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Why are barbell squats so hard? [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jan 10, 2019 12:05:45 AM

Why are barbell sqiats so hard?

Why are barbell squats so hard?

Barbell squats are hard when you lack tension and mobility. Build tension through the right setup and mobility through yoga and Cossack squats.

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What is your why


Before we go into the details of why barbell squats are so hard, let me ask you a couple of questions:


  • Why do you want to do barbell squats?
  • Why do you want to get stronger?
  • Why do you want to build muscle?
  • What happens when you do?
  • What happens when you don't?


While you might think that these questions are trivial, they are essential to your long-term success. Life will get in the way of your gains and long-term plans. Better have good reasons to stay focused and on track. Otherwise, your dreams will never be achieved and just fizzle out like so many others before. Most people go about their lives in this fashion:


  • What do I want
  • How do I get it 
  • Why do I want it

With this approach, you will be very reactionary. What you want on a daily basis is highly depending on your surroundings, mood, the season of the year and multiple other external factors. If you only look at what you want chances are, that you never will be really satisfied or feel fulfilled. If you switch this on its head, it becomes way more likely that you will be happy and successful:


  • Why do you want something?
  • How do you achieve it?
  • What do you need to do?


This way all of your actions and thoughts will be connected to your innermost sanctum. It will all make more sense and you will stay dedicated and motivated for longer. Most people drop out the race before even finishing. This will give you the edge and make you fulfil all your fitness desires. If you want to know how this works on a psychological basis read Daniel Kahneman's excellent book thinking fast and slow. If you are still not convinced watch Simon Sinek's TED talk on the magic circle. He makes a very compelling case telling the story of the Wright brothers.


For me personally, my self journal is also a great boost to the day. Planning your day and making 90-day commitments helps to stay on track. The positivity sections each morning en evening help you to remind yourself that everything is fine, even if you faced a lot of resistance during the day. 


Air squats


Most people will be better of starting with Air squats instead of barbell squats. 


Air squats are the normal squats you can do without any extras. Just find a free spot in your gym or home and start squatting.


There are many 30 day challenges out there to get a bubble butt. Go with those without any extra resistance to get the movement pattern right.


Keep your back straight and upright. Keep the heels on the ground. Squat as deep as you can without sacrificing form. 


Most beginners are. It able to squat to depth. If that is the case, work on your mobility. Yoga in the morning which focuses on the hips helps a lot. 


Developing an excellent squat takes years. Be patient with yourself. Move from the air squat to a goblet squat of the barbell is still too heavy for you. The progression is 


  • Air squat
  • Goblet squat 
  • Barbell squat


Depending on your age, weight and fitness level. Waiting is worth it as you will perform better on the barbell squat. 


Barbell squats


Barbell squats are great to build strength and balance. Ease into them. Beginners mostly find them hard to do. This is usually down to a lack of tension and mobility. Mobility takes time. Tension can be fixed easier. A lack of tension leads to more free movement of the bar on your back. That makes the movement harder. This should help: 


  1. Set up the bar at the right height 
  2. Place the hands as tight as you can 
  3. Get under the bar with aggression 
  4. Pull the bar around your back 


These are the steps in the setup that many beginners overlook. The more secure the setup the easier the lift becomes. 


A good way to make the barbell squat easier to set up the J cups at the right height for you. The best height is when you are able to unrack the bar by simply popping your hips forward. If you have to squat down you set it up too deep. If you can’t walk out comfortably without touching the J cups it is set up too high. 


The next thing is to put your hands as close together on the bar as you can while still being able to get under it. A good start is a thumb in from the knurling. Try to get closer together. The smaller you are the closer together your hands should be. Bigger lifters go wider. This should be slightly uncomfortable. 


The next step is to get under the bar with aggression. This does not need screaming and rattling the bar. Be focused and be the boss of the bar. The bar is made of steel and does not forgive being meek. Build tension and be ready to squat the weight. Your body should be like an iron rod, not like a spaghetti. 


After getting under the bar with aggression pop your hips forward to unrack the bar. Walk three steps back. Breathe out and then breathe back in. Pull the bar around you like a horseshoe. Build tension. 


With these steps, the squat usually gets easier and they are immediate fixes. Most beginners do not pay enough attention to these steps to be in full control of the bar. The result is a loss of control and marks on the back. Avoid it by keeping these steps in mind. 




Mobility is a tougher nut to crack. I personally neglected it for the first year I was squatting. I laid the price with a hernia and had to pause for two months. To avoid that you suffer the same fate I have two tips for you:


  • Yoga 
  • Cossack squats 


Yoga is a great way of opening up your hips and starting the day. I recommend two sessions form Boho beautiful to you. The first is the morning Yoga routine and the second is the hip opener routine. Together they take a bit longer than half an hour. I do them before I go to the gym at home. With these two routines, you will be squatting to depth in about 90 days unless you are heavily overweight. 


The second tip is Cossack squats. Cossack squats with lighter kettlebells will help your flexibility. They will also simulate the squat movement better than Yoga and prepare you to be explosive. This will help you to progress.


Why are barbell squats so hard


In most cases, barbell squats are hard because people rush into them. Too much weight too quick. The foundation work has not been done to do them properly. Do your stretches and build some strength with goblet squats first. Then commit to great barbell squats. 


Further reading

Can barbells help lose weight? [Article]

Which barbell for home gym from Rogue [Article, free download]

Which Rogue barbell to buy? [Article, Free download]

Topics: Lift stronger, Squat, Fitness, Strength