Shoulder Mobility Tips For The Low Bar Squat

Shoulder mobility can play a large role in the low bar squat, and for those who may lack shoulder mobility it can create problems not only at the thoracic spine, but all the way down the chain.

While I do not want to call this a simple fix, I have 3 go-tos that have worked fairly well. The first is really just the cueing and setup of the low bar squat. The general idea is that we are trying to do a “lat pulldown” with the bar. During a lat pulldown we are retracting and depressing our shoulders and using the lats to adduct the arm, and that is the same tension we want to create throughout our upper back during the low bar squat. The only slight difference is our elbow position, and often times its a simple as cueing a lifter to push their elbows forward as well.  But to help with the process there are two mobility drills I really find useful and have seen good results with, and that is a PVC pipe preacher stretch with controlled breathing and direct lacrosse ball work on the pec, particular the pec minor. The pec is an internal rotator, and many times tightness from the high volumes of bench pressing can offset the shoulder mobility improvements we have. So the combination of these 2 exercises seem to work best. For a more in depth breakdown of these drills, CLICK HERE and scroll over to 2nd and 3rd videos for full demonstrations!

With all that being said, a variable that always needs to be looked at as well is grip width. A good starting point I find is the same width you would use for a lat pulldown, but from there is becomes more individual based on shoulder mobility and a lifter’s ability to maintain thoracic tightness. Typically the wider the grip width, the more difficult it will be to stay tight, and vice versa. The downside though of a narrower grip is a higher need for shoulder mobility and an increased risk of developing some type of biceps tendon or elbow pain from the high demands of being in that compacted position.

As for examples of what movement pattern issues we tend to see from inadequate shoulder mobility, you will see typically 1 of 4 things occur.

One scenario is that the lack of shoulder mobility causes the elbows to flare up, limiting the ability for the lifter to retract and extend at the thoracic spine. This then usually causes the lifter to compensate by creating extension at the lumbar spine and anteriorly tilting at the pelvis. In the 3rd video you can see a good example of this, as @netzer_strong on the left starts in a fairly extended lumbar position to compensate for his elbow position. Where as on the right he is able to achieve a more neutral brace and keeps that position throughout. 

The second scenario is that they do not compensate at the lumbar spine, but that then creates a fairly pronounced chest fall pattern coming out of the hole. Typically this is the lifter you will see the bar roll up towards their neck during a max attempt. This can be seen in the in the 5th and 6th videos of @ilift_wright and @brandilynnbw. Both experience that chest fall pattern coming out of the hole, and in the case of Shelly, we can see that bar rolling up and really losing thoracic tightness during a max attempt.

The 3rd scenario I often see is actually that one side is able to achieve a decent position while the other side lacks the mobility to. The result of this tends to be a twisting effect in the squat. This can be seen in the 7th video where you can see @posten.lifts on the left experiencing a fairly prominent twist at the bottom of his squat and coming out of the hole. His right side is the one lacking mobility, and what you will see is a twist towards that side. 

The final scenario is that the lifter actually achieve a decent position by really forcing themselves into position, but the result of this is chronic biceps tendon or elbow pain. This is not necessarily an issue that effects the lifter’s movement, but more so decreases their tolerance for the amount they can low bar squat. This pain tends to limit their ability to handle higher volumes/frequencies of low bar squatting, and also usually translates to issues on the bench press as well.

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