shoulder pain from back squat

How To Fix Shoulder Pain From Low Bar Back Squat

Shoulder pain can be a significant issue when performing back squats. Shoulder pain can limit performance, how much you’re lifting, and be an issue limiting every day activities.

As a physical therapist, I frequently encounter this issue among fitness enthusiasts and athletes. I especially notice it in powerlifters and crossfitters. Shoulder pain during back squats is common especially shoulder pain with powerlifting technique. This guide explains why it happens and provides exercises to help your shoulder. You’ll receive actionable tips to alleviate and prevent shoulder injuries and pain.

The Importance of Shoulder Mobility in Squats

Back squats demand excellent shoulder mobility, more so in low bar than high bar variations. Overall, the back squat requires more shoulder mobility, while the front squat requires more wrist mobility relatively. This is due to the positioning of the bar and the range of motion required from your shoulders. However it is not unheard of to have front squat shoulder pain. I just see it more with back squatters. If your shoulders lack flexibility or strength in any direction, your body compensates. This often leads to pain or even impingement of the shoulder.

Why Shoulder Mobility Matters, The Solution To High Bar Squat Mobility

Good shoulder mobility allows you to maintain proper form during squats. It ensures that the movement is as efficient as possible. It also protects your shoulder, keeps your posture upright, and your spine protected. And more importantly, it prevents injury from back squatting. Without it, the risk of injury increases in the shoulders. It can also hurt the neck and back due to compensatory movements.

How Do You Loosen Your Shoulders For A Low Bar Squat?

Here are my favorite exercises to improve shoulder mobility to add to your routine. They are designed to increase flexibility and strengthen the shoulders.

1. Pec Mobilization with a Ball

How to Perform: Grab a tennis ball or a similar small ball. Stand facing a wall. Place the ball on the wall and lean against it with your chest. Move around until you find a sore spot. Press into the sore spot and hold for a few seconds. Repeat this movement to help loosen up your chest muscles. It should be a hurt-good type of feeling.

2. Doorway Pec Stretch

How to Perform: Stand in a doorway. Raise your arms and place your elbows and forearms on the door frame. Step forward with one foot and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds. This exercise helps to open up the chest and improve the mobility in the front of the shoulders.

3. Shoulder Dislocates with Band or Bar

How to Perform: Hold a resistance band or a stick with both hands. Start with your hands in front of you. Lift your arms over your head and then down behind your back. Move slowly and carefully. This exercise not only increases shoulder mobility but also helps to warm up the shoulder joints before lifting. Start with a wide grip. As you improve, bring your hands closer together.

4. Arnold Press

How to Perform: Sit on a bench or stand with a pair of dumbbells. Start with your palms facing you and the dumbbells at shoulder height. As you lift the dumbbells over your head, rotate your hands so that your palms face forward at the top. This move strengthens the shoulders. It also improves rotation, which is key for holding the bar during squats. You can also try the dumbbell squat to shoulder press. Squat down and do the Arnold press on the ascent of the rep.

Why Your Grip Might Be Causing Your Shoudler Pain

Improper grip placement can also contribute to shoulder pain during back squats. It’s crucial to understand how to correctly position your hands and the bar for reducing stress on the shoulders.

Gripping too narrow requires lots of shoulder mobility. It can lead to overcompensation and pain if you don’t have enough mobility for the position. This may manifest as elbow flaring or shrugged shoulders. But, a too-wide grip reduces your control over the bar. It also reduces the use of key stabilizing muscles like the lats. The ideal grip width allows you to keep your elbows under the bar. This gives you stability and cuts the risk of pain and injury to the shoulder.

Don’t Miss the Shelf

Squats with barbell on shoulders can hurt the shoulders if done incorrectly. The bar should not sit too low past your scapulae and rear deltoids. If it does, the weight of the bar is supported primarily by your shoulders. This can lead to wear and tear on the shoulders. Ensure that the bar rests on the “shelf” created by your upper back muscles. This correct placement helps distribute the weight evenly, reducing the load on your shoulders. This minimizes the risk of injury and development of pain.

Enhancing Your Squat Technique and Avoiding Injury

Importance of Proper Warm-Up For Your Back Squat

A good warm-up is vital before hard exercise. This is especially true for squatting. Squatting uses many large muscles and joints. Generally, the more complex and compound the exercise, the more likely of injury. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles. It also reduces stiffness and readies your joints for movement. It reduces injuries. It improves your performance by making your movements more efficient and safer. If you need a detailed step by step guide of how to warm for squats. Here is an article I wrote on how to warm for back squats in less than five minutes.

Effective Warm-Up Exercises What to Do

Include dynamic stretches. They mimic the squat motion, such as leg swings and walking lunges. Spend a few minutes on a rowing machine or stationary bike to get your heart rate up and muscles warm. It doesn’t have to be super long, you can complete a good warm-up in as little as 5 to 10 minutes.

Proper squatting technique ensures that you use the right muscles and keep your balance. This is crucial for shoulder health. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Point your toes slightly outward. Keep your back straight, chest up, and core engaged. This posture helps keep your balance. It also protects your spine and shoulders during the squat.

Advanced Techniques To Enhance Shoulder Stability And Shoulder Flexibility For Squats

Once you have mastered basic shoulder mobility and proper squatting technique. Consider adding advanced exercises. These exercises will improve shoulder stability in the advanced lifter. Here is a detailed article I wrote on improving shoulder mobility.

Overhead Squat Pain – The Final Boss of Overhead Mobility

Overhead squats are excellent for developing shoulder stability and mobility. Hold a barbell or a dowel overhead with a wide grip while performing the squat. This exercise forces your shoulders to hold the weight overhead. It improves both strength and coordination.

Face Pulls For Low Bar Squat Shoulder Pain

How to Do Them: Use a cable machine or resistance band attached to a stable point at about face height. Pull the handles or band towards your forehead while keeping your elbows high.

This exercise works your rear deltoids and upper back, which are essential for a strong shoulder.

Maintaining Shoulder Health: Long-term Strategies

You should take a holistic approach to fitness. It includes regular mobility work, strength training, and rest. This is key to pain-free squatting in the long term.

Regular Mobility Work Routine Suggestions: Do weekly shoulder mobility routines. These include stretches and drills. They’ll keep and improve shoulder flexibility and function.

Balanced Strength Training Approach:

Make sure your workout includes balanced strength training. It should target all major muscle groups. This prevents imbalances. Imbalances can lead to injuries. It ensures that no one muscle group is overworked. Adequate rest and recovery are essential. They are crucial for muscle growth and healing.

Ensure you have at least one full rest day per week. Consider active recovery sessions, like light swimming or yoga. They can help keep muscles elastic and reduce soreness.


Shoulder pain after squats is common. “Shoulder hurts when lifting weights” is a common report I get from patients. It can greatly hurt your ability to train. Focus on improving shoulder mobility with specific exercises. Use the correct grip and place the bar properly. This will greatly reduce your risk of pain and injury. Remember, if shoulder pain continues, you should consult a physical therapist. They can address its causes and prevent more problems. Happy squatting, and here’s to a healthier, stronger you!

P.S: Lower back pain with low bar squat is a common report I hear as well. I have an article on lower back pain during low bar squat coming very soon. It will be for both low bar and high bar squat back pain.

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