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How to Set Up the Shoulders for Optimal Back Squat Technique

Written on November 22, 2013 at 7:36 am, by Eric Cressey

There are a lot of people out there who struggle to get the upper back, shoulders, and arms in the right position for the back squat – whether it's because their technique actually causes pain, or simply puts them in a bad technical position.  With that in mind, I thought I'd use today's video to touch on why it can be a problem for some folks, and some quick technique modifications you can make to clean things up.

These cues can work hand in hand with a lot of the shoulder mobility drills you've seen here at and on my YouTube page.

If you're looking for a collection of mobility drills and strength and conditioning progressions – as well as detailed coaching videos like this – be sure to check out The High Performance Handbook, a versatile resource you can tailor to your individual needs and training goals.

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  • EC,

    Good stuff as always. Many athletes (and coaches alike) with tight pecs tend to have a hard time getting into a good position. My favorite corrective exercises for this are your T-Spine Extension exercises, Overhead Y’s to W’s driving the elbows down and keeping the fingertips on the wall or floor, depending on start position. This elbow drive definitely has a positive impact on pec tightness and allows for a better set up. Also, I like to use an overhead squat with a bar/dowel to really highlight areas of needed mobility and encourage a more upright posture.
    What other mobility exercises you recommend for someone with a bum shoulder with very poor ER but winging hypermobile scapula, haha?


  • Roger

    Hi Eric

    I am unable to back squat due to flexibility, but I was interested to watch your front squat video of last December. I have been using the Sting Ray apparatus for the front squat, and it works fine for me. Do you have any experience with it and/or comments?

  • Jake Lemmer

    Awesome information EC. This isn’t really related to setting the bar for the squat, but I was reminded of this article that talks about bracing instead of arching in the squat.

    Great stuff as always EC.

  • Roger,

    That’s an acceptable addition.

  • Matt


    I get a pretty good amount of pain at the biceps tendon head in the anterior shoulder when I squat with my elbows with with my wrists straight as Greg demoed. Do you have an go-to mobs or drills to helps quiet the over-active lat problems that may cause it?

  • Matt,

    I wouldn’t say that it’s just overactive lat stuff. Could also be poor cuff control and a lack of scapular control.

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