You’ll stop leaning forward on the Squat by raising your hips and chest at the same time. Don’t raise your hips first or your Squat will become a goodmorning. Don’t let the bar move over your toes either or it will pull you forward. Keep it over your mid-foot by Squatting with your chest up/upper-back tight.
What Is Leaning Forward?
Leaning forward means turning your Squat into a goodmorning exercise. If your hips raise too fast, you’ll end with straight legs and your torso horizontal with the floor. This takes your quadriceps out and forces your hips and lower back to do all the work to finish your Squat.
Leaning forward also means letting your torso come too horizontal when you Squat. This often happens when the bar moves up your upper-back while you Squat. The higher the bar, the greater the distance to your hips, the harder to maintain your torso angle. If you fail to hold it, you’ll lean forward.
Leaning forward is ineffective for getting stronger on the Squat. The more muscles working together, the more weight you’ll Squat. Engaging your quadriceps muscles is therefore better than leaving them like when leaning forward. That’s why you can lift more on the Squat than the goodmorning exercise.
Leaning forward is also dangerous. If your torso becomes too horizontal as you Squat the weight up, the barbell can roll over your neck and smash it. Upward movement of the bar also increases stress on your lower back stress and cause it to round. This creates pressure on your spinal discs.
How much you can lean forward when you Squat depends on your build and Squat-style. I have a short torso, long thighs and Squat low bar. So I lean forward more than someone with a short torso and long thighs Squatting high bar. The point is to not lean forward more than your build/Squat-style needs.
Impact Bar Position
Olympic weightlifters often Squat high bar with their torso upright. Powerlifters usually put the barbell lower on their upper-back so they can Squat more. This puts their torso more horizontal with the floor, with a lot more forward lean compared to how Olympic lifters typically Squat.
Some people recommend Squatting with an upright torso to avoid shear force. But the intervertebral disc of a cadavar needs 336lb of pressure for the vertebrae to slide.1 Your spine can handle even more pressure because the muscles around it will contract and resist shear when you Squat low bar.
So you don’t need to Squat high bar with an upright torso to avoid shear force. Your spine can handle the lean forward of the low bar Squat if you keep your back neutral. This will strengthen the muscles around your spine – abs, obliques, erectors, etc. Sliding of your vertebrae (shear) won’t happen.
But you’ll Squat more weight. Putting the bar lower forces you to lean forward to keep it over your mid-foot. This pushes your hips back and stretches your hamstrings on the way down. This allows you use your bigger and stronger posterior chain muscles more than on the high bar Squat.
Understand the difference: although low bar Squatters lean forward more than high bar Squatters, they aren’t doing it wrong. It’s a different technique for lifters who want to Squat as much as they can to get stronger. What’s wrong is leaning forward more than you should to keep the bar balanced.
Impact Body Proportions
If you have long legs with a short torso like me, you’ll lean forward more when you Squat. This is because the barbell must stay over your mid-foot to keep balance. But long thighs put your hips further back from the barbell. So they force you to lean forward more to keep the bar over your mid-foot.
The opposite happens if you have short thighs. The distance bar to hips is now shorter. So you must lean forward less to keep the bar over your mid-foot and can Squat more upright. You also have less moment to overcome because the distance hip to knee is shorter. Be happy: you’re built to Squat!
The take away: don’t imitate the lean forward of another Squatter without taking his body proportions into account. Somebody with long thighs and a short torso like me will always lean forward more. Don’t tell him to Squat more upright, he’s doing what he must do to keep the bar over his mid-foot.
How to Stop Leaning Forward
Lock The Bar
The bar must remain above the middle of your foot when you Squat. This is your center of gravity, your balance point. If the barbell moves over your toes at any point during your Squat, it will pull you forward, make you lean forward and turn your Squat into the goodmorning exercise.
Start by putting the bar between your traps and rear shoulder muscles for the low bar Squat.Then make sure the bar stays there during every single one of your Squat reps. Here’s how: squeeze your shoulder-blades together, lift your chest and keep everything tight from start to finish.
You must squeeze your shoulder-blades together BEFORE unracking the weight. If you try to do it after, you won’t be able to get tight and the bar will move. Video tape yourself from the side. If you Squat with the bar moving in a straight vertical line over your mid-foot, you’re doing it correctly.
Widen Your Stance
You can’t Squat with the barbell over your mid-foot if your stance is too narrow. Squatting with a narrow stance puts your hips further back from the bar, especially if you have long thighs like me. This forces the bar over your toes, in front of your balance point and will make you lean forward when you Squat.
Squat with your heels shoulder-width apart and your toes out 30°. This will decrease the distance hip to bar and thus how much forward lean you need to keep the bar over your mid-foot. If you have long legs like me, you might need to go even slightly wider than shoulder-width apart from the heels.
Keep Your Knees Out
Squatting with your knees forward/in can cause hip impingement and knee injuries. If your knees come in when you Squat up, your hips will usually go back. This increases the distance bar to hips and forces you to lean forward more to keep the bar balanced over your mid-foot.
Push your knees to the side when you Squat the weight up, but also when you Squat it down. Your toes should be out 30° so your knees and feet point in the same direction (this prevents any twisting of your knee ligaments). Stance shoulder-width apart from the heels.
Sync Hip and Chest Drive
If you Squat up by raising your hips faster than your chest, you’ll lean forward. So you must drive your hips and chest up at the same time. The key is to lock the bar: chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed, everything tight. Then don’t allow your chest to collapse while you drive your hips up.
Note that your hips can’t move back when you Squat up. If they do, your knees will move back as well and your legs will end almost straight. This puts you in that goodmorning position again with your hips doing all the work. So drive your hips straight up while keeping your knees where they are.
For the way down, don’t overdo sitting back. If your hips go all the way back, your quads can’t contribute to your Squat. Instead Squat down by pushing your knees to the side while pushing your hips back and down. Your knees will come forward the first half of the movement, then no more.
Don’t Squat At All Cost
Chances are you’ll Squat less weight after trying to fix your lean forward with the above tips. This can be hard on your ego and it’s tempting to go back to Squatting by leaning forward so you get your regular weight and reps. But you’ll never stop leaning forward if you keep doing it.
So stop Squatting the weight at all cost. Drop the weight if you can’t Squat it without leaning forward. You don’t have to deload back to the empty bar if you’re doing StrongLifts 5×5. But don’t hesitate taking 20% off the bar or even more to practice the new form until your Squat gets strong this way.
Weak Link Theory
Popular advice to fix leaning forward on the Squat is to strengthen the weakest link in the movement. The logic is that your Squat technique breaks down because one of your muscle groups is weak. So if you strengthen your quads, lower back or abs, you’ll stop leaning forward when you Squat.
Unfortunately this often turns into a waste of time. Most people lean forward because of bad technique. Strengthening weak muscles with assistance exercises like goodmornings won’t improve your Squat form because it’s not specific practice. The only thing that will improve your form is Squatting more.
If you have a weak muscle, you must strengthen it the same way you’ll need it during the Squat. The best way to strengthen a weak muscle that causes you to lean forward when you Squat, is by doing the Squat without leaning forward. This too is specific practice that will improve your form at the same time.
Most people struggling with leaning forward can’t Squat 140kg/300lb. They don’t have a weak muscle, everything is weak. And the quickest way to get everything strong is to Squat more, with proper form. Resisting form break downs like leaning forward requires strength and thus builds it.
Summary. Leaning forward on the Squat is usually a technique mistake. You can fix it by driving your hips and chest at the same time, and keeping the bar over your mid-foot. Make sure your stance is shoulder-width apart, and keep your upper-back/chest tight so the bar can’t move.
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