Why Low Bar Squats Hurt Your Shoulders & How To Fix Pain

Legs 4 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

One of the biggest adjustments people have to make when moving from high bar squats to low bar squats is gaining comfort with how tight the positioning is.

Your wrists should be engaged in the setup, and so should your shoulders.

The best low bar technique maximizes tension throughout every joint in your body, and for low bar squat newcomers it can be pretty uncomfortable.

If low bar squats hurt your shoulders you are not alone, and neither are you out of luck.

I’ve got you covered in this post with information on why you’re hurting and how to alleviate the pain.

Why Low bar squats hurt your shoulders

1. Tight Muscles

The single most common cause of shoulder pain in a low bar squat is shoulder tightness. This is often caused by over tightness in the pecs, but the lats can contribute as well.

The good news is that just forcing yourself into the low bar squat position will stretch these muscles out over time, but I’ve got a few tricks to help speed things up and make your squats feel a whole lot better.

2. Missing the shelf

Another common cause of shoulder pain in the low bar squat is an incorrect placement of the bar on your back.

For a low-bar squat the barbell has to sit in the “shelf”. This shelf is created from your rear delts and the bar sits between your rear delts and the spine of the scapulae.

If the bar sits lower than this you create more stretch on the pecs and shoulders causing pain and discomfort. Your wrists may also be hurting.

3. Hand placement

The width of your hands on the bar in a low bar squat dictates a lot of your set-up. If you’re too close in you’ll place unnecessary tension into your pecs and most likely have shoulder discomfort.

You’ll have to play around with your grip when you first start low bar squatting. As you become more mobile you’ll be able to bring your hands in a bit more.

Check out the The Serious Guide to the Low Bar Squat for more help with technique.

First, Get Pain-free with a good warm-up

1. Mobilize

If your technique is solid, then increasing your mobility will be your solution to squatting with pain-free shoulders.

Mobility work will give you an immediate improvement in range of motion by inhibiting hypertonic (overactive) muscles.

Spending 5-10 minutes on the foam roller & lacrosse ball will do wonders for alleviating discomfort in the low bar squat.

Focus on your pec minor with a lacrosse ball, and your upper back & lats with the foam roller.


2. Warm-up

Then, grab a resistance band or PVC pipe to do some shoulder up & overs to continue to loosen up the shoulders through a full range of motion.

If your shoulders are still feeling creaky after this point, try some cuban presses to really get the blood flowing. Keep the weight very light. The goal is blood flow, not fatigue.

then, improve your flexibility

Mobilizing is a way to tap into range of motion you already have that may be inhibited by tight muscles.

Increasing your flexibility is the way to increase your range of motion by elongating tissues. Stretching before exercise should be kept at a low to moderate intensity, and only should be done to a range of motion you will be using for exercise that day; ideally after mobilizing.

The most useful stretch for this will be the pec wall stretch.

1. Find a doorway
2. Position your right hand overhead so you form a 90 degree angle in your elbow and armpit with your palm forward
3. Place your right palm and right forearm on the door frame
4. Press your body forward through the doorway until you feel stretch in your chest
5. If you need a deeper stretch simultaneously rotate your body to the left as your press forward
6. Perform 4-5 deep breaths and notice how each exhale allows you to stretch deeper
7. Repeat with your left side


It may take several squat sessions using these new moves to see improvements in the discomfort. Keep up the mobilization techniques and stretching.

If you don’t see improvement it is most likely because your technique needs to be tweaked. Go read our complete guide on how to low bar squat if you need more help.

If you’re ready to start squatting regularly and increase your strength download our FREE beginner program below. 

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.