Troubleshooting the Low-Bar Squat

Troubleshooting the Low-Bar Squat

The squat is likely one of the most simple human actions and calls upon the physique’s largest muscle mass, together with your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. There are totally different variations of the squat, however in barbell coaching, two varieties are the commonest: the high-bar squat and the low-bar squat. 

Which one you select will rely in your strength-training targets. I’m a fan of the low-bar squat since it really works extra muscle mass within the posterior chain, i.e., the “chain” of muscle mass that run up the again of the physique. More muscle utilization = extra weight moved. What’s extra, as a result of the low-bar squat requires you to bend over through the squat, you’ll even be working your decrease again muscle mass. 

While the low-bar squat can get you sturdy, it’s not an intuitive approach to squat. Consequently, there are just a few locations through the raise the place you’ll be able to mess it up, leading to an inefficient squat at finest, and an damage at worst.

If you’ve been experiencing awkwardness and ache with the low-bar squat, Matt Reynolds, my power coach and the proprietor of Barbell Logic, walks us by the problems which may be accountable, and tips on how to troubleshoot this basic raise as a way to carry out it extra safely and effectively. 

Low-Bar Squat Problem: Pain within the Wrist, Elbow, and/or Forearm

Solution: Fix Your Setup

“When individuals first begin low-bar squatting,” Matt says, “they’ll typically report having wrist, elbow, or forearm ache after they squat.” 

The purpose? “They’re establishing for the low-bar squat incorrectly.”

According to Matt, defective setup is the commonest downside individuals have with the low-bar squat. That’s as a result of stepping into the proper place is inherently uncomfortable: the low-bar squat setup requires you to get your shoulders, again, and chest actually tight. This tightness creates a shelf of muscle between your traps and rear delts that can maintain the bar in place. Maintaining that tightness all through a set of squats can get tiring, so individuals loosen up. But that’s when the issues begin, in keeping with Matt.

“When you loosen up your shoulders and take your higher again out of extension, the squat feels extra comfy, however within the technique of getting comfy, you’ve eradicated that shelf of muscle that was holding the bar in your again. To maintain the bar in your again, your fingers have to carry the load. And that is the place the wrist/forearm/elbow ache begins.”

Having your arms attempt to maintain 300 kilos of weight in your again is a recipe for damage. You should both maintain your wrists in extension (bent again) or flexion (bent ahead) to maintain the bar in place. While the muscle mass in your arms have the power to do that, the tendons in your arms received’t be joyful about it. They’ll get cranky from the overuse and develop tendonitis, which may set your coaching again for days and even months. 

Wrist extension. Wrong

Wrist flexion. Wrong.

So how do you right the setup downside?

Get again to fundamentals and ensure your bar is in a safe place, and you’re taking an accurate grip on it. Use the backbone of the scapula as a marker for the highest of your muscle shelf. Use as slender a grip as doable, whereas sustaining impartial wrists all through the raise — don’t flex or prolong them. Lift up your chest to increase your higher again. During the raise, assume “pin arms to sides.” This will assist maintain your wrists in a impartial place all through the raise and maintain your arms out of the raise. Doing all of these items collectively will be sure that the bar’s weight is simply in your again. 

If at any level through the raise you’re feeling the load in your fingers, your setup is flawed. Start over from the start.

Getting into the low-bar setup is tough for lots of people. It requires some flexibility within the shoulders. If you’ve been hunched over like a Quasimodo for years, and have bother stepping into the correct place, Matt recommends a pair issues:

  1. Stretch your higher again and shoulders. Before each squat session, Matt recommends doing a stretching routine as laid out by power coach Paul Horn. In addition to those pre-squat stretches, you’ll be able to work in your higher again and shoulder flexibility with our “de-Quasimodo your self” stretching routine.
  2. Put your thumbs across the bar. The conventional low-bar squat requires taking a grip with thumbs on prime of the bar. “Some individuals simply can’t get within the correct setup with thumbs on prime of the bar as a result of they lack the flexibleness of their shoulders or they’ve actually lengthy forearms in comparison with their higher arm,” Matt says. “And that’s wonderful. Putting your thumb across the bar [instead] can assist you get into that impartial wrist place. As lengthy as you don’t really feel the load of the bar in your fingers, you’re wonderful.” 

Try the stretches first. If, after just a few weeks of stretching, you continue to can’t get into the correct low-bar squat setup, attempt placing your thumbs across the bar.

And if you happen to’ve already received a foul case of tendonitis resulting from improper low-bar squat setup, ensure to take a look at our protocol on tips on how to rehab bicep tendonitis. 

Low-Bar Squat Problem: Lower Back Pain

Solution: Stop Rounding Your Back

If you’re experiencing ache in your again once you squat, one thing known as “butt wink” could also be accountable. 

Matt explains butt wink as the place “your butt tucks beneath you on the backside of the squat. You seem like a canine pooping within the woods.”

Example of butt wink, or decrease again rounding.

Butt wink is expounded to the depth situation. It occurs on the backside of the squat as a result of the lifter lets his decrease again spherical. Lifters do that as a result of 1) holding their decrease again in extension on the backside of the raise is uncomfortable, and a pair of) rounding their decrease again permits them to hit depth extra simply. 

“Instead of getting the crease of your hip beneath the highest of the knee whereas staying tight, rounding your decrease again lets you bend your approach to depth,” Matt says.

The finest cue to right butt wink is “keep tight.” If that doesn’t work, Matt recommends a extra crude cue: maintain your butthole pointed on the wall behind you through the raise. 

