The squat walkout is an often overlooked, but fundamental, piece of executing the lift in the most effective way possible.
How do you perform a squat walkout? A squat walkout starts by unracking the weight with a braced core and tight back. Once unracked the walkout can be broken down into 3 distinct steps: the drag step, the width step and the corrective step, after which you should end up in your preferred squat stance.
Although the squat walkout is simple, it should not be mistaken as easy. When done correctly it will not only make you physically prepared for the lift, but it will also instill confidence because the bar will physically feel lighter on your back if the right amount of tension is harnessed before the walkout even begins.
It’s a common area of improvement, especially among beginners; however, more experienced lifters may also benefit from re-evaluating their habits because the last thing you need is to compromise your performance due to a weak walkout.
In this article, I’ll go through how to properly execute a good walkout, including what should come before and after, as well as 7 common mistakes you may be making that could make a significant difference for you.
Why Should You Care About The Squat Walkout?
You should care about a squat walkout for the same reason you should care about a house’s foundation. An unstable or sloppy walkout easily translates to a bad squat or one that feels heavier than it should.
A rushed and really poorly executed walkout can even go so far as to increase your chance of injury, meaning it is imperative you are focused and in full control the entire time.
Finally, there are multiple steps that come both before and after the walkout which means there are multiple opportunities for mistakes. However, with enough consistent practice, executing a good squat walkout will become like second nature.
If you find yourself losing balance during the squat walkout, then check out my other article on Losing Balance While Squatting: 10 Tips To Fix.
How To Perform The Squat Walkout
A good squat walkout begins before you’ve even unracked the bar.
The following should occur before you are ready to unrack and initiate the walkout:
- Grab the bar shoulder width apart and wedge yourself under the bar while tightening your back to make a “shelf” for the bar to sit in either the high or low bar position. To ensure maximal tightness you want to pull the bar down and into your back so there is equal force coming from from both under and from the top of the barbell. You may want to also adjust your grip at this point by sliding your hands closer to your body.
- Set your feet directly under your hips so once you unrack you are standing straight up with the bar over the middle of your foot.
- Brace your core to prepare for the load you’re about to place on your back. This means taking a deep belly breath and creating 360 degrees of tension around your core.
Now, with your feet, core and back engaged, you are ready to stand up with the weight and initiate the 3 step walkout which includes a drag step, a width step and a corrective step:
- The drag step is initiated by engaging your dominant leg and creating a stable base, while dragging your non-dominant leg behind you. You will need to drag the foot back about the distance of the length of your own foot.
Some people find their legs shaking as they walk out the barbell. If that’s you, then check out my article on Why Do My Legs Shake When I Squat?
- The width step is the second step and is done with your dominant foot which stabilized you during the drag step. This step, as the name implies, determines your squat stance width; therefore, have it land so your feet are as wide as you will need them to be in order to squat.
- The corrective step is your final opportunity to have everything feel just right. You can now adjust the foot that did the drag step to ensure the width and overall foot positioning is perfect.
Ready to initiate the squat now? Not yet!
Before dropping straight into your squat you will want to let out some air and then re-brace your core to ensure you are ready to withstand the weight with full tension. In addition to bracing your core you should also let the bar settle. This means holding still for a couple seconds and letting the bar come to a complete stop on your back.
Takeaway: The walkout itself should be reduced to only 3 steps; however, when it comes to a truly foolproof walkout you have to consider both the steps that come before and after. And while you may see slight variations between lifters you’ll notice those with the most experience are all, in the end, creating full body tension while taking the least amount of steps possible to get to their start position.
For more great cues to use in the squat, check out my other article on 9 Squat Cues To Improve Technique.
7 Mistake Lifters Make When Doing A Squat Walkout
The 7 common mistakes lifters make are:
1. Not getting tight before unracking the weight
Squeezing, or engaging, your upper back while applying force both down into your back with the bar is crucial before unracking. This action sets your lats and stabilizes the bar into place.
If your body isn’t actively creating tension, you will feel like you’re being crushed physically and mentally before the walkout even begins. Beyond compromising your true physical strength, a lack of confidence often translates to hesitation which can lead to slip ups in technique with both the walkout and eventually, the squat.
Read more how powerlifters train their back muscles.
2. Poor foot position when unracking
Your feet are what support your entire body and so their position as you unrack can make or break how well you walk out. Unracking should be as simple as standing straight up with the weight.
