It may surprise the beginners among you, but head positioning during squats is very important. The neck is part of the spine and its position affects the middle and lower back.
Looking down Rippetoe style during low-bar squats?
The author of Starting Strength Mark Rippetoe has become quite popular for his idea that looking down during squats is really good for preserving the so-called hip drive or in other words for actively engaging the glutes and hamstrings during squats.
This technique is being used by many among his followers. There are also advanced lifters who are used to it and do it his style. The most notable among them would be Michael Tuchscherer who is a world class powerlifter.
One of the reasons Rippetoe advises people to look down is that he advocates the use of low bar squats. When you are performing a low bar squat the bar is lower on your back and you are never really complete erect since the bar has to be balanced over the middle of your foot. In simpler words – even when you are standing you are slightly tilted forwards due to gravity and balance issues. If your neck is in line with the rest of your spine, from the side it will look like you are down. However, there are many successful powerlifters such as Ed Coan who squat low bar and yet look forward.
Conclusion: The most important thing is to keep your neck in anatomically correct position (in line with the spine) during squats. You may look slightly down, forward or slightly up according to your preference, if the previous condition is met.
Head positioning during high bar squats
Over the two types of squats the better one for bodybuilders and recreational lifters is the high bar squat – it works your quadriceps much more than the low bar and places less stress on your shoulders. The low bar squat is popular only among powerlifter whose goal is simply to squat the most weight and since low bar allows you to lift 10-15% more, they use that version of the movement.
When you are performing high bar squats it’s recommended that you look forward or slightly upwards. This will keep you neck in good alignment while reducing the possibility of bending over too much during the squat.
Remember: high bar squats don’t actually require you to bend over as much as low bar squats.
The more you bend over during high bar squats – the more stress there’s on the lower back and the more chances there are you will turn the exercise into good morning. This is a big: no-no. If you turn your squat into a good morning, you are risking serious injuries to your lower back. The popular martial artists Bruce Lee has suffered a serious lower back injury after attempting good mornings with his bodyweight and he was a light guy. He spent months in a bed to recover from the injury and it was never the same afterwards.
Conclusion: The best head positioning during high bar back squats is forwards or slightly upwards.
Should I look at the ceiling?
Looking at the ceiling could be dangerous because your neck is in what experts call over-extension and you may experience cramps and strains. Don’t look that far upwards. There’s no need to do so.