in competition!