Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Head Positioning In The Squat

Randall Strossen's Classic Pic of Chakarov
(notice the "head back" position)

I get a lot of questions about Mark Rippetoe's recommendation to look slightly downward when squatting. I haven't spoken to him about the point, but I understand the reason for his recommendation and agree. His chapter on squatting in Starting Strength is absolutely fantastic. I think it goes without saying that this is highly recommended reading.
I don't spend a lot of time with head position in the Squat Rx videos, but I do have some of my own opinions on the matter and touch on them in Squat Rx #4. Here are the main points:
When squatting, you want to keep the head "back". NOT hyperextending the neck and staring at the ceiling lights, but driving the head backward and the chin slightly tucked. I've tried it every which way, but I've always preferred looking straight ahead while squatting - everything else just makes me dizzy. I avoid squatting in front of a mirror at all costs, by the way.

Wade Hooper - Nobody Does It Better
(Chin forward but again, notice the "head back" position)

Head positioning is important because body positioning often follows the lead of the head. Proper technique cues will depend on what the trainee is doing. If the lumbar is flexing, they probably need to think "HEAD UP!" or "CHEST OUT!" during the lift. If they aren't using the hips (and using the lumbar and/or knees instead), they need to think "HIPS!".

Cued improperly or lacking experience, a lifter who drives the chin (or chest) skyward can force the hips forward prematurely, increasing knee flexion, and actually make things harder than normal - to bring this back to normal, and involve the posterior chain a useful cue is "(weight on/drive with) HEELS!".

Huh? So, what do I do with my head?Very simply, keep your head back and look where you are comfortable. The answer to all of this minutiae is practice. Novice squatters who are preoccupied with head positioning, posterior chain engagement, outward rotation of the hips, etc. will suffer from analysis paralysis. Practice, a lot of weight and volume, and occasional technical polishing, will work out the fine nuances, including head positioning.


Franz Snideman said...


Agreed, the Starting Strength book has been my BIBLE since my twin brother gave it to me for my birthday last year. What a practical and informative book!

Great post! I too like what Rippetoe says about head position and eye position. By far, his recommendation on keeping my eyes slightly down and in front about 5 to 6 feet has worked wonders for me. I hadn't really ever thought about sucking my head in like you talked about but on Friday (my 2nd squat day of the week) I will pay attention to it!

Regarding bar position, the lower bar position has REVOLUTIONIZED my squatting. No low back pain at all! The higher bar position has always injured me and was the main reason I stopped doing squats in 1998. Well, 11 years later I am back squatting again and it is transforming my body as I am finally able to put some load back on my skeleton again. 275 for a single yesterday proves to me that the lower bar position is for me. My immediate goal is to get 315 for a single...and I know it will happen soon enough.

Sorry for the long post...I am just really excited with squatting as you can tell!

Thanks for sharing!

Boris said...

Always love to hear someone enthusiastic about squatting Franz!!
It, quite literally, took me years to figure out the essential differences between high bar and low bar squatting and I can totally "feel your pain" when you say you injured yourself high-bar squatting.

It's pretty easy to get confused by the whole "sit back", "no knees past toes", "stay upright", cues that are sending mixed messages about squatting. No wonder so many people just throw their hands in the air and make a beeline for the Smith!!

fawn said...

Funny you should write about head position... after reading what Rippetoe suggests, I have always wondered about this. I never felt good looking at the floor or tucking my chin as he suggests. Then again, I have never trained this eye position or neck position.

When I squat, I gaze up, but not at the ceiling. When I compete, I look at the head judge, then gaze over the top of the crowd (can't stand to look at the crowd). I definitely have a chin forward position, like Wade Hooper. I have always wondered if I should change that.

Boris said...

Your positioning sounds fine to me. If your bar placement and upper back tightness is good, then I think that's what matters.

Wade squatting (was red-lighted, but it certainly wasn't because of depth!):

Unknown said...

Quick question: Why is it such a bad thing to squat in front of a mirror?

Boris said...

I hate mirrors. If you can squat competently in front of one, then it's okay but I don't recommend it.
I posted about mirrors here:

Flow said...

about the mirrors where i squat, there is a glass wall and i can see a faint impression of me there. i kinda like it against squatting in front of a wall. it is important for me to look at my face and it keeps me balanced else i feel as if i might just fall. looking at my face also pumps me up, looking at the strain and the emotion is helpful to me. i am pretty confident of my posture and technique. is it really really bad to look in a mirror?

Gubernatrix said...

Interesting, I was having problems with head position only yesterday during my squat workout. When I remove the bar from the pins and step back, I am actually looking down (bad habit - checking out my foot position), which pulls me forward a bit. So I do need to concentrate on keeping my head up a bit.

I am not sure exactly what you mean when you say put your head "back" but I will try it next time and see if it makes sense when I actually try to do it!

I appreciate your point about different cues working for different people (or being altogether confusing). The head position recommended by Rip doesn't quite work for me, although his rationale is convincing.

Boris said...

Hi Gube,

Getting proper foot positioning without looking is a tough one and I'm like you - I check it more than I probably need to.

I talk about head positioning in this video: Forward to about 3:30 in to see what I'm talking about with head "back". I don't excessively raise the chin, but drive the head back into the bar.

Boris said...

If your form is fine, then mirrors are not a problem. If you are having troubles developing good form, you might consider squatting without one. JMO.

Unknown said...

Amazed that you spend so much time teaching people whom you do not know.Just into a month of squatting after a long hiatus.Keen to learn it the right way this time.Your site is a great help.

Will try the low bar position as the forward lean with the high bar is killing my back(squatting straight down to avoid the excessive forward lean, seems to be hurting my knees too much).

Could you post a video showing the different kinds of squats in succession(maybe around 10 reps each)? Even if there were no verbal cues,it would be a great help for the viewer to see all the different types of squats in a single video :as a sort of comparison guide/form check.

Thank You.

Boris said...

Thank you Vikrant. I'll see what I can do about a video, but it might be a while. A lot of this I covered in Squat Rx #4 and #21, but it would be helpful to have a video as you describe. Take a look at those if you haven't already and let me know what you think.

Unknown said...

Had checked out the videos.Trying to ease into the low bar position.Did see the Rx#10 on breathing too. As you pointed out,in high rep squatting, there seems to be a bit of a compromise between ideal breathing pattern and speed.

Anonymous said...

Tongue positioning can have a lot to do with head position. If you have the tongue on the roof of your mouth, the chin will want to be lifted (so you can breathe). With the tongue pushing in the back of the bottom teeth, the chin will want to be down with the neck packed (so you can breathe).

I think this applies a lot to posture, weather squatting or otherwise.