Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Your Back Angle in the Squat

by Mark Rippetoe | March 05, 2019

back angle in the squat

The most common problem in videos submitted for technical critique is a back angle in the squat that is not nearly horizontal enough to be efficient. For various reasons, most people think the back should be as vertical as possible in the squat, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Our analysis of the barbell exercises is predicated on three basic criteria. First, the exercise must work as much muscle mass as possible. We are not bodybuilders – we are not concerned with muscle groups. We are concerned with strengthening normal human movement patterns, and their constituent muscle groups get stronger as a result of their contribution to the increasingly heavy gross movement. The more muscle mass involved in the movement, the more force the movement can produce. So we design the movement to involve as much muscle mass as possible.

Second, we use the movement pattern over the longest range of motion we can while we involve lots of muscle mass. This adds to the effect of training as much muscle as possible by causing force production to affect as much skeletal movement as possible. And third, all this muscle mass operating over long ranges of motion needs to be moving the heaviest weights possible, because strength is the objective.

For the squat, this ends up looking odd to the layman, who has been educated by 1.) websites operated by people who don't lift heavy weights, or 2.) powerlifters who lift heavy weights in gear over the shortest possible ROM. Our squat features a much more horizontal back angle than you may be comfortable with.

Which is odd, because it's actually much more comfortable to squat with a back angle that places the load on the hips instead of the knees. The muscle mass that operates the hips is bigger than the muscle mass that operates the knees, and therefore criterion number one – and by extension number two – is best served by involving the hips. Going down below parallel in this position adds both ROM and a mechanical rebound that increases motor unit recruitment and the amount of muscle mass in contraction.

This involves placing a long moment arm on the hips for them to operate – a long distance must be created between the barbell and the hips, and this is accomplished by leaning forward and shoving the ass back. This means that the muscle mass that stabilizes the spine will be loaded as an inherent part of loading the hips. How this can be construed as a bad thing escapes my understanding. 

Do you want a strong back, or a weak back? Do you want a powerful muscle mass around the spine that can control loading at any angle, or a single-purpose “glass” back that must be kept vertical or it gets an owie? If you want your back strong, you have to make it control increasingly heavy weights, because that's the way you make everything strong. Both the squat and the deadlift feature the spine loaded at an angle that is not vertical, and anybody with a truly strong back has gotten that way with the squat and the deadlift.

So stop fighting the idea that you have to bend over to squat correctly. You know as well as I do that your back won't “shear” if you bend over with a weight. You know that staying vertical throws all the stress on your knees, because you can feel it when it happens. And if you don't already, you ought to know that your glutes, hamstrings, low back, and abs are stronger together than your quads – if you actually train them. We want your back loaded so the damn thing can get strong, and that requires you to place it at an angle where it can be loaded and therefore trained.

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