When it comes to barbell back squats, have you ever wondered if you have the shoulder mobility to squat properly? Sometimes your shoulder mobility is what is throwing off your squat form. Keep reading to learn how to determine if your shoulders are too tight and how to fix them so you can squat pain free. 

Tight Shoulders and Squats: What’s the Deal?

You might be thinking “what does shoulder tightness have to do with barbell back squatting?” The truth of the matter is EVERYTHING. Many of you can’t get your shoulders into proper alignment while holding onto the bar, which causes your upper back to round. This rounding means the bar is sitting on the base of your neck and your shoulders aren’t in the right position. This can lead to all kinds of pain. So, how do you fix this? There are some temporary fixes below, but the real answer is you need to fix your shoulder mobility. 

How to Fix Your Shoulder Mobility to Improve Your Barbell Back Squat

So, what can you do to fix your tight shoulders? Here are some tips: 

  • Elevate your heels with a plate 
  • Use an SSB (safety squat bar) bar
  • Rig up a strap
  • Use a machine to encourage proper alignment
  • Fix your shoulder mobility 

How to Get Your Shoulders into Alignment to Squat Properly 

Our preferred method is to improve your shoulder mobility. How do you test your shoulder mobility? Do the following to see if you can get your arms in the right position to perform a barbell squat: 

  • Lift your arms up and then bend them drawing your elbows into your sides. 

  • You should be able to get your hands back in alignment with where the bar will sit on your shoulders. 

  • If you can’t do this, you might notice your back hyperextends or rounds forward, which means you need to work on your shoulder mobility. You can’t get your shoulder blades underneath the bar, so you need to learn how to do what we like to call the scapular scoop. 

Exercise 1: Get Your Shoulders into Proper Alignment 

Step 1: Standing, bring your arms out to your sides in a “T shape”, increasing your wingspan as far as possible. Reach, reach, and reach. 

Step 2:  Rotate the eyes of your elbows up and rotate your pinkies up, rotate, rotate, rotate without hyperextending your back, pull your scapula down. Keep rotating and continue to increase your wingspan. You should feel your mid back and lats turn on. (And guess what those are the muscles you need to use to pull your shoulder blades into the right position to do a barbell back squat to get the elbows under the bar!)

Exercise 2: Improve Your Hand Placement on the Bar

Step 1: Extend your arms out into a “T shape”. 

Step 2: Bend your elbows and bring your arms out into what looks like a “goal post” position. 

Step 3: Let your shoulder blades roll up and bring your hands down so they’re in alignment with your shoulders.

Step 4: Draw your shoulder blades down and around your body in a scoop position, pull shoulder blades under, and pull your elbows forward. Try to get the bar over the back of your shoulders. 

Step 5: Notice if your hands are now in a position where it can comfortably rest on your back.

If that improved your technique then you’re going to need to put the bar on your upper back, scoop your shoulder blades down, and hold that position to maintain an upright spine. 

If that doesn’t improve your hand placement on the bar, let’s move into a rotator cuff exercise as it could mean your subscapularis is tight. 

Exercise 3: Improve the Mobility of Your Rotator Cuffs

Step 1: Use a band to help. Put your arms up like goal post arms holding onto each end of the band with your thumbs. Scoop your shoulders down and set the scapula into position first. 

Step 2: Breathe, step forward, and allow your arms to adduct. Resist back into the band with some internal rotation also known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching. Hold for 5 minutes or so. 

Step 3: Release the contraction and allow your arms to go further as you scoop. You should feel this deep in the arm pit as well as some pull in the deltoids. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes. 

Step 4: Try to barbell squat again to see if your mobility has changed.  

You can use these exercises as shoulder warmups to improve your upper back position as you squat.

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Shoulders Squat