The pin squat is a variation of the conventional back squat that is most often seen in remedial or specialized powerlifting programs - mostly due to its capacity to remedy sticking points in said conventional back squat.
Due to the technicality of this particular movement, intermediate or novice lifters may be unfamiliar with how it is performed and the specific details that the pin squat can entail.
In concise terms, the pin squat is a variation of the back squat where the lifter will shorten their range of motion intentionally through the careful placement of adjustable rack pins, thereby preventing the lifter from sinking to a pre-specified depth.
Pin squats are a leg-focused compound resistance exercise that makes use of a barbell and adjustable barbell rack in order to produce muscular hypertrophy in the lower body - or as a method of remedying issues in a lifter’s conventional squat form.
During the pin squat, the lifter will execute a standard barbell back squat, lowering themselves during the eccentric portion until the pins of the rack arrest their movement, thereby forcing them to come to a full stop above their usual squat depth.
This presents several advantages over other squat variations, with the most common being that the lifter will learn to develop explosive force at certain points of the squat movement - potentially fixing any sticking points and improving general athletic capabilities.
Though pin squats work the entirety of the lower body with each repetition, not every muscle group is recruited to the same extent - with some taking on more important and demanding roles, while others are relegated to only an isometric capacity, of which are fittingly named stabilizer muscles.
Apart from the stabilizer muscle groups, muscles recruited during the pin squat are subsequently referred to as secondary and primary mover muscles, with primary mover muscles contracting to the greatest extent while secondary mover muscles are only recruited in a secondary fashion.
The primary mover muscles involved in the pin squat are that of the quadriceps femoris and gluteus muscles, both of which are responsible for the majority of the force throughout the movement.
One may notice that the hamstrings - of which are normally primary mover muscles during squat movements - are not listed here.
This is simply because of the reduced range of motion involved in the pin squat, relegating them to a lesser role instead.
The secondary mover muscles of the pin squat are that of the various hamstring muscles, the hip flexors and those of the calves - each of which play a role in stabilizing the movement and contributing some measure of force throughout the pin squat.
Occasionally, for pin squats with the depth set particularly high, the gluteus muscles may be relegated to a secondary mover muscle role as well, of which is a direct consequence of insufficient squat depth.
The stabilizer muscles of the pin squat are the same as practically every other squat variation; that of the abdominals, the erector spinae, the hip flexors and the lower back.
Each of these muscles ensures that the exerciser’s body remains in a secure and stable position, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
They do so by way of isometric contraction, meaning that there is no significant elongation or shortening of the muscle fibers, instead making micro-contractions that aid the primary and secondary mover muscles in producing force.
To prepare for a set of pin squats, the lifter must first set the pins of their rack to the appropriate elevation according to their needs.
For powerlifters or similar lifters wishing to remedy a particular sticking point in their form, placing the pins at an elevation that is just below this sticking point is the most effective approach.
Otherwise, for individuals performing the pin squat for its general benefits (apart from technique work), it is best to set the pins at an elevation that allows the lifter to reach approximately parallel depth at the bottom of their squat repetition.
Finally, for exercisers choosing to perform the pin squat due to poor mobility or pain from a previous injury, it is best to set the pins somewhat higher than the depth that aggravates their symptoms, simply as a precaution.
Unlike in the regular squat, the barbell of the pin squat should be resting on these safety bars or rack pins instead of the ordinary hooks of the rack. This will ensure that the movement begins with an initial push upwards instead of the lifter lowering themselves.
To begin performing the pin squat, the lifter will position themselves beneath the bar with their feet approximately hip-width apart and their core braced tightly, resulting in a neutral lower back curve and their chest pushing outwards.
Shouldering the barbell and stepping into the clear space of the rack if needed, the lifter will then rise to a fully upright position by pushing downwards through their heels, extending their knees and squeezing the glutes in a slow and controlled manner.
Once the lifter has reached a point of full leg extension, they will then transition to the eccentric portion of the pin squat.