Before you stand with the barbell you need to make sure your feet are under your hips and your body is perpendicular (90 degrees) to the ground. If your feet are even a couple inches behind you, it will cause a slight tilting forward. This tilt will result in an inefficient walkout and squat.
In addition, your foot position may be to blame if you find you hit the rack as you step back. If this occurs, your feet may be too wide in the unrack position so that the drag step shifts your centre of gravity too far left or right. In this case, bring your feet in a couple inches.
3. Not letting the bar settle
Not letting the bar settle can easily be overlooked since it looks like you’re not really doing anything. But that’s exactly it, you’re waiting for the bar to stop moving.
After your walkout you will have just put hundreds of pounds in motion and the bar may still be recovering from that motion and moving around a little bit. Just remember to be patient and give yourself a couple seconds to let the bar become completely still before you descend down into your squat. This will save you the headache of lifting against a barbell that is moving in any direction that isn’t straight up.
4. Taking too many steps
Taking too many steps back is a waste of valuable energy. It may not be apparent when using lighter weights but this habit will have greater consequences as you get stronger and start increasing intensity.
I’ve noticed novices and beginners will take multiple drag steps followed by multiple width steps followed by a number of corrective twists before they finally decide everything is in place.
This is likely occurring because you aren’t being intentional with your walkout. Each move you make after unracking the weight should have its purpose and shouldn’t feel random. The less strength you use before the squat, the more you have left for the squat.
5. Walking too far back from the rack
Being too far from the rack may be a sign that you’re wasting energy or you’re putting yourself at risk of losing too much tension.
This is similar to taking too many total steps, but it could also be the result of taking steps with too big of a stride. Try to keep your stride no longer than the length of your own foot.
In addition, you don’t want to have to walk a mile to re-rack the weight after a difficult set and also, depending on the rack, this mistake may also land you outside of the range of the safeties and put you at risk for an accident.
6. Not breathing and bracing properly
A strong brace is made up of a deep breath into your stomach to create intra-abdominal pressure, followed by a 360 degree expansion to create a rigid core ready for impact.
Just because you aren’t squatting during a walkout doesn’t mean your body isn’t lifting a weight up, therefore, it still requires a proper bracing and breathing technique.
Ideally you should be bracing before you unrack the weight and holding that brace throughout your walkout. Once you have found your stance, let out a small exhale, after which you can re-initiate another brace to prepare you for the squat.
Don’t find your core strong enough to hold your brace? Check out my article on the 9 Best Ab Exercises For Powerlifters.
7. Staring down at your feet
The act of looking down increases your chances of hunching your upper back, not maximizing tightness, losing tension as you walk back, as well as leading to some elbow flaring.
This is a habit beginners may get into to make sure their feet “look right,” whereas I have found non-beginners may also do this to help them “zone in.”
However, if you’re preoccupied by how your feet look throughout your walkout you may be unknowingly releasing tension in both your back and your core. So by the time you are ready to squat you feel like a limp noodle.
Beginners should start practicing the walkout based on what feels right rather than what looks right, and only relying on a quick glance. For those doing it for psychological reasons, try keeping your head up but focusing on a point off into the distance.
Check out my article on Should Your Toes Be Pointing In Or Out While Squatting.
How To Train Your Squat Walkout
Training the squat walkout is different to training a muscle or compound movement as there aren’t a roster of exercises to help you transfer the skill.
However, the good news is that every single squat you do will likely include a walkout, meaning there are ample opportunities to practice creating a consistent walkout.
So whether you’re squatting 45lbs or 445lbs, go through all the proper cues, get just as tight, and take no more than 2-3 steps to get into position. It’s important to treat every single set, including warm-ups, with the same level of respect as your top sets.
Aside from just taking time to practice with all your sets, you may also want to add heavy squat walkouts into your program.
This means loading up the bar with weights above 90% to over 100% of your one rep max to help practice getting the right level of tension to unrack and walk out with control.
This may be helpful for lifters who normally have a good walkout that breaks down when the weight on the bar becomes very heavy.
I think the squat walkout and set up is the most underrated aspect to building a good squat. It’s unfortunately overlooked or we let ourselves continue bad habits but, at the end of the day, how can you expect a quality lift with a rushed set up?
Deciding to make the quality of your walkout a priority won’t even add any extra exercises to your current program. It only asks that you spend a few extra mindful moments during your sets to ensure everything is in place as you unrack, while stepping back and in the moments before you initiate the squat.
You may be surprised by the difference a little patience can make.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.