From July until the end of September, CrossFit Prototype will be posting a blog per week as part of our Accessory Series. These blog posts will review 1 of the 13 CFP foundational movements (Air Squat, Back Squat, Front Squat, Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Pull-Up, Overhead Press, Push Press, Push Jerk, Clean, Snatch & Rowing) and provide tips on accessory exercises to help improve that area of your CrossFit game.

By Joe Black (USAW-L1SP, CF-L2)
The back squat is sometimes referred to as the “King of Exercises” and for good reason. When you squat with a loaded barbell on your back, it is necessary to recruit nearly all of the muscles in your body to support the weight and hold the position of your body as you squat down and stand up.
For the squat being such a common movement in CrossFit, it made me wonder about the history of the squat. And that history is awesome.
Some historians have identified the squat being used as an exercise for quad development as far back as 1894, during a time when Eugene Sandow, known as the first bodybuilder, recommended its use for physical development. At the time, the squat was done with light dumbbells.
It wasn’t until 30+ years later that a German-born strongman and wrestler, Milo Steinborn, figured out a way to heavily load the squat by tilting a loaded barbell onto his back, squat for reps, then tip it back over on its side and off his back. He was able to lift up to 500# this way!

Steinborn used the squat for strength training but it was Paul Anderson who took it to the next level. Anderson was the strongest man in the world by most measures of the day. He was clean and jerking 400# at a time when 330# was the world record. At the 1956 Olympics, he clean and jerked 413.5# with an inner-ear infection and a 103 degree fever. Anderson trained the squat in many different ways, using wagon wheels and 55-gallon drums as instruments to load his squat and working different ranges of motion. Most impressively, he had unheard of squat numbers for the time: a 930# official squat in 1965 and a 1,200# training squat!
Anderson is most famous for popularizing the squat as a standalone exercise for strength development. Bodybuilders in the 60s and 70s, most notably Tom Plantz, further popularized the squat for leg development, using it to build massive legs, which influenced generations of fitness enthusiasts for decades to come.
If you’ve been on Facebook or Instagram lately, and follow any fitness professional or business, you have undoubtedly seen some very impressive squat videos. Further proof that the squat really is king.
The squat is a natural movement, something we all did as children when we went to pick something off the ground. Some cultures use the squat as their default rest position. Most adults tend to stop squatting as they get older yet you buck this trend – we squat ALL THE TIME when we CrossFit.

How to Back Squat


It is beneficial to use a high-bar back squat for CrossFit training because the position of your torso (more upright) translates over to a lot of the squat-related movements done in CrossFit.

  1. Place the barbell on the top of your shoulder blades, then push your traps up against the bar to create a cushion and solid area to hold the weight.
  2. Your elbows are neutral, meaning they are placed directly under the barbell. You can play around with your hand placement to find a comfortable width that allows for neutral elbows.
  3. Look straight ahead or slightly above the horizon. Keep your spine neutral and “brace” your stomach like someone is going to punch you.
  4. Keeping the weight in your mid-foot, start by bending your knees forward and pushing your hips back – at the same time – and control your descent (which loads your quads and glutes) with your knees tracking over your toes. Squat down as far as you can while maintaining good posture.
  5. Rise faster than you descend, only if you are able to maintain good positioning.


Accessory Exercises to Improve Your Back Squat

There is no better way to improve your back squat other than back squatting more often. This means that you work on squatting with the goal of improving your technique and positioning and NOT worrying about the weight on the bar! 
These exercises below are great additions to squatting more often:

Pause Squats

Pause squats are performed by pausing in the bottom position of your squat. Pausing 3-5 seconds in the bottom of your squat will help strengthen your bottom position and help you get comfortable in that positions while you maintain tightness throughout your body and good posture. Use pause squats while you are warming up for your squats.


Bulgarian Split Squats

The quads are one of the main muscle groups used in the squat and the BSS helps directly improve your quad strength. Start with the top of one foot resting on a bench and your other foot out in front of your body, like you are in a lunge. To really target the quads, you want to set up so that your knee goes past your toes at the bottom of the movement. The BBS can be done at bodyweight, with dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides or with a barbell on your back or front rack. Try doing 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps, focusing on driving up with your quads.


Hip Thrusts

The other major muscle group used in the squat are your glutes and the hip thrust is known as one of the best exercises for gluteal activation. You will put your back on a bench so that the bottom of your shoulder blades becomes the hinge point. Keep your gaze straight ahead the entire time, with your chin and ribs tucked down. Push through the heels and rise to full extension of your hip. Squeeze your butt for a 1-2 second count and slowly lower to the ground. Try doing 2-3 sets of 15 reps at your bodyweight before moving on to loading the movement with a barbell.