Last Update On April 25, 2012
The Final Answer: Looking Up, Forward or Down During Squats
This issue has become a hot topic since the release of Mark Rippetoe's best seller “Basic Barbell Training: Starting Strength” where he presents his ideas why looking down in front of you during squats is optimal. In this article I will present the benefits and the cons of the different neck positions during squats (up/down/forward).
Looking Down During Squats
Like I said looking down at the floor is the “Rippetoe style” of squatting. According to him this facilitates hip drive or in other words you use more of your hips during squatting, at least in theory. The main reason is the fact that if you raise your chest “prematurely” you will lose hamstring tension and hips strength during the ascend. In other words you end up muscling up the weight instead of using all you got. However while there is truth to that and it certainly feels easier to perform a correct “hip drive” motion while looking down the benefits end there.
There are quite a few downsides of looking down during squats. The main problem with looking down is that it becomes harder to keep your chest up which can lead to rounded upper back - serious issue during squats unlike deadlifts (more on that in another article). Also looking down reduces your upper back tightness which is essential for keeping the bar stable on your back. Another con of looking down is that it becomes harder to dump the bar correctly in case you fail to perform a rep.
Looking down is usually done mainly during low bar squats and this further increases the chances of ending in position where you have to drop the bar over your head because you are much more bend over (low bar squat) and the forward lean is increased when your are looking down and things get rough. Remember that dropping a bar over the back of your neck is not fun and you may even end up unconscious or even with a neck injury. Of course this can happen even if you don't look down but still the chances are smaller.
So far there is only one famous powerlifter who used to look down during squats - Hugh Cassidy. As far as I know he did it to avoid eye contact with the crowd and not to facilitate “hip drive.” Also he was extremely experienced and had excellent body awareness during the lift. With that being said I agree that it's easier to feel and teach proper “hip drive” during squats while looking down but that trick should be used only in the beginning just to get a feel for it and then switch to regular forward or up neck position. (provided you want to bother with looking down in the first place).
Looking Up/ At the ceiling
Looking at the ceiling is not optimal because of the extreme neck flexion which can cause cramps and other neck injuries. It's not the end of the world if you are used to looking straight up at the ceiling but similar habit should not be teached to beginners since it's not optimal. The only benefit from this head position is the extra upper back tightness.
Looking Forward / Slightly up
This is the best neck position of all during squats. Around 90% of the lifters use it and for a good reason - your neck is protected, your upper back is tight, it's easier to stay upright...etc. Also it just feels more positive to look forward and slightly up instead of looking at the floor or trying to count the stars.
Conclusion: Look in front of you and slightly up like the strongest people in the world do (avoid mirrors if possible) and when you get advanced try new stuff if you still care.
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