Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elbow Positioning When Squatting

elbow position squat

Elbows "Up" = NO!

Me: Your elbows need to be under the bar. Keep the chest out and drive the elbows forward as you rise out of the hole.

Internet Acquaintance: Under the bar? I thought the cue was elbows up! isn't elbows under the bar referring to a High-bar squat?

Me: I can only guess what you mean by "elbows back and up", and if you're like most people who I've seen doing this (and like the pic above), you are cranking the elbows skyward behind you, internally rotating the crap out of your shoulders, and making it a lot harder to maintain proper thoracic spine extension. If so, watch my video again, then reread Rip's chapter on the squat, paying closer attention to elbow positioning in the pictures.

I get this a lot. The problem is that these people get stuck on Coach Rippetoe's phraseology of "lift the elbows", which is NOT the same thing as internal rotation. People relatively new to the squat think that raising the elbows skyward is a good idea, because it creates a larger shelf for the bar to sit on. Unfortunately, this just encourages poor bar positioning in general and, in addition to setting yourself up to dump the bar over your head, leaves the bar fully supported by the arms and rear delt strength instead of the skeleton (where it should be). We are NOT trying to hold the bar up with the arms (See Wrist Pain When Squatting for more on bar positioning).

Thoracic extension is what we want and that is the purpose of driving the elbows forward. The shoulders do not rise like a shrug ("the ears are shoulder poison" - Jeff O'Connor). The upper back contracts like a rear double biceps pose or bent-over laterals, and the arms are simultaneously wedging the bar into place by exerting forward pressure, engaging the lats as the upper arm and elbows maintain an angle close to the upper body.

The pic below is Wade Hooper. He has a low bar positioning. Notice his elbow positioning:

Wade Hooper
Nobody does it better.


Unknown said...
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fawn said...

Great advice Boris! I keep my grip as narrow as possible, thumb out with my fingers, and elbows down. This seams to be where they naturally go.

I might burn for this... but I have found SOME of Mark Ripetoe's squat advice doesn't work for me, like the looking down cue. Looking down causes my chest to drop. Of course it LOOKS like I have great hip drive, but that doesn't do me much good if my chest doesn't lead the way. What do you think?

Boris said...

Hi Fawn! Thanks. I can't look down either. It's probably not a bad idea for someone new to the squat to have a fixed reference point to look at, but I find that I'm not really looking anywhere in particular. It's interesting to me because I remember talking w. quite a few people at their first PL meets and many seemed to struggle looking out at the crowd (or off the edge of a raised platform) when squatting. They were used to mirrors or walls and the change in venue messed w. their proprioception.

I like Rip's stuff, but I think some of his cues require a larger context - just taking it off of a short YouTube video is a mistake. For example, I see quite a few really sloppy good morning-esque squats out there these days and I can tell they've gotten the idea that the hips shooting up out of the hole faster than the bar is a good thing. It is not, and Rip would agree if he saw them.

cmoney said...


I kinda had the same problem, and I modified it so that I look down but then look straight ahead just as I drive my hips so as to help me keep my chest up.

Do whatever works for you.

Now I have to go review my elbow position in all my vids. I think it's OK, but when I was squatting 3x a week, I had some weird numbness/dull pain in my right shoulder that traveled down through my forearms. I've heard a few others complain about similar pain. Wonder if it's related to a slightly off elbow position. However, my wrists are straight and pinning the bar to my back and it doesn't feel like my arms are bearing an weight.

It also pops up during power cleans, probably indicating some early arm bend.

Harry Munro said...

So THAT is why I eventually got a sore shoulder and elbow from the LBBS. 'Lifting' the elbows never did feel right. Cheers for the useful info Boris!

Boris said...

It's not the elbow as much as upper arm positioning, but the elbow is where the focus generally goes the easiest. I'm not sure about your shoulder issue though - that needs to be addressed.

Severe internal rotation like the first pic is going to give you problems for sure. Thank YOU for commenting.

gilbert said...

hooper one of the great

Patton1 said...

Curious to your opinion on elbows after watching this video..

Boris said...

Hi Patton,

My opinion after watching this video has not changed. I would never cue "elbows up". Coach Rip and I disagree, I guess and that's okay.

patton1 said...

Thanks for you opinion...The Wender 531 suggests the same idea you mentioned in your videos. Btw great job on your videos. I can tell your a great teacher as you pay very close attention to detail and you present your material in a clear consise manner.

Boris said...

Thank you Patton.

Jim Randolph said...

Can someone explain why the internal rotation is such a bad thing, in contrast to what Rip is saying about elbow problems and the wrist taking some of the weight? Which is worse in terms of preventing injuries?

Boris said...

Hi Jim,

I generally don't go back to much older posts, but thank you for the question. My answer is my opinion and a kinesiologist might say I'm full of it, but here it is: when you internally rotate, poking the elbows backwards with your hands on the bar at shoulder level, there is a natural tendency to lose upper back tightness, wing the scapula, flex the cervical and t-spine.
Now, I don't know what you mean about "what Rip is saying about elbow problems and the wrist taking some of the weight" - I'd have to talk to him or go back and read some of his stuff. If you point me in the right direction, I might be better able to respond.