The squat is the most essential exercise you can do, whether you’re goal is athletic performance, aesthetics, or general health.

It simply requires the concerted effort of a large number of muscles in your body, and a number of muscle imbalances to be corrected, in order to be performed at a high level.

I struggled for years to get my form down. Here are what I believe be the top five mistakes people make when doing the barbell back squat.

1. The bar is too high or too low

This is the first thing you can do wrong. Depending on whether you’re doing a high bar or low bar squat, the bar’s position will vary.

The most common way to squat is olympic, or high bar, so I’ll focus on that. The bar should be placed on your upper traps, not your neck.

2. Your elbows flare back

Next, people often make the mistake of pointing their elbows backwards. This will encourage you to lean forward, which will lead to back pain.

Your elbows should point down to the ground, and your shoulder blades should be drawn back and pinched together. This will keep your chest upright.

3. Your breathing/abdominal tightness sucks

At the top, standing position you should inhale before you drop down. It should be a deep breath into your belly. As you inhale into your belly, you should simultaneously tighten your abs to create a lot of intra-abdominal pressure. This will keep your core tight.

Don’t breathe in as you drop down, you want the pressure increased beforehand. Do breathe out as you’re making your way back up, however.

4. Your weight isn’t on your heels

Your heels must remain in contact with the floor throughout the entire movement. If you roll onto your toes as you go down, then you need to work on your hip mobility before continuing to squat. Coming onto your toes will ruin your knees and effectively removes the hamstrings and glutes from the movement.

5. And of course, you don’t get low enough

You need to get to at least parallel. And parallel is what you see below. Going down lower is okay if you can tolerate it, but anything less is unacceptable. It will actually hurt your knees, and not to mention, not be close to as effective as squatting properly. Getting down that low should be easier with some of the tips above and also by improving your hip mobility.

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