There are a lot of things to learn and practice when you’re new to squatting and you want to get the best results possible, such as choosing the right weight, engaging the posterior chain, reaching proper depth at the bottom of the squat, keeping your back straight and controlling the rotation of the hips. But getting obsessive with achieving the best form possible as soon as you begin performing squats can lead you to analysis paralysis instead of the perfect squat and you might be overlooking the position of one of the most important body parts – the head.
In short, the position of your head when squatting can really make or break your squat since your body positioning often follows the lead of the head. Proper head positioning can help you prevent injury and generate more force, but looking at the ceiling during heavy squats squeezes the spinal discs in your neck, hyperextends the neck, forces the hips forward prematurely, increases knee flexion and can easily result with neck pain and injury. On the other hand, looking at your feet can cause unnecessary flexion of the spine and possibly harm your balance.
So, what to do?
It’s very simple, actually. The general rule is that your neck should be kept inline with the torso, maintaining a straight line from head to the hips. You can also drive your head A BIT backward and slightly tuck your chin. Find a point on the floor in front of you that feels comfortable to look at, looking diagonally down instead of straight down. This will make the back angle easier to obtain and hold while keeping your cervical spine neutral.
Depending on the stage of training and body composition, some trainees are able to look high up or low down without risking their safety, but these guys are exceptions to the rule and should not be viewed as role models for the average lifter.
As a beginner to low bar squats, looking slightly down while maintaining a neutral spine can help you work the posterior chain more effectively. However, when you progress to moving heavier weights, you’ll be better off looking forwards and never tilting the head up. This will keep your upper back tight and support a successful lift.
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With enough practice, you’ll be able to discover which direction is the most comfortable for you to direct your gaze at, without damaging your form and increasing the risk of injury. But regardless of where your eyes go, ALWAYS maintain your cervical spine neutral since this is the key feature of a proper squat, even if this limits the amount of weight you can handle. Quality should be more important than quantity if you’re hoping to make any real gains and prevent painful injury. If more people followed this simple advice, the squat would finally be able to defeat its invalid reputation of a dangerous exercise.