How to Fix Elbow Pain While Low Bar Squatting
The low bar squat is my absolute favorite lift in the gym so I’m always trying to help people troubleshoot the issues they have with this movement.
One major complaint you’ll hear is that the rack position for low bar can place a lot of pressure on a lifters elbow causing them at the least mild “nuisance pain“. To the worst, incredibly uncomfortable pain that ends up carrying over and effecting other movements like bench and overhead press.
This elbow pain can be enough for lifters to ditch the low bar squat entirely. Thankfully, there are some easy workarounds for this common problem!
1. Make Sure The Bar is Positioned Correctly
First thing first, if you are experiencing elbow pain during low bar squats, make sure you are actually putting the bar on the correct spot on your back in the first place.
I find lifters tend to take the “low” in low bar a little too seriously and often have the bar wrenched way too far down on their back. This will place a large percentage of the physical load of the bar into your arms as opposed to your torso which can lead to undo strain on the elbow.
Bar positioning for the low bar squat is just below the spine of the scapula (go ahead and type that it into google images). It’s that wing looking bone on either side of your upper back! If you place your fingers on your upper back and roll your shoulder around you’ll actually be able to feel the spine of the scapula. It’s that very prominent bony protrusion you’ll feel pushing out as you roll your shoulder. Bar goes just below that. Nothing higher, nothing lower.
2. Adjust Your Torso Angle
So, hopefully we now have this bar placed correctly on our back. Issue number two would be you’re too upright when you low bar squat.
A proper low bar squat will involve a more forward torso angle which can be hard to grasp at first if you’re only used to high bar squats and have had the “upright torso” cue drilled into your head ad infinitum by the local commercial gym trainer.
The reason this forward torso angle is so important is 1. It’s going to allow us to maintain bar position over the middle of our foot, making the lift as efficient as possible and giving you the best shot at lifting the most weight physically possible (always a good thing). 2. If you’re torso angle is too upright we once again run into the issue that most of the weight is going to be held up by your arms. If you have that slight forward lean and maintain it however, the majority of the weight will be supported by your torso which can actually handle the load.
3. Widen Your Grip
Alright. So you’ve got some solid bar positioning and your torso angle is on point but you’re still feeling pressure. We aren’t out of options yet.
Next thing that you can try is widening your grip. You’ll commonly see this strategy employed for those that are experiencing shoulder pain during their squats but it works just fine for elbow pain as well.
The counter to this being that theoretically the closer you can get your hands together on your bar the tighter back position you can get which 1. Eh…I believe you can get plenty tight regardless of grip width and 2. Even if you can get a tighter back position it’s not worth it if the net result is elbow pain.
Simply widen your grip until you feel some tension relief. If a closer grip is important to you, try to gradually creep it back in over a long period of time (like 1-2″ per training block). Don’t just try and jump from wide grip right back to close grip.
4. “Loosen” Your Elbows
Again, I know this goes against standard lifting advice. Yes, being able to pull your elbows down towards the floor in your rack position will help you generate some solid upper back tightness for your squat. Once again, even if this is true, if it makes it so squats are too painful to do…change it up.
I’m not saying you need to completely loosen your elbows and point them back at the wall behind you, but try easing up on just how hard you are wrenching them into position. Just until you feel some elbow pressure ease up.
Same rule applies for this as did widening your grip. If you’d like to get back to a tighter elbow position, again, do it gradually over a long period of time.
5. “Neutral” Wrist Positioning
Finally, try to establish a “neutral” wrist position.
What’s good to note beforehand is your wrist is never going to be perfectly “neutral” nor do you need to stress about it being so. However, you don’t want to be lazy and let the bar roll into your fingertips and pull your whole hand back either.
Ideally, we are looking to “stack” the bar overtop your wrist joint. To do this you’ll need to settle the bar lower in your hand than you might think. Set the bar in the base of your palm, that big meaty part near the bottom of your thumb. Additionally, you can play around with thumb over or thumb less grip here. Neither is more right or wrong just go with what ends up being most comfortable for you.