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The Unexpected Trick to Increase Your Squat

Hitting a wall with your squats? The problem isn't what you'd think.

Ever get frustrated in the squat rack, wondering why your lifts haven't increased? You could be trying every plateau strategy in the book, but nothing yields a substantial increase. The answer could be in an area you never expected—your shoulder flexibility. We asked Steve DiLello CPT, CKT, Director of Strength and Conditioning at Total Performance Sports, for the reasons why shoulder flexibility is such a key component to successful squatting and how to make it work for you.

Stiff Shoulders, Bad Positioning

Tightness in the shoulder girdle causes you to hold the bar in a position where the elbows are flared out and behind the bar from the starting position. Ideally, you want a position where you start with your elbows aligned underneath the bar. Why it's killing your squat: When your shoulders are tight and elbows are flared back behind the bar it makes it impossible to engage your lats throughout the entire lift. Without the lats engaged you won’t be able to keep your rib cage/chest up during the lift resulting in what’s called “dumping the weight”. This is when the lifter rounds the upper back and usually falls forward shifting the weight to the quads and lumbar making for an ugly or missed lift. It also puts the lifter in a position for serious injury.

Practice Makes Perfect

Focus on pulling your elbows underneath the bar every time you squat. If done correctly you should feel as if you’re bending the bar across your back. At this point you’ll feel your lats engage and your rib cage/chest rise up. This position will eliminate the weak link in your squat and allow you to hold a tight solid position throughout the lift, resulting in more weight on the bar.

Two Shoulder Flexibility Cures

One: Improve shoulder mobility by increasing the time spent stretching and foam rolling this area. Two: Take a medicine ball (not the soft sand filled ones) and place it up to a wall at chest height. Lean into the ball and let it dig into the area where the pec major (chest) meets the deltoid (shoulder). Apply pressure and roll around this area as if you were being massaged. It’s not going to feel pleasant but will do wonders in helping to loosen up that particular area. Work the roller on the area three times for 60-90 seconds per set.

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