Before you pass any judgments, let me first tell you something: I have been lifting weights since I was 16 years old (long before I became a structural chiropractor) and all I wanted was for the sport of weightlifting to improve (yes, that includes bodybuilding, barbell training and Crossfit). I am not one to criticize. Rather, I’d like to take things apart for better performance.

Last week, while squatting I heard an interesting comment from my squat rack neighbor. He was telling his buddy to position his head with “eyes to the sky” during a squat. Unlike most people who will just sit there and listen, I decided to investigate and here’s what I came up with…

While there are some DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to head positioning during a squat, there are varying degrees of thoughts when it comes to optimum head positioning. First let’s take a quick peek at what NOT to do.

Incorrect Head Position # 1: “Eyes to the Sky”

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I’m not quite sure how this head positioning or coaching came about. Even as a sixteen-year old working out I can’t imagine how looking up and hyper-extending my neck would benefit anyone during a squat. From an anatomical point of view, if one hyper-extends their neck in a squat position, numerous things can happen:

1. Wires Get Damaged

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You see those yellow things? Those are wires (nerves) that are attached to the spinal cord (cable). They come out of a hole along the side of the your structure (spine). That hole can change its shape as you move your head backwards. The further you move your head back, the smaller it gets. In this case, what do you think can happen to the wires? If you are thinking nerve irritation, pain, numbness and tingling then you are correct. If “hyperextension” is the MOST common way children injure their spinal cord then why are we doing it as weightlifters?

What about that red thing? I’m glad you asked because that red thing is a blood vessel. It’s role is to transport blood from the heart to the brain via the neck. Impeding the circulation to the brain can lead to dizziness and loss of consciousness, not good when you are squatting.

2. Shock Absorbers Wear Out

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Shock absorbers might not be the most exciting part of your vehicle, but along with tires and breaks they are important elements in the safety of your vehicle. Similarly, the structure of your neck are separated by shock absorbers called “discs”. They operate the same way your car does and that is – shock absorption. For simplicity’s sake, repetitive hyperextension of the neck can lead to disc injuries.

3. Guy Wires Slack Off

Looking up with a cranked neck will slacken the spinal erector muscles. This position compromises the posterior chain muscles that add stability to the normal structure of the spine.

Incorrect Head Position # 2: Looking At Your Toes

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No matter what you say, looking down at your toes while squatting will ruin your form. Where the eyes and head goes, the body will follow. This means that your body will not only bend at the neck but also at the lower back. A bent lower back can lead to spinal disc injuries.

Correct Head Position # 1: Neutral

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This image tells the story. Optimum head positioning allows for neck safety, maximal hip power and spine in its normal structure.

Correct Head Position # 2: Look Ahead

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Looking straight ahead is the MOST common position seen during a squat. This position allows for the chest to stay upright and the traps into the bar. The structure of the neck is not compromised using this technique.

What’s The Verdict?

If it was my turn to squat, I’d pick the “looking ahead” position. As mentioned, it allows for your chest to stay upright and it keeps your head in a semi-neutral position. The best way to learn is to get rid of the mirror and use the gym as a laboratory. Try practicing the “neutral” position and compare it to “looking ahead” position. Once you find out which one suits you best, do not hesitate to stick with it.