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When I do squats, I find that my shoulders are often very sore (from the weight of the bar) afterward, and sometimes shoulder soreness becomes as much a limiting factor during exercise as the strength/endurance of my legs and trunk.

I try to lay the bar across the meaty part, far enough back that my hands have to push forward to maintain stability (if I let go of the bar it would slide off the back, NOT balance on top of my shoulders).

What can I do to prevent my shoulders from becoming the "weak link" in terms of my squat?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The bar should actually sit on the ridge formed by your shoulder blade whenever you grab the bar. For instance, see the following image for an approximation of where it should sit. You really shouldn't have to be pushing forward much with your hands to keep the bar in place. enter image description here

Also, are you using any kind of padding on the bar? Try to put padding on the bar if you aren't or take it off if you are. I always preferred no padding, as it makes the bar sit oddly on my shoulder blades.

Unless you are really super concerned with how much you can squat, perhaps consider switching to nothing but front squats for your primary lower body lift instead of a back squat. Here are some advantages of doing front squats.

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That photo is about where I hold the bar, and certainly it's going to fall if he lets go. But, thinking of resting it on shoulder blades is a helpful hint because that implies squeezing them together (as with a good bench press). – Greg Mar 2 '11 at 22:04
I don't recommend padding at all. The back muscles need to be built up to provide the padding necessary. External pads push the bar too far away from the back, until the the weight gets heavy enough so that the padding is worthless anyway. If you do barbell rows, deadlifts, and overhead press your upper back muscles will grow to the place where it feels very comfortable. Squeeze the shoulders back and that is all you need. – Berin Loritsch Jul 5 '11 at 19:15
+1 @BerinLoritsch - I find if you feel like you need padding the bar is in the wrong place. Most people have it up their neck. The picture in this answer is perfect. – Mike S Aug 13 '12 at 23:44

Work your shoulders and traps a bit more to thicken 'em up.

Also, maybe wear a thick sweatshirt and wrap the bar up with a towel.

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Many gyms have shoulder pads (e.g., this or this) specifically meant to be used during squats. I've found that using those significantly decreases shoulder pain.

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