After completing the concentric portion of the pin squat, the lifter will begin the descending or eccentric portion of the movement, wherein they will lower themselves back down to the elevation set by the pins.
Engaging their glutes and ensuring their core remains tight, they will slowly bend at the knees and hips until the bar makes contact with the pins of the rack.
This should immediately show if the lifter possesses any errors in their form symmetry, as one side of the bar will touch the pins before the other - thereby indicating that the lifter must reexamine their squat form.
Once the barbell has returned to its original position on the pins, a single repetition of the pin squat has been completed.
Among one of the most important benefits of the pin squat is its effectiveness as a squat technique development tool, wherein it acts both as a diagnostic for form errors and as a method of remedying specific weaknesses in the lifter’s squat mechanics.
This can carry over to a more optimal squat bar path, more consistent squat strength, greater squat depth and a number of other improvements relating to the performance of the conventional back squat.
Even in cases where the pin squat is meant to function as an entirely separate exercise on its own, it is capable of placing significant lengths of time under tension on the quadriceps and gluteus muscles of the legs, resulting in excellent development.
Furthermore, the pin squat is performed in reverse when compared to other squat variations, allowing lifters to perform the concentric portion of the movement prior to the eccentric portion.
The clearest disadvantage of the pin squat is in its reduced range of motion, which will alienate the full contraction of certain muscle groups and reduce stretching of the muscular fascia.
While this disadvantage is somewhat mitigated by the full stop between the eccentric and concentric phases, it is nonetheless a factor that leads many lifters to only use pin squats as an accessory exercise instead of the main compound leg movement of their workout.
In addition, the pin squat may feel somewhat unnatural to lifters that are more used to performing the ordinary back squat, as the order of concentric and eccentric muscular contraction is reversed during the pin squat.
This can lead to the lifter having trouble balancing the bar atop their back at the start of the repetition, especially if the exercise begins at an elevation that is also their sticking point during the conventional squat.
The pin squat is usually loaded at the same weight as the working load of the conventional squat, if not more so as to improve upon the lifter’s rate of force development.
In terms of volume, the pin squat is most often performed between 5 and 8 repetitions per set, though powerlifters and athletes specifically performing it as a technique tool may wish to decrease the volume so as to maximize the amount of weight that is moved.
Yes - one of the few variations of the pin squat available is that of a front pin squat.
This allows lifters to practice the explosiveness of their front squat, isolate their quadriceps muscles even further, or otherwise remedy an issue with their front squat execution.
Whether or not pin squats are more difficult to perform than the conventional squat is up to the lifter’s own muscular force production capacity.
Lifters who are particularly adept at producing explosive force from their lower body will find that pin squats are in fact easier than conventional squats, whereas lifters with less potential for explosive power will find them to be more difficult instead.
Pin squats are indeed safer than other squat variations - both because the lifter does not place as much shear force on the knee joint, and also because the lifter can safely “dump” the barbell in the event that they fail a repetition.
While this difference in risk of injury is only incremental at best, pin squats are nonetheless considered a safer alternative to the conventional back squat for individuals with a history of injury or poor lower body mobility.
Now that we’ve covered the technicalities of the pin squat, you can safely add it to your strength training routine as a way of building lower body explosiveness - or as part of a powerlifting program in order to maximize your competition squat total.
As always, ensure that proper form is followed and that your performance of the pin squat is in accordance with safe exercise methodology. If unsure, it is best to consult with a certified athletic coach.
1. Bazyler, Caleb & Sato, Kimitake & Wassinger, Craig & Lamont, Hugh & Stone, Michael. (2014). The Efficacy of Incorporating Partial Squats in Maximal Strength Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association. 28. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000465.
2. Korak, Adam & Paquette, Max & Fuller, Dana & Caputo, Jennifer & Coons, John. (2018). Effect of a rest-pause vs. traditional squat on electromyography and lifting volume in trained women. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 118. 10.1007/s00421-018-3863-6.