Shoulder pain and elbow pain is a very common problem during squats. In most cases it’s due to improper bar position, little flexibility and too narrow grip.
The high bar squat position requires a lot less flexibility and if you are a low bar squatter who experiences shoulder pain, the first thing to do is convert to high bar. The high bar position will allow you to have narrower grip, which increase back tightness and bar stability, with less shoulder stress. That way you get the best of both worlds – stability and shoulder pain relieve.
However, some people will experience shoulder pain even with the high bar position. If that’s you, the first thing to try should be to switch to slightly wider grip. The wider grip will reduce some of the strain on the shoulder girdle. Don’t use too wide grip, since this will force you to lose back tightness and bar stability.
Another reason for shoulder pain may be having the bar resting directly on your shoulder instead of your trapezoids muscles. This particular problem is very tricky since it can occur even if you are doing everything correctly. You can try to reposition the bar again while flexing your traps more forcefully and providing more cushioning. Unfortunately, if you don’t have very developed back musculature even that may not save you. You will have to suck it up and keep on lifting that way. However, make sure that the issue is not just lack of muscle. In this case we are talking about external shoulder pain caused by the heavy bar sitting on your shoulder, not about internal issues that may need clearing from your doctor.
Should I use towels and cushioning during squats?
It’s not recommended to use the towels and other cushioning. It will elevate the bar on your back even more and this will place more stress on your lumbar region. Not to mention the fact that you will have less stability. In general, stay away from the so called “pussy pad” and form a “connection” with the bar. You will have more control over it without the mediator.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rules and many experience individuals who squat heavy weights sometimes use some sort of cushioning. However, if you are a beginner who doesn’t know much – stick to the classic and don’t use the “pussy pad”.
Unfortunately, the bar will leave marks on your back but don’t worry – those are your battle scars and will go away with time. Never squat without a T-shirt. The “pussy pad” may be a problem but so is the narcissistic “look how tough I am attitude.”
When you squat with proper form the bar is supported by your torso and spine – NOT by your arms. They act merely as stabilizers and controllers. If you are feeling like your arms are supporting the bar too much, you are most likely putting the bar too low on your back. That’s why it’s not recommended for beginners to perform low bar squats. You can do them later, but there are many things you can mess up when you first start. Besides low bar squats don’t offer as much advantages as you may think. They allow you to lift more weight at the expense of quadriceps stimulation since the load is shifted to the posterior chain.
In the video below Max Aita squats 550 lbs without even holding the bar. That goes to show you that your arms are NOT supposed to be the primary supporter of the bar.