Let’s talk about where to look when you are squatting. It’s important in helping you generate more force and it also keeps your safe.
If you are doing high bar squats, there is no reason to look down. But during Low Bar Squats, you can look up or down depending on the stage of your training and also preference.
When To Look Down
The low bar squat works the posterior chain with a mechanic called ‘hip drive’ (check out my article on how to squat if you don’t know how to use hip drive). As a beginner to low bar squats, it is easiest to learn hip drive when you are looking down and keeping a neutral spine. The hip drive is absolutely crucial in the low bar squats because without your posterior chain working, you are only working with a fraction of the muscles and strength that you could develop.
When To Look Up
Once you learned how to use hip drive and start moving heavier weights, you may have to look forwards. You should never tilt your head ‘up’. Your head can face forwards while your eyes look up if you feel that helps.
Looking forwards helps keep the upper back tight and prevents your upper back from ‘buckling’ under the weight. When your upper back buckles, it becomes impossible to complete the lift. In short, you will fail your attempt.
You never look straight up for down. Looking straight up cranks your neck and it doesn’t do anything for you. All you are looking to achieve is to keep your upper back as tight as possible during the squat. When you ‘look down’, you are actually looking diagonally down to keep a neutral spine. Imagine you are holding a baseball under your chin. Here is an illustration of what I mean:
So how did this debate start?
I’m not 100% certain, but I learned to look down from Starting Strength. Looking around in various forums, it seems that other people also learned it from that book. Then they go on youtube to watch the ‘So You Think You Can Squat’ series by EliteFTS and they find out that world champion squatters look forward. In fact, I refer to that video series in my article on how to squat.
Starting Strength is a book for beginners learning the basic barbell exercises. It describes the best way for a beginner to squat, which is 100% correct.
On the other hand, the ‘So You Think You Can Squat’ series was created by elite powerlifters. The trainee that they were coaching in that series was someone with ‘very little experience’ by their standards…and he squats over 400 lbs without much difficulty. They need to look up and this is 100% correct as well.
Both sources are right, it just depends on the context that you are working in. Enormous amounts of weight have been squatted while looking forwards and down.