I normally just leave my hands hanging on the bar while I squat, however I sometimes find myself pulling the bar downwards or pushing the bar upwards. When I push the bar with my hands, the weight feels lighter. I'm not sure if there are any benefits to this or if it is just psychological, after all, the weight is still being lifted by my legs, right? I try not to do anything with my hands, but I sometimes grind that last rep using this technique.

Should I push the bar up with my hands, pull it down on my back or not do anything during a rep? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

3 Answers 3


I’m a firm believer in making sure to remove any unnecessary movements that would otherwise affect my technique/form. I think that’s important to reduce any risk of form break or injury. And, extra movements tend to reduce the impact on the targeted muscles. For example, while doing barbell curls, I don’t bend at the waist and swing the bar up. In my opinion, there’s no added benefit to engaging extra muscles if I’m targeting the biceps.

Since your grip is important for maintaining proper form, I would resist the urge to push or pull the bar especially if you progress to heavier weights. I don’t see any added benefit to it, and, it can only lead to bad habits.

  • +1. Pushing seems to be a very bad idea because of the angle of your upper body, and if you squat very heavy, pushing the bar is not a good idea! Some say you can try to pull instead to create tension, if you have a strong back why not, but I'm not convinced. And if you concentrate on your legwork, your form will be better.
    – Borissov
    Jun 7, 2016 at 12:53
  • @Boris Yes, I figured pushing was bad, but I always catch myself doing it while grinding that last rep with no pain (I'm up to 175lbs squats). I also read somewhere that pulling creates tension, not sure where, but I read that. Hence the question was sparked.
    – Yousend
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:15
  • @akadian I think you might be experiencing some compensatory movement. Trying to pull the bar down creates tension, so perhaps your upper body wasn't quite braced enough, and the rear delts not tight enough, when you started the rep. Pushing the bar up or lowering it might be trying to compensate for an incorrect angle of the upper body.
    – G_H
    Jun 7, 2016 at 19:09
  • Yep, I'm not sure that "targeted muscles" is a particularly useful way to think about a compond full body movement, but attempted to press the bar at the same time doesn't sound like idea form.
    – Nathan
    Jun 8, 2016 at 15:30

Echoing rrirower, http://stronglifts.com/squat/#Grip

Main takeaway is that on a high bar or low bar squat your traps/back sholders will be supporting the weight and your hands are there to keep the weight in place on your back and stop it slipping down.

I have a heavy squat and a relatively weaker back and so I found the bar slid down sometimes at around the 110kg mark and was experiencing pain in my wrists from holding the bar in place. I read through the above link and used it to improve my grip (wrt. Squeezing, bar position, etc.) and the outcome was reduced wrist pain and a better squat.

Remember, it is not a behind-the-neck press, do not try to push the weight of the bar with your hands, doing that is a free ticket to rotator cuff issues. Conversely, pulling it down means it will fall off your supporting back muscles and potentially break your form, back, or elbows.

  • So my hands should just grip the bar as hard as I can, while the arms should just offer support to lock the bar in place? Not pushing, nor pulling.
    – Yousend
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:17
  • The harder you squeeze the bar, the harder your arms, shoulders and upper-back muscles contract. This increases support for the bar, makes it less likely to move around on your back and thus increases strength. Grip the bar tight when you setup for Squats. Grip it tight before you unrack the bar. You must support the bar with your stronger upper-back muscles. Hold and squeeze the bar. But let your upper-back support the weight.
    – John
    Jun 7, 2016 at 13:34

The main purpose of your arms during the back squats is to keep the bar "locked" in place, and to promote a tight upper body in order to minimize energy leaks in the kinetic chain. Think of a car, if one of its tires are flat (leaking air) then it won't perform to its best. Similarly, if your upper torso is not tight, you will leak energy and therefore power, if your upper body is loose.

In terms of grip, look at a few powerlifters online and you will see that some of them grip the bar with their thumbs around the bar, and some of them without (called a false grip), this is really just preference and won't affect your lift much at all. I suggest going on YouTube and looking for Mark Rippetoe and his back squat video which has an entire 15 minute section on what your hands should be doing and what they help you achieve.

Basically, once you get under the bar, i.e the bar is resting on your traps, you want to pull your elbows back, almost like your doing a pullup, or that you're trying to "break the bar" over your back. This will ensure that you have a rigid torso that minimizes energy leaks and will ensure that the bar does not move during the squat at all, so you can focus more on the actual squat rather than the bar or fixing it.

Hope that helps.

As an additional note, I mean pull the bar down and break it over your back to clarify. I.e, the bar should already be resting on your upper back/ traps in the first place. Then you squeeze and pull it down and try to "break" it over your back. Generally, you would want to place the bar between the little "crease"/space that is naturally there between the top of your rear delts and your mid/lower traps...sort of like the bar is resting on a shelf, and all your doing is making sure the bar stays in that shell.

  • Is that for high bar squats? I do low bar and it's a lot lower for me. More specifically, I lock it under the scapular spine. Wondering now if that's actually correct, because as the bar gets heavier my arms are taking a beating keeping everything in place. Probably just because I've got some issues going on in my left shoulder and elbow, since I use a false grip, but still...
    – G_H
    Jun 7, 2016 at 18:59
  • 1
    @G_H I do low bar and false grip as well. It's pretty hard to accurately explain what I actually mean but if you look at Mark Rippetoe's back squat video, you'll see what I mean. If you just lock the bar in the region by your upper scapula and lower traps, put your torso slightly at an angle, the bar will rest quite comfortably, although every person is different obviously. Scapular spine is actually an ideal position, if your arms are taking a beating, then focus more on squeezing your upper back together (your shoulder blades), that way you won't even have to focus on your arms.
    – 0xMert
    Jun 7, 2016 at 19:14
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    @G_H youtube.com/watch?v=g2tyOLvArw0
    – 0xMert
    Jun 7, 2016 at 19:17
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    @G_H yea high bar and front squats are amazing for quad development. Just make sure to like not get all of your information from one source. I mean Rippetoe is great but he's not the only coach out there. Look at some other techniques by other people and find what works best for you through experimenting. That's how I got really comfortable with squats...took a few years though.
    – 0xMert
    Jun 7, 2016 at 20:09
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    @G_H I literally had the exact same problem, deadlift and squat weren't even close to each other. I increased squat training frequency, spent hours perfecting my form, and over a few months, it worked like magic. I think frequency was the key for me, since my quads were really weak and small, training them 2-3 times a week, once with back squats, once with high bar, and once with front squats was the key. I also changed my conventional DL to sumo DL.
    – 0xMert
    Jun 7, 2016 at 20:17

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