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Comfortable Squats

Q: What’s your opinion of using a towel or pad on a barbell for back squats?

A: Towels and pads will push the barbell backward on your shoulders, which in turn will decrease your stability on the exercise. Athletes who use such padded devices often compensate by rolling their shoulders forward, displacing the spine from optimal alignment—a problem that is compounded because the padding increases the distance from the bar to the hips and so increases the stress on the lower back. They may also increase the risk of neck injury, as the head moves out of normal alignment, upping the chance that the barbell will slide off their back.

Beginners commonly find it uncomfortable to hold a barbell on their shoulders because they were never properly instructed on how to perform the exercise. If trainees find that the bar digs painfully into their shoulders, using a closer grip with the elbows pointing down—not back—often resolves the problem.

For those who find it uncomfortable to hold a barbell on their shoulders, one option is the Manta Ray, which distributes the pressure from the bar over a larger area. Also, rather than shifting the bar backward, it simply lifts it upward.

Competitive weightlifters and powerlifters prefer not to use supportive devices because they reduce the feel of the bar on their shoulders. In fact, in the case of powerlifting barbells, the bars have center knurling that settles into the neck for a more secure feel. [Note: The Manta Ray is available at]

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit  IM



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