Why Do I Get Neck Pain From High Bar Squats?

April 15th 2019

Squatting with neck pain is not normal.

The squat should be performed in a controlled and pain-free manner.

Typically, there are two forms of squats - high bar and low bar squats.

A typical high bar squat forces you to rest the barbell on your upper traps.

A typical low bar squat will force you to rest the barbell around your shoulder blades.

Usually, many lifters will experience neck pain from doing high bar squats?

But why?

Squatting should not cause any neck strains.

Squats should not make your neck sore.

In fact, your neck should not be activated at all during squats.

Neck pain from high bar squats

Neck pain from high bar squats can occur from one or a combination of the following reasons:


  • Bar is placed too high
  • Inefficient form
  • Nerve compression


1) Bar is placed too high

One possible explanation for why you are experiencing neck pain from high bar squats is because you are placing the bar too high.

The barbell should never be resting on bones or any part of your spine directly.

When doing a high bar squat, the bar should be placed on your traps.

Your traps should create a shelf for the barbell to rest on.

Two possible errors can occur here - one mistake is that you are not squeezing your traps together.

Many experienced lifters, coaches and all-time record holders will tell you the importance of squeezing your traps as hard as you can.

Whether you are doing low bar or high bar squats, this suggestion will help both squat techniques.

By not squeezing your traps, the barbell is allowed to rest on relaxed muscle, which can compression on certain bone, nerves, and muscle.

As a result, this can cause you pain.

Another mistake that lifters can make is that if though they are squeezing their traps, they are still placing the barbell above the shelf they created.

This completely defeats the purpose of creating a shelf for the barbell.

You do get the benefit of creating a tight core and structure prior to squatting. But if you are high bar squatting, it does not make any sense to not take advantage of using your traps.

2) Inefficient form

When learning the squat, lifters are building the base of a strong squat.

With that, they need to correct inefficiencies.

Excessive movement

For some novice lifters, they seem to move and jitter a bit.

After you unrack the squat, you should be tight and rigid.

There should be very little movement in your upper body.

Your upper body should not even move at all.

Any extra movements will waste your energy.

This is where you can fatigue yourself and cause pain.

Looking up

When learning to squat, where do you look?

If you are looking up, this may explain why you are experiencing neck pains.

By looking up, you are straining your neck and changing the dynamics of your high bar squat.

3) Nerve compression

Some strength coaches have commented about possible nerve issues that can arise if you are doing high bar squats incorrectly.

In general, high bar squats will not cause you any neck pain.

However, if you have a history of neck issues, especially around your C7 nerves, which are responsible for straightening your elbows, you may get some more lingering neck pain when performing high bar squats wrong.

This is one reason why you may see many lifters opting to use the bar pad when doing squats.

It is not a good idea to use the bar pad, especially if you are a powerlifter or an athlete that needs to compete without using the bar pad.

It trains lifters to put the bar at the wrong spot since it cushions a majority of the bar pressure placed on your neck.

This can easily be avoided by placing your high bar squat on your traps.

You may be skinny

If you are a lighter lifter, you may not have much muscle packed on your upper body.

This is especially true for true beginners who have never lifted weights before.

You do not have enough muscle in your upper body to support your squats.

If this is the case, it is still advised not to use the bar pad to soften the barbell compression.

Instead, you can try to wear a hoodie in the meantime.

This is a temporary solution as you continue to build your upper back and traps to shoulder more of the barbell pressure.

This is all assuming you are not resting the barbell on your neck, which you should read about in the bullet addressed above.

Shoulder and neck bruises from high bar squats

If you are getting shoulder and neck bruises from high bar squats, you are not placing the bar in the correct position.

Unless you are a world-record holder for squats, there should be minimal or no bruising on you.

Nevertheless, you have sustained neck bruises from high bar squats.

Now what?

Make sure you are not placing the barbell too high on your neck.

If you are, that is why you are experiencing neck pain.

If you are placing it on your traps and getting neck bruises, analyze if it happens frequently.

All lifters have the capability of doing high bar squats.

With bad form, many lifters are deterred from doing high bar squats due to neck issues, etc.

Strained neck while high bar squatting

If you received neck pain from a strained neck, it is not a common experience for squatters.

Usually, inexperienced lifters will invite these injuries to come due to issues with strength, form, and stability.

First, you need to examine your form. In a perfect squat, there is no circumstance where your neck is exerted itself.

Your neck will only tense up if you move it.

What is likely happening is that you are moving your neck while you are squatting.

Many lifters tend to move their neck backward during heavy squats.

This is not a good habit to retain and should be corrected immediately.

Keep your head in a neutral position.

Your eyes should be fixed on a position on the ground;

It shows that you are focused and will not be easily distracted by other gym variables.

Spine sore after squats

Your spine should never be sore after squats.

If you are trying to blame spinal compression for your pain, it can be the reason.

When you stand, you are already compressing your spine.

Doing barbell movements like squats also load the spine more due to the nature of the exercise.

If you are experiencing upper spine soreness, that is not normal.

Do not proceed with doing any more squats as any spine pain is not normal.

Again, make sure to place the barbell on your traps instead of your neck.

If you have non-existent traps, you will still need to place it there while your traps are growing.

You can alleviate some pain by wearing a hoodie when you squat.

Again, beginners are usually the lifters that are impacted.

By the time you squatted for a few months, you will have already got down most of the squat basics on how to squat effectively.

Should I switch to low bar squats if high bar squats cause me neck pain?

It ultimately depends on your training goals.

There are many high bar squat alternatives that can be done.

However, if you are avoiding high bar squats because of muscular weakness or bad form, it is better to check your ego and learn how to do a proper high bar squat.

If you are a powerlifter, you have flexibility.

Generally, low bar squats will be your stronger stance since you are able to load more weight.

High bar squats are mainly used for accessory movements to make squats harder, emphasizing the quads.

If you are an Olympic weightlifter, high bar squats are your bread and butter.

There is no avoiding them. Your coach and/or training partners will get you to do them correctly very quickly.

If you are a new lifter looking to begin your strength training journey, it is best to learn both stances.

If high bar squats are giving you trouble, there is no shame in switching stances for a couple of days and revisiting the high bar squat.

Make sure to learn from your mistakes and to know what you were doing wrong that was causing you neck pain.


High bar squats should not cause you any neck pain, or any pain in that regard.

It is a full-body compound exercise that was designed to help you grow muscle and strength.

Neck pain can be traced back to the lifter’s inexperience and lack of muscular development.

This is one reason why many novice lifters may complain frequently about neck pain.

Strength coaches and elite lifters will only touch on the topic lightly since it can be avoided with proper form.

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