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When I squat, I cannot find a proper position that completely alleviates discomfort from the barbell. If it's too high, I find that I immediately feel a strain in my neck. Any further, it feels like the entire weight is against my spine.

During barbell squats, are you suppose to carry the barbell with your hands? Or maybe your shoulder blades?

Where is the ideal barbell position?

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I've found this video very helpful from Mark Rippetoe when I was getting started:

https://youtu.be/g2tyOLvArw0

(not sure about how do embed video in the answer, or even if it's possible)

Mark Rippetoe is more heavily bent on low bar squats, while I prefer high bar squats. However, his troubleshooting tips are very valuable either way. The quick troubleshooting list is:

  • If the bar wants to roll toward your neck, it's too high
  • If the bar wants to slide down your back, it's too low

The most important take away is that the bar will be going across your shoulders. I have seen video of people like Max Aita squat with no hands on the bar.

I will say that I don't entirely agree with Rippetoe's hand placement and elbow position recommendations, but they will be good enough to get you started and that's something you can figure out later. The biggest difference of opinion has to do with the elbows going back. I find it better for them to stay parallel with the body. If you feel like too much weight is in your elbow, then you probably have the hands too close to the body. That's what works for me at any rate.

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Different barbell positions have different advantages. Either way, you shouldn't have to do heavy work with your arms or hands to keep the barbell in place.

Don't keep the barbell on your spine/neck, in a high bar position, it should be just below the neck, in a low bar position, it should be on your shoulders, keep your hands on the bar to make sure your shoulders go back enough to create a shelf for the bar.

High bar squats will be more quad focused, low bar squats will let you use heavier weight, but it's harder to keep a straight back so that you don't do "squat mornings" low bar squats use your hip more.

If you're unable to find a comfortable position for the barbell, try using one of those cylindrical pads or do front squats! Also keep working on your back and shoulders, its more comfortable if you have a muscular area to put the bar on.

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Position is personal or can be based on your goal (especially high-bar vs. low-bar), but I think what you're asking is this: How can you make the bar not hurt in WHATEVER position you choose? Simple (ish): Make sure you pull your shoulders back (pinch your shoulder blades together) then shrug up, which creates a platform of muscle over/behind your shoulders, and it is this muscle which should be supporting the bar. Not your spine, not your neck, not your shoulder blades. Muscle. This can be seen in the pictures posted by Marten, and is probably gone into in depth in the Rippetoe article. Rip is the man when it comes to low-bar squats.

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