Looking Down During The Low Bar Squat, Is This Right?
March 24th 2020
One of the most common questions I receive is what position should your head be in while you low bar squat and where should you be looking?
You may have seen some lifters squat while looking straight ahead, looking up, or looking down.
You might feel one position allows you to lift more weight while another is uncomfortable.
So, with all these factors in place, what is the proper technique and what is the one that you should do?
If following Starting Strength, the correct position is to look slightly down while performing the low bar squat.
However, unlike other form fixes, this is just one suggestion and you will see other lifters squat while looking straight ahead or looking up.
Those people mastered the squat and have made the small adjustments they need in order to keep squatting heavy.
How you know whether you should keep your head up, down, or look ahead is more important after you get more experience squatting and are able to differentiate the differences between techniques.
But for beginners, we suggest you squat while looking slightly down and ahead.
Why should you look down during the low bar squat?
To preface, when we say “looking down” we don’t mean bending your neck and looking down directly over your toes.
We actually mean looking down about 15 ft away from your current position and fixing your eyes on that spot.
Here is a quick 4 minute summary video (2 minutes if you watch in 2x speed!) about your head position during a squat.
So, when we are talking about “looking down” during the squat, we are talking about the middle picture.
Looking down while you low bar squat will keep your cervical and thoracic spine in neutral alignment.
This may be safer and prevent muscle strain and other possible injuries because your spine is in its most natural position.
During the low bar squat, because the bar is lower on the back, you will want a slight forward trunk lean while you squat in order to keep the weight of the bar over your mid-foot.
By having your head and neck in a neutral position, it reduces the amount of strain in the upper back and neck since the weight should be centered around your mid-foot.
Look up too much and the weight might be concentrated on your heels
Look down too much and your weight might be concentrated on your toes.
Nevertheless, as you could imagine, looking up excessively will put a lot of strain in your upper back and neck and could result in headaches or upper back/neck pain while you are trying to lift heavy weights.
This is due to your cervical spine and a bit of your upper thoracic spine extending more under a strenuous load.
If you are experiencing headaches or upper back/neck pain while performing the squat, then you might want to double-check your form to ensure that your neck is in neutral alignment.
Doing so will reduce the number of complications you may experience in the future.
But as stated before, the head position during the squat is different for everyone.
If you squat while looking up and don’t experience any head or neck pain, then you might be just fine doing so.
But if you do start experiencing it when you start to lift heavier, then head position is one factor you should revisit.
Downsides of squatting while looking down
The downside of looking downward while you are squatting is that it prevents you from checking yourself in the mirror, and it might negatively affect your balance.
Vision will help you correct your own form and gauge your weaknesses and imbalances while performing the squat.
While you are looking down, you are unable to check your own form in the mirror if you have a mirror in front of you, so it makes it harder to tell whether you reached proper depth while performing the squat.
Another con that looking down is that you might feel the tendency to fall forward because you are looking too far down.
If that is the case, then you want to pick your head up just a little bit.
This is definitely something you have to experience for yourself.
Squatting with a neutral head or looking up?
However, even after reading this explanation, it still doesn’t explain why there are some heavy squatters who squat with their head in a neutral position, or with their head pointed up.
This may simply be due to habit, and the person has found something that works best for them.
Despite the science and biomechanics behind looking down while you squat, some may have learned to squat by keeping their head up and have been doing so for a number of years.
As a result, the habit is built so strongly, that if they don’t look up, their squat feels weird and they aren’t able to keep their balance or squat as heavy.
In addition, these people might not have experienced any neck pain or headaches while performing the squat, so they never felt the need to change their form.
In fact, some lifters say that looking up while squatting helps them to keep their upper back tighter.
Some examples of famous powerlifters who keep their head forward while they squat are Ed Coan, also known as the “The greatest powerlifter of all time” and Kirk Karwoski who was able to squat 380 kg.
These heavy squatters are known for keeping their head up or forward even during the low bar squat
What is more important than head position while squatting?
What is more important than maintaining the correct head position while squatting is where you are looking.
While you squat, low bar, high bar, or whatever, you want to make sure that you are staring at one spot while you are descending and ascending in the squat.
By doing so, you will be able to maintain balance while performing the squat.
As an experiment, keep your eyes locked on an object and try to stand and balance on one foot.
Now try and do the same thing while darting your eyes all over the room.
Much more difficult.
Your visual system plays a huge role in maintaining balance in your body and it works the same way while in the squat.
However, it’s even worse during the squat because you have a heavy load on your back that is trying to crush you.
So rather than focusing on head positioning, focus on where your eyes are pointed towards.
Maintaining correct balance in the squat is much more important than maintaining proper head positioning.
Look at the big picture
While it is good of you to focus on proper form, if you want to make progress in the gym, you have to make sure that you are following the right program and are committing to it.
If not, if you are in a stage of paralysis analysis where you are looking to find out all the information about the squat before you even perform it, then you are on the wrong path.
This article Is just a small piece of the pie, and it’s more important for you to focus on all the other important factors which determine whether or not you will see progress in the gym.
Focusing on the right things will lead you to success while focusing on the extraneous miscellaneous details will lead you down a rabbit hole of procrastination.