#1 – Move your hands for a wider grip on the bar
I have had plenty of people complain that their shoulders bug them during the squat due to where their hand position is. If you have shoulder issues, the barbell squat probably aggravates that injury a little bit. Spreading your hands farther apart helps relieve some of that tension in your shoulders and helps you focus on the muscles that you should be focusing on.
There are also different types of barbells, such as a safety bar, that will help put your shoulders in an even more comfortable position.
#2 – Spread your feet out into a wider squat stance
A lot of people start with their feet shorter than shoulder width apart and then they complain of being uncomfortable or not being able to go down all the way. A wider squat stance feels more natural and comfortable. A little wider than shoulder width apart is where I like to stand. Have you ever watched a baseball player field a ground ball with a narrow stance or a lineman in football try and block the person in front of him with a narrow stance? I know the majority of my audience is not athletes, but you will have more balance and feel more natural with a wider stance.
#3 – Start squatting onto a box
If you are just starting out with squatting, it probably feels very awkward with that barbell sitting on your back. You probably feel like you are going to fall backward or just feel very shaky. Start with barbell box squats if this is the case. Place a box right behind the squat rack and squat down until your butt touches the box. This way you will know how low to go down while ensuring you get the full range of motion. It also serves as a safety cushion. If you feel so shaky like you are going to fall backwards, now you will fall onto the box instead of falling onto the ground.
It’s important not to completely sit down and relax your muscles on this modification. Think of there being a scale on the box and you want the scale to show 50% of your bodyweight.
#4 – Lower the barbell
So many times I have heard people complain about how the barbell hurts their neck. Most line up with the bar so high on their neck that it sits on their spine. Try lowering the bar and using your upper back as a pad instead
#5 – Perform goblet squats
If the box squats still aren’t quite doing it for you, try starting off with goblet squats first. A goblet squat is when you will hold a dumbbell or a kettle bell right underneath your chin and perform a regular squat from there. Having the load in this position helps even out your center of gravity and makes balancing a little easier. You can even take this a step further and perform goblet box squats. Goblet box squats is perfect for beginners looking to get into squatting.
#6 – Focus on the forces of your feet
A common problem is that people tend to have their knees bend in during the squat, usually on the concentric part of the squat (raising back up). A way to counter this is to focus on pushing your feet outward into the ground to keep your knees straight, pretending that you are trying to screw your feet into the ground. To do this, you will put a clockwise force in your right foot, while putting a counter-clockwise force into your left foot.
#7 – Warm up
Some of you might think this one is common sense, but there are a lot of people who just walk into the gym and go straight to the squat rack. Warming up will help eliminate that pain and awkwardness that you might feel during a squat, not to mention it will help you lift more weight and stay pain free. Seriously try it. It’s pretty remarkable. Get a sweat going and focus on activating all the muscles that you use in a squat. See #8 for an additional piece for a warm up.
#8 – Perform self care
If you have pain in your knee, hip or back during a squat, you may just be really fricken tight. Try busting out the foam roller or lacrosse ball and basically give yourself a massage in and around the areas that aggravate you.
#9 – Squeeze your armpits together
Once you get into position, if you squeeze your armpits together, flexing your lat muscles and bringing your shoulder blades together, you will be able to create a straight back when using this tip.
#10 – Build up your core
I am sure when you think of squatting, you think of a leg exercise. This is obviously true. However, barbell squats are also a great activator for your core. If you feel unbalanced or weak during a squat, start hitting your core workouts a little harder and perform exercises such as the pallof press and planks to help build your core strength.