4 Tips to Immediately Reduce Elbow Pain in the Low Bar Squat

Don’t worry, experiencing elbow pain in the low bar squat is not uncommon and there is no need to be concerned!

Switching from high bar to low bar squats for the first time you may experience more pressure on your elbow than you are used to. For many this is unfortunately enough reason to retreat back to high bar and never try low bar squatting again. I don’t want this to be you! 

There are some minor positional differences between the two movements that can cause undo pressure on the elbow, especially if you aren’t used to low bar squatting, as well as slight adjustments to fix the issue!

Here’s how you can reduce elbow pain in the low bar squat!

1. Take Things Slow

This advice will beat out any number of technique cues I can give you.

Before you dive right into maxing out your low bar, take the needed time to adjust to this new movement.

Unfortunately, I think most lifters get introduced to low bar as “a technique for them to squat more weight”, which can be true. However, this often leads to them getting excited, slapping on as much weight as they can for their first low bar session ever, and wondering why things hurt post session…

Even thought the high bar and low bar squat are very similar movement patterns, this is a slightly different rack position than where you may be used to holding the bar.

If this is your first time low bar squatting, treat it like you would any other brand new movement and progress it gradually over time. This alone can shore up a lot of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist complaints that come with low bar squatting. Give your body the proper time it needs to adapt.

2. Let The Weight Rest on Your Back

The first reason you may be experiencing elbow pain in the low bar squat is because you are supporting most of the weight in your arms.

Because the bar naturally rests on the traps in a high bar squat this isn’t something you have to think too much about. The bar is going to be supported on your back almost automatically, not your arms. However, with the lower bar position in the low bar squat, there can be a tendency for lifters to start holding the weight up on the strength of their arms alone, instead of letting your back do the work.

First fix for this, make sure you have the correct bar position. Some lifters can take the low in low bar a little too seriously and the bar is wayyyyy down on their back. You are looking to place the bar just below the spine of the scapula (go ahead, google away), it’s that wing shaped bone on your back. Any lower than that and you are 1. Going to throw off the entirety of a proper low bar setup and 2. Most of the weight is going to be in your arms.

Second fix, maintain your forward lean throughout the movement. Once you have the proper bar placement the only other thing you need to do is maintain your torso angle throughout the movement. The low bar squat has more forward lean to it than most are used to with their high bar, and as a result individuals feel like they are doing something “wrong”. You are not. So long as the bar stays over the middle of your foot while in the proper bar placement on your back, it does not matter how leaned forward you may “appear”. Trying to squat with a nice upright torso in the low bar squat leaves the bar with no real “shelf” to rest on, and again brings us back to the issue of you are going to have to support the weight with your arms alone.

3. Adjust your Elbow Position

The second position change you can try is playing around with how “tucked” your elbows are.

Most lifters are taught that the tighter they can tuck their elbows in, and the further they can point their elbows to the ground the tighter and more stable a rack position they will get. This is not bad advice. HOWEVER, that being said, your elbow position should never come at the sacrifice of you being in pain.

You may not be able to tuck your elbows in quite as much on the low bar as you can on high bar and that’s OKAY! Stubbornly trying to emulate your high bar form on your low bar is only going to make your problem worse. While I wouldn’t say you should go so far as to have your elbows pointed back at the wall behind you, if you are experiencing elbow pressure in the low bar squat, try easing up on how tight you tuck them in for your setup. Ease up just until you no longer feel pressure and use that as your new elbow positioning. From their if you aren’t satisfied with the “tightness” of your rack position, you can work on gradually getting a tighter and tighter elbow position over a long stretch of time.

4. Adjust your Grip Width

Adjusting your grip width goes right along with adjusting your elbow position.

Again, I think lifters get used to how tight of a rack position they can get with their high bar, then go to recreate it on the low bar and it doesn’t work…

Once again, this is OKAY! Much like your elbow positioning might not be as tight as your high bar, you may not be able to take as close as a grip on your low bar squat as you can with your high bar. Just like with elbow positioning creep your grip width out right until you find a position where the pressure is relieved.

If you’ve ever seen those huge guy’s at the gym taking a grip width that’s all the way out by the plates this is exactly what they are doing. They are using a wider grip to ease up on some shoulder and elbow tension that may come with a super close grip. Granted, for most people you probably won’t need to take a grip that wide. From there, just like elbow positioning, you can work to move your grip in little by little over time if you want a tighter rack position. However, you will only do so if you can do it without pain.

(For more on squatting with elbow pain check out this video!)

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.