After coaching hundreds of guys, I've concluded that the main reason why so many can't Squat low bar is simply bad posture. Maybe you have a desk job like me or just sit a lot and have a hunchbak posture as a result (kyphosis).
If your upper-back is all rounded you won't be able to put the bar low on your back for Squats without experiencing wrist and/or shoulder pain. Usually there are 3 popular (but wrong) strategies that guys use to get around this...
- You could Squat high bar. Unfortunately that would mean less leverage, less total weight lifted and thus less strength/muscle gains.
- You could widen your grip. But then you won't be able to squeeze your shoulder-blades as hard (key for strength) as with the narrow grip
- You could use tools - sissy pad, manta ray, wrist wraps, cambered bar, etc. But none of that fixes the source of the problem.
The last point is important - if you can't Squat low bar, you will get trouble on the Bench Press too. You should always Bench Press with your shoulder-blades together and your chest up to keep your shoulders safe. If you can't do this on the Squat, you won't on the Bench either and thus suffer shoulder pain.
The solution is thus simple:
- Pay attention to how you sit on a day to day basis. Build the habit of keeping your shoulders back instead of letting them roll forward.
- Stop doing those plain vanilla crunches & situps. One, they increase the risk of lower back injury. Two, they promote that roundback posture.
- Eliminate that Quasimodo-like posture with mobility exercises
One way to do this is by doing thoracic extensions on a foam roller. Watch the video by Eric Cressey MS, author of Show & Go and 650lb Deadlifter.
The goal here is wrap your upper-back around the foam roller. Start at the bottom and move to the top, but skip your lower back and neck (never foam roll those areas). Keep your glutes on the floor when tilting your head back and, again, wrap your upper-back around the roller.
It will be painful, but if you stick with it, you will straighten your back, finally lose that quasimodo-posture and you'll be able to Squat low bar comfortably.
For more exercises to improve your flexibility for Squats/Bench, check out Eric Cressey’s Show & Go system. Eric is a bestselling author with a 650lb Deadlift so he knows what he’s talking about. Heck, his product comes with a 60 day iron-clad money back guarantee and you currently get $70 off (almost half).