When you hear the word barbell, there is no doubt the back squat crosses your mind at some point. We know the squat rack has been missed by many during gym closures and people are eager to get back under the bar with back squats. However, nothing is more frustrating than having a barbell at your fingertips, ready to crush leg day, but you’re limited in your lift due to shoulder issues! Don’t fret, we got you covered! Follow along in this video to learn how much shoulder range of motion you need in order to back squat without issues, how to test it, and more importantly how to improve it so you can get back to your back squat gains!
For starters, let’s address the shoulder mobility requirements for the back squat. Unfortunately, the back squat is not the most friendly exercise for a stiff shoulder. That’s because the back squat demands a lot of mobility from the shoulder, specifically shoulder abduction, horizontal abduction, and external rotation (the position similar to throwing a football or baseball). This position, which we like to refer to as the modified 90/90 position (because it almost forms a right angle at your elbow but isn’t a true 90/90 position), can be really uncomfortable for a stiff shoulder OR for an unstable shoulder, meaning a shoulder that is the opposite of being stiff - rather it is excessively loose and may or may not have a history of shoulder dislocations. Either way - it would be wise to make sure you can even tolerate the modified 90/90 position without anything in your hands before you decide to hold onto a heavy barbell on your upper back.
When it comes to assessing your shoulder mobility for the back squat, don’t overthink it - just replicate the position without the barbell - see 2 minutes in! It is really important to perform this movement on both sides at the same time (even if you’re dealing with issues only on one side) BECAUSE the barbell back squat is a BILATERAL movement. You have to hold onto the barbell with both hands, thus if you’re more flexible on one side, your other side is going to be forced to replicate that position. You need to appreciate which side is limited and determine your back squat decision and positioning based on that side. Otherwise, this can be a recipe for issues to come if you’re forcing a stiffer shoulder into a position it cannot tolerate or get into on its own! If you’re concerned that you’re compensating from other areas in your body to achieve the modified 90/90 position or you don’t want to worry about your balance when testing your mobility, try out the modified assessment at 3 minutes in.
In the video, we discuss what may be contributing to your shoulder issues depending on where you’re feeling it. The beauty of the stretches and exercises we show you is that you can perform them right in the squat rack, at a wall, or on the floor! It doesn’t take much to improve your shoulder mobility if its a minor issue and you’re diligent with working on your shoulder mobility daily! Be sure to watch the entire video to learn various stretches and exercises, how to perform them correctly, what you should be feeling, and more importantly how often to do them to fix your shoulder pain with back squats!
What if back squats aren’t for your shoulders and you want to know what else you can do? Don’t worry, we cover that as well towards the end (see 8+ minutes)!