Squats are probably the most important part of any lifting program, right next to pull-ups. The only problem is that not very many people like to do them because they feel awkward and they aren’t very useful unless you do them properly.
First off, form is the most important part of the lifts, like every other lift, because it allows you to prevent injuries and helps to build the muscles properly. Most rookies to squatting will go straight down and then straight back up. This form will allow you to get the weight back up, but it is not the proper way to do it.
The proper way to squat is to bend your hips and arch your back to move backwards instead of straight down. In other words, you have to stick your butt out as far as you can and you will naturally lower. Your shins have to be perpendicular with the ground and you should feel like you are about to fall over when you are at the bottom of the squat.
The best way to prevent yourself from falling over is to stay on your heels and not your toes when squatting. This allows you to have a push off power when you begin to go back up. With more power you will naturally be able to lift more weight.
It is best to wear flat shoes, if you wear shoes at all. Having a large heel, like in running shoes, allows your ankle to bend when you give your push off. This will cause ankle problems in the long run and it will make your push off ten to twenty pounds weaker.
The bar should be in a comfortable spot on the top of your back. If you don’t know where that spot is, then use a low weight and focus on getting the bar in the right place while you squat. After you have the right placement, it helps to exert some sort of force on the bar with your arms while you perform the squat. Pulling it down seems to be the most beneficial for me, but it also risks that I might actually pull the bar down to low on my back.
The purpose of putting a force on the bar is that it flexes you upper body muscles. When every muscle in your body has to work during a lift, it becomes a full body lift and is instantly more beneficial to you.
By doing all three of these tips and techniques while squatting, you will see faster gains in both muscle mass and strength. Remember that it all starts with technique and that you should never sacrifice technique to go up in weight. The better you get at squats, the more they grow on you.