For months now, my low-bar squat had stalled at a 255 lbs. five-rep max. I can always grind out that last rep at 255, but if I try to go heavier, my form falls apart, and the barbell buries me. I recently found a technique to resolve this issue, and my progress can begin again.
I want to share the articles that helped me improve my form, and start squatting heavier weights, in case there are others who are stuck in a similar spot.
First, I learned how to low-bar squat using Powerlifting to Win’s article on the subject. This is a great introduction to low-bar squatting, if you’ve only squatted with a high-bar technique. However, it doesn’t cover all the details of low-bar squatting. To be fair, I’m not sure any single article could comprehensively teach a low-bar squat: that’s what a coach is for! If you’re self-coaching, like me, then this is a great place to start, but you’ll need more information as you squat heavier and new weaknesses in your form hobble your progress.
When my form started failing at heavier weights, I had to use stronger Google-Fu to uncover deeper secrets of the low-bar squat. This is when I found that my upper back wasn’t as tight as it could be. Enter, the elbows. The low-bar squat requires you to pinch your shoulders back and rest the barbell on your rear deltoid muscles. You can flex your rear delts by trying to pointing your elbows behind you, and this is how I was creating that “deltoid shelf” to hold the barbell. This is only part of the story to getting your back tight for the low-bar squat.
The problem with only pointing your elbows back is that it only tightens your shoulder muscles, and a few of your upper back muscles. The rest of your upper body isn’t tight. To get the rest of your upper body as tight as possible, you must “crank” your elbows down until they’re in line with your torso. The movement is illustrated well, along with some other good cues, in Johnny Candito’s video here.
I’m certain I’ll find new flaws with my squat form as I continue lifting, but the elbows were a big piece of the puzzle that I was missing. Hopefully, you’re not in the same boat as I was. If you are, I hope this trick can bail you out and help you get on your way!