LOOKING UP and/or FORWARD
According to the mainstream manual, looking forward and slightly up is the classic way to squat. This technique is designed specifically for the high bar squat and is based on the belief that the body follows the eyes.
You go where you look and since we want to go up during squats, we look up. The lifter is advised to keep the head close to neutral to prevent cramping of the neck muscles.
Back when I started, I read an article recommending to look at the ceiling during squats as if the secret to life is written there. Technically, this is not wrong, but many people will find the position uncomfortable.
The main benefit of looking up is that the position helps you keep the chest up as well. When you look down, it’s easier to turn the squat into a good morning.
Truth be told, looking down during squats was almost unheard of before CrossFit catapulted Mark Rippetoe and consequently his book Starting Strength into fame.
In theory, looking down is supposed to help the so-called “hip drive” while also keeping the spine in “ultimate alignment”.
The truth, however, is that heavy squats can be done safely regardless of where you look as long as the rest of the movement is solid.
You can perform the “hip drive” technique effectively even while looking upwards and/or forward. This is the way Ed Coan squats. His squat is extremely hip dominant and uses plenty of “hip drive”. He looks forward when he squats.
On the other hand, there are also examples of world class lifters who have adopted the looking down method. One of them is Mike Tuchscherer. His squat is Starting Strength approved and a part of Rippetoe’s dreams.
My personal preference is to look forward and slightly up while driving the neck into the bar during the ascend. This is the way most Olympic weightlifters squat, and I believe they are the kings of the squat.
I also prefer the high bar squat because it’s simple and more effective than the low bar when it comes to developing leg strength. You just go up and down while keeping the arch of the spine. You don’t overcomplicate things for the sake of sounding like an expert.
What about the deadlift?
It’s pretty much the same thing. You can look forward, down or up.
Below you will find videos of lifters showing us that you can succeed with either of the methods.
The most popular example of an impressive deadlifter who looks down, at least during the initial phase, is Konstantin Konstantinovs.
According to some, this technique gives more power at the starting portion of the lift.
However, there are many examples of world class deadlifters who look forward and up. A good example would be Andrey Belyaev.
Down or up? It does not matter as long as the rest of the movement is correct. Your head position does not mean much by itself. It’s the rest of the technique that counts the most.