The barbell squat, as I'm sure you've heard time and again, is one of the most effective exercises not only for building the legs but also for building muscle all over the entire body. The metabolic effects of the squat are very powerful.
One of the main problems with the barbell squat, however, lies in the placement of the bar across the shoulders. For many, placing the bar across the shoulders can be a painful experience. If it hurts when you do it (and not in a good way), chances are, you're going to be a lot less likely to do squats regularly, if at all. You'll be missing out on an excellent exercise!
In the past, you had fewer choices when it came to padding your shoulders for the squat. You could wear a thick sweatshirt when squatting, you could wrap a towel around the bar, or you could place a foam pad around the bar.
The sweatshirt, unfortunately, does little to cushion the bar and the towel or foam pad can actually allow the bar to more easily roll or slip down your back. Not a good thing!
The Manta Ray
The "Manta Ray" squatting accessory aims to change all that. It addresses the structure of the body with respect to the mechanics of the squat exercise, claiming to make the exercise more comfortable to perform and more effective.
The Manta Ray is a simple piece of strong, specially-molded blue plastic. It has a groove for the bar and is shaped to rest comfortably over the trapezius/shoulder area of the body. It looks a lot like the sea creature it's named for!
But can it live up to its claim of making the squat more comfortable and, therefore, more effective?
I will cut right to the chase. The Manta Ray lives up to these claims easily. It is simply one of THE most effective training tools I've every used in the 15-plus years I've been training. Here are the two major reasons why:
Effective Load Distribution
The Manta Ray effectively distributes the entire load of the bar over a much larger area of the body than you get with just the bar alone. It works for the same reason that a person wearing snowshoes can walk easily where a person without snowshoes will sink down into the snow: increased surface area. I've found the unique shape of the Manta Ray to be very well-constructed for this purpose.
To illustrate this point, I've used the Manta Ray to do partial top-range squats with more than 1100 pounds. If I tried this weight with just the bar, I'm sure I'd be missing a few vertebrae! The Manta Ray's extremely effective distribution of load will allow you to use more weight more comfortably.
Barbells are round. I'm sure you've noticed this. What better shape to roll with? One of the hardest things to deal with in the barbell squat is in fighting the tendency of the bar to slide or roll down your back.
Even a slight roll of the bar can throw off the balance of the exercise and compromise your form and safety. Worst case, if the bar rolls or slips too far, you may even have to ditch the bar to avoid serious injury.
The Manta Ray effectively arrests this tendency to roll or slide. The molded shape of the plastic locks the bar into position on your shoulders and stops the shifting of the bar.
The Manta Ray Locks The Bar Into Position
In comparison to the positives of the Manta Ray (load distribution and roll prevention), the negatives, in my opinion, are minor.
- If you've been squatting regularly with just the bar or with foam pads, the feel of the position the Manta Ray puts you in does take some getting used to. It will require you squat with your torso in a more upright position than you may be used to. This is actually a good thing, though, as it will help your quad development and keep your back in a safer, arched position.
- When you use the Manta Ray with heavier weights, it does have a tendency to leave temporary red marks on your upper shoulder area. I've found, however, that these fade fairly quickly.
- If you workout in a public gym, you have to carry the Manta Ray around with you or go to your locker and get it when you're ready to use it. Since its molded plastic, it doesn't fold up. It isn't, however, large or awkward to carry around, making this a relatively minor inconvenience.
- Placement on the bar can be tricky. To get best use out of the Manta Ray, you need to be sure it is set very close to centered on the bar. A slightly-off placement can put a torque on the body and unbalance the load.
- Fortunately, it's a simple matter to visually line up the ends of the Manta Ray with the knurled (rough) areas on an Olympic bar. Once you unrack the bar, if the Manta Ray is not centered, you'll likely be able to feel it and adjust its position accordingly.
Placement Can Be Tricky, But Well Worth The Effort.
The negatives of the Manta Ray are a small price to pay for the exceptional benefits and value you'll get from it. Not only will the Manta Ray help make your barbell squats more comfortable and more effective, it can also very easily be used for other exercises such as barbell calf raises, barbell lunges and more.
Priced at $44.95 at Bodybuilding.com, I've found the Manta Ray to be one of the BEST investments in training equipment I've ever made. If you're interested in improving your squat, I highly recommend either getting one for yourself or talking to your gym owner or manager about getting one for your facility. I've been using mine for more than 10 years!