Back Squat, Pin Squat
- Reinforces proper squat lifting patterns / improves squat technique.
- Builds strength at targeted points in the squat's range of motion.
Although the pin squat can be used to improve your lifting technique and develop the lifting pattern, it is important that you are well versed in proper squat technique. The back squat is covered in excruciating detail in my back squat technique page. The discussion here will not cover the squat technique end to end, but will focus on the key points necessary to perform the pin squat.
- Primary Muscle Groups: Quadriceps, Adductors
- When using full range of motion, and a lower bar position, glutes and hamstrings can be considered primary movers as well.
- Secondary Muscle Groups: Glutes, Hamstrings
- When performing partial range of motion, and/or higher bar position glutes and hamstrings can be considered secondary movers.
- Stabilizers: Abdominals/Core, Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius), Lower Back (Spinal Erectors), Abductors
- Depending on your training goals and program design, it is acceptable to use pin squats as a primary squat movement.
With the exception of a dead stop on the safety pins, pin squats are executed exactly like your competition/normal squat, thus my recommendation to brush up on your squat technique before digging into this instruction.
Here is what you need to know to effectively incorporate pin squats into your training.
Pin squat equipment requirements are identical to competition squat requirements (bar, plates, belt, t-shirt, squat shoes), with one key addition: a power cage or squat rack with adjustable safety bars (if you're not already using them).
- Power Cage/Squat Rack - A power cage with safety pins, or a squat rack with adjustable safety bars are required. The safeties need to be adjustable to the desired depth:
- Below parallel/competition depth - by setting the pins at competition depth, you can use pin squats to reinforce the squat pattern throughout the full ROM of a competition squat (below parallel). Because you come to a dead stop on the pins and must overcome it push back up, this setting can help build power out of the bottom of the squat.
- Weak spot in the ROM - setting the pins at the weak point in your ROM or a bit lower can help you build power at that point. You not only have to overcome the dead stop, you take away assistance that the stretch reflex provides from the bottom of a normal squat.
- High pins - Above the sticking point (normally just above parallel) your mechanical advantage grows as you near the top. By setting the pins in this range you can overload the weight using pin squats.
- Bar Placement - Bar placement should match your normal position for the lift, whether it be high bar or low bar.
- Hand/Foot/Head Position - It is important that your body position mirrors your competition or normal squat technique. Because one key benefit you get from pin squats is to reinforce your lifting pattern, it is critical that you position yourself exactly as you do with your regular squat.
If you set up effectively, the bar can feel exceptionally light coming out of the rack. On the other hand, if you have a poor setup the weight can feel down right oppressive. Because of this, I spend a great deal of time discussing proper setup for the squat in my discussion of squat technique (Sensing a trend?).
- Just as with your normal squats, once you are set, re-tighten your body in preparation for your squat:
- Pull your shoulder blades down firmly to tighten the entire upper back.
- Spread the floor with your feet. Push out against the floor and the outer edges of your shoes to create tension from the outside of your hips all the way down to the floor. This helps you open your hips as you squat, and give you greater stability throughout the full ROM.
- Breath and brace hard to create intra-abdominal pressure, and a tight core.
One of the main reasons you should be adding pin squats to your program is to fine tune your technique. Even if you're using pin squats to build power at a weak point, you are squandering that advantage if you do not maintain proper body position at the point you are emphasizing. For these reasons, it is important that you maintain perfect lift technique when you perform pin squats. You should find, though, that breaking the eccentric from the concentric portion of the lift with the dead stop allows you to focus more closely on the technique during each part of the lift.
Technique for a pin squat is identical to a normal back squat, with the following key points:
- The most important aspects of pin squat technique is that you maintain proper body position throughout the range of motion for every rep
- Knees should track in the direction of your feet; with a normal squat stance your toes will be pointed slightly outward. By pushing out against the outsides of your shoes to 'spread the floor', you create tension in the gluteus medius which creates stability, and helps you to open up your hips and keep your knees tracking properly.
- Your hip/back angle should gradually grow more acute as you approach the pins, just as it would during your squat decent. Maintain this same angle as you push up off the pins and until your hips pass parallel, then drive your hips forward hard. This is one of the most important technique points of this lift - don't let your hips rise and your chest fall as you come off the pins. If you cannot maintain that angle and exert all of your force upward against the bar you need to decrease the weight.
- The bar should move down to the pins and back up in a straight line, as if it were on rails. Concentrate on keeping that line directly over your center of gravity (over your shoe laces, as I like to say).
Note: It's been my experience that if you get your feet in the right position for your build, keep your hips from shooting back as you come back up, and keep the bar in a straight line over your shoe-laces, you will have a very good squat technique.
- Your descent should have normal squat tempo, good speed downward with a light touch on the safety bars. Don't anticipate hitting the bars and slow/stop early, but don't crash into them either.
- Come to a complete stop on the bars, but do not loosen up. Maintain full body tension and strong bracing.
- After a complete stop on the safety bars, drive back up explosively.
- As you hit the pins and stop, retain your full body tightness, hip/back angle; stay in contact with the bar with some upward tension.
- Drive your elbows forward and push out hard against the floor to maintain your hip/back angle as you push up off the pins, then force your hips forward. The bar and your hips should rise at the same rate as you come up off the pins.
- Unless you use the high pin position for overloading, your load should be less than a full squat, due to the dead stop. I like to start at 90% of the load I would use for a normal squat (note this is not 90% of your 1RM), then adjust as necessary.
- Bouncing the bar off the pins - Always allow the bar to come to a complete stop before beginning the concentric portion of the lift.
- Bar path not straight up and down - A major function of the pin squat is to improve squat technique. The best way to do that is to concentrate on keeping the bar path in a direct line over the center of your feet.
- Improper body position - Avoid excessive lean; keep the back flat and chest up throughout the full ROM.
- Hips rising ahead of the bar - Push out against the floor keeping your knees out and thrust your hips forward as you start back up to prevent them from shifting back and up ahead of the bar.
- Review other mistakes common to squats
- Stay tight when stopped on the pins prior to driving back up. Allowing your supporting muscle groups (upper and lower back, core) to loosen before coming up off the pins can put your lower back in a compromising position.
- Use restraint when squatting to high bars to overload the lift. You can use this technique to over-reach and prepare your body and CNS to hit heavier weights, but don't use it as an ego lift. Don't put more weight on the bar than your body, joints and ligaments are prepared to manage.
- Review other commons safety concerns for squats.
- As discussed you can vary the pin height to present different stimuli and change the training effect.
- Different squat variations can also be used for pin squats: high bar, low bar, different stances, etc.