Starting position

After performing squats I often feel elbow soreness (or perhaps extreme fatigue). I'd like to see if anyone can offer form corrections that might help reduce the strain, or if my form looks OK, then perhaps some supplemental exercise recommendations to help strengthen the elbows.

I use a false grip, and I feel like I am pushing the bar almost straight forward into my shoulders in order to keep it stable.

3 Answers 3


I echo Dave Liepmann's video recommendation. It's very informative. As far as what I can see here, we've got a couple things going on:

  • The upper back isn't as tight is it should be
  • The wrist (particularly the left one) looks as if the palm is supporting the weight

Keep in mind that there are more than one school of thought about squat form. The consistent requirements are:

  • At or below parallel
  • Keep tightness throughout the body, esp. the upper back

In Rippetoe's camp, you maintain upper body tightness by keeping the elbows back and the wrists as far in as you can comfortably do it. It appears the bar is about the right place for low bar squats from this camera position. My own observation from applying Rip's principles is that if you pull your wrists in too far, it produces tension in your elbows. Simply the act of pulling the elbows back helps provide a shelf for the bar so you don't need as much tension to hold it in place.

In Dave Tate's camp, you keep your elbows parallel with the bar. Upper back tightness is what keeps the bar where it needs to be, and the arms are only used to guide the bar. The Tate camp has a wider grip to keep the weight off the elbows. He has a very good YouTube video series called "So you think you can squat?".

Tate comes from a geared lifting background, so much of his form recommendations are based on the assumption that you'll be wearing a squat suit. Rip is more of a raw lifter. However, the bottom line is that you find the combination of cues that work for you individually. While the two have differences of opinion on how to do it, they both agree on the fact you need tension in your upper back to support the weight of the bar.

  • I think you hit right on it. Focusing on keeping my elbows back really seems to help. And as a secondary thing, I did notice myself cheating with the palms just a little bit - very helpful to have this brought to my attention!
    – G__
    Feb 23, 2012 at 2:09
  • Isn't the bar too far down the back? When I squat the bar touches my neck resting on the two muscles that, uh, lie between the collar bone and traps, directly on top (what are they called?). I'm not sure if that's entirely correct but the bar does look a little like it's sliding down the back. Feb 24, 2012 at 18:18
  • Check the video in Dave Liepmann's answer. You don't want the bar on your neck. There's two variations, high bar and low bar. It's relative to the spine of the scapula. @Greg's position is low bar, but not too deep. If it were, it would slide down his back. Feb 24, 2012 at 18:22

I'm the opposite of an expert--I'm still wrestling with these selfsame issues, and recently switched to high-bar squats in order to avoid them--but you could be holding the bar too low, even for a Rippetoe-style low-bar back squat. The other primary causes of elbow pain, I'm told, are not holding the elbows high enough and not keeping the shoulder blades packed tightly.

I recommend studying this video deeply. I would not recommend avoiding the issue, nor supplemental elbow exercises. Happy hunting.

  • Should have read lower before posing on Berin's post... Feb 24, 2012 at 18:19

You may have some issues with upper back mobility and shoulder mobility. I have had some of the same issues and doing some light upper back/shoulder mobility work with bands or a broomstick has helped me a lot.

Have you ever tried shoulder dislocations (or even resistance band shoulder dislocations which I really like)? (They sound awful but they really aren't that bad lol)

Here is a great primer from StrongLifts.com on using shoulder dislocations to improve squat flexibility: http://stronglifts.com/shoulders-dislocations/

  • Good thought, the elbows back is the problem but perhaps a cause of that is partially a flexibility issue.
    – G__
    Feb 25, 2012 at 1:58

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