Over the weekend I received a few interesting comments on some of my posts. The first one told me how bad my squats were because my knees are supposed to stay over my shins at all times. Good luck with that on an Olympic squat.
The second comment was regarding optimal head position on the back squat. While there are some obvious NO’s for certain positions, there are also varying degrees of thought on which position is the most optimal for back squat. Let’s take a look at a few of the positions.
#1 Incorrect Head Position: Eyes To The Sky
This one can be called “The High School Weight Room Method”. Somewhere along the way, coaches felt that your eyes need to be on the ceiling above you since that is the direction you want to be traveling. Incorrect. Looking up with a cranked neck causes the spinal erectors to slack, compromising the position on the posterior chain, and hyper-extending the cervical spine can lead to disc injuries.
#2 Incorrect Head Position: Staring At Your Twinkletoes
This is the #2 head position that will ruin your squat form: staring straight down, usually looking at the space between your feet. This is probably from taking the Rippetoe cue to “look down” to the extreme. The body will follow the head, and if you are bending your neck to look down then both your upper AND lower back will will also bend. This also increase the chance of spinal disc injuries, as well as a caving chest and knees that shoot forward.
It should go without saying that you should not be squatting in front of a mirror, or looking sideways at yourself in the mirror. Unless you want to be a chump forever.
#1 Correct Head Position: The Rippetoe Head Position
According to Rippetoe, when the head is in a neutral position, the body is also in its most optimal position (neutral position = head in line with the rest of the spine). Rippetoe states that this position will give you optimal neck safety and maximal hip power. If the neck is cranked too far up or down, the spine will be out of alignment and risk of injury increases. Driving the chin back while staring at a spot on the ground 6-7 feet in front of you is the easiest way to achieve this head position.
#2 Correct Head Position: Looking Straight Ahead
You can call this one the “Powerlifter Position”, since it is the head position that is seen most in powerlifters. The mentality behind this position is that by looking straight ahead and driving the traps into the bar, the chest is forced to stay upright, and as long as you aren’t looking any higher than horizontal, the cervical spine should stay in its normal anatomical position.
What Is My Preference?
I prefer looking straight ahead. It is where I am the most powerful, and it keeps my chest up better than the Rippetoe position. Rippetoe himself has stated that his forte is teaching beginners (hence STARTING Strength) and is most concerned with safety. He also states that there is no anatomical problem with looking straight ahead, as long as the cervical spine stays normal. I agree with most of the things Rip teaches, excluding his theory on the head position, and the elbows flaring out on his bench press.
Lot’s of practice, weight, and volume will help you find your optimal position. For the new recruit who spends all of his time looking at his knees, worrying about the neck, thinking about the lower back etc… will suffer from paralysis from analysis. Get a good coach and find the most comfortable, optimal position for yourself. You won’t be lead astray.
On another note: Make sure to get your Donny Shankle shirt, I am donating all of the proceeds to Donny Shankle’s training fund to help him as he attempts to represent the US at the 2012 Olympics.