That cue labored for my 9-year-old son. Matt was teaching him on tips on how to squat final week, and Gus was having bother with butt wink. As quickly as Matt stated, “maintain your butt pointed on the wall,” the butt wink disappeared.

Low-Bar Squat Problem: Pain in Your Hips

Solution: Stay Balanced Over Your Midfoot

If you typically really feel such as you would possibly fall backwards as you squat, it’s probably you’re shifting an excessive amount of of your weight in the direction of your heels. “If you’re feeling your toes come off the bottom whilst you’re squatting, that’s not good,” Matt says. “That might trigger some downstream issues, like hip ache, after some time.”

During a squat, your weight ought to keep balanced over the center of your ft. Getting to this optimum place takes time and expertise (right here’s an excellent tutorial for getting it down). “Your ft ought to really feel like they’re glued to the ground all through the squat. Think ‘push by the center of my ft.’ That’s a cue lots of people discover useful,” Matt says. 

Low-Bar Squat Problem: Pain in Your Knees 

Solution #1: Stay Balanced Over Your Midfoot

More widespread than shifting your weight to your heels, is shifting an excessive amount of of your weight to your toes. “I see most individuals stand up on the balls of their ft through the descent and ascent of the squat,” Matt observes. “This shifts the load ahead onto your knees, and the result’s individuals complaining about squats hurting their knees.”

The resolution right here is identical as simply mentioned above: stability your weight over your midfoot. “You ought to really feel weight all all through your foot,” Matt advises. 

Solution #2: Bend Over More

One purpose chances are you’ll be placing an excessive amount of weight in your toes is the way in which you place your torso through the raise.

Unlike the high-bar squat, which requires a vertical torso as you descend, the low-bar squat requires the lifter to bend over. “This is frightening for many individuals as a result of it doesn’t really feel pure,” Matt informed me. “They sometimes need to attempt to keep a vertical torso as a result of they’re used to high-bar squatting.”

When you keep vertical throughout a low-bar squat, your knees are inclined to shift ahead. When your knees shift ahead, the bar strikes ahead. When the bar strikes ahead, your weight shifts to your toes, and also you run into knee ache issues. 

“When you bend over greater than you assume it’s best to, your butt will go backward. When your butt goes backwards, it helps you retain the bar again over your midfoot, and use the muscle mass across the hips, like your hamstrings, glutes, and your adductors as an alternative of placing all the stress in your knees,” Matt says. 

Bottom line, as you carry out the low-bar squat, bend over greater than you assume you have to.

Solution #3: Lead With Your Hips on the Way Up

Another purpose chances are you’ll be shifting an excessive amount of weight to your toes lies in your hips (which themselves don’t lie). 

The most typical downside you see when individuals rise up on the squat is that they don’t lead with their hips. “Most individuals simply need to get their chest up as quickly as they will as a result of they really feel like they’re going to get folded in half as a result of they’re bent over [so much],” Matt informed me. “What finally ends up taking place is that folks type of scoop their manner up from the underside of the squat. The hips shift ahead, the knees shift ahead, and the load shifts ahead, leading to a much less environment friendly raise and doable knee ache.”

To keep away from that, assume “hips first.” Drive your butt out of the underside of the squat. Stay bent over a lot of the manner up. Stand up together with your chest when you’re about 75% of the way in which up. 

As Matt observes, “Staying bent over isn’t solely safer, however you’ll work extra muscle mass within the course of: your decrease again, your glutes, your hamstrings, and your quads.”

Solution #4: Squat to Just Below Parallel

With squat depth, you don’t need to go too excessive or too low. You need to get it juuust proper. And juuust proper depth is slightly below parallel. You know if you happen to’ve reached slightly below parallel in your squat if the crease of your shorts on the hip is ever so barely beneath the highest of your knee.

Hitting this just-below-parallel-depth isn’t solely most secure and best on the knees, it’s the simplest methodology, because it lets you use essentially the most muscle. 

“The purpose we squat to simply beneath parallel,” Matt explains, “is that these big muscle teams — the quads, the hamstrings, the glutes, and the adductors — are all stretched and dealing. If we squat above parallel, solely the quads get stretched. All these different muscle mass don’t. So the hamstrings don’t get stretched, the glutes [don’t get stretched]. So you’re leaving all these massive muscle mass off the desk. They’re not capable of contribute successfully to the squat.”

And if you happen to go too far beneath parallel (also called “ass to grass”), your hamstrings get loosened up, which takes them out of the raise.

Check your depth visually by videoing your self, ensuring the crease of your hip is slightly below the highest of your knee, and ensuring the underside of your squat is within the tightest place doable by reaching your butt again. Too deep will often really feel extra comfy, and comfy is flawed.

If you might be nonetheless having bother discovering the proper depth, arrange a depth marker. Use a low field or a stack of plates that reaches to in regards to the prime of your calves, round 12-14 inches excessive for many guys. Stand with the marker about 4-6 inches behind your heels in your regular squat stance — heels shoulder-width aside with toes out about 30 levels. Squat down, reaching your hips again and decreasing them right down to the marker. Touch the marker with out sitting on it, and pause with out stress-free. Stand again up main together with your hips, and maintaining your chest from collapsing ahead. Check your depth with video and make changes to the peak of your marker as crucial. Once you might be comfy hitting depth and staying tight, and have gotten a way for what that looks like, you’ll be able to add the bar and eliminate the depth marker.

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