If you’re the type of person who squats with an excessive forward lean then you may be limiting the amount of weight you can ultimately lift. In addition, an excessive forward lean can increase the sheer force of your low and mid-back, which may increase your risk of injury.
So how do you fix leaning forward when squatting? There are five solutions to fixing a forward lean when squatting: (1) getting your upper back tighter before unracking the barbell, (2) activating your feet to find your balance, (3) building up your quad strength, (4) building up your upper back strength, and (5) stretching your hips.
I’ve worked with over 120 National-level powerlifters to optimize their squat form, including helping lifters correct an excessive forward lean. I’m going to explain whether leaning forward in the squat is a bad thing or not, some of the potential reasons why you lean forward, and the five fail-proof solutions to stop leaning forward while squatting.
Should You Be Leaning Forward When Squatting? (Is it Good or Bad)
What you need to understand about your torso while squatting is that there isn’t an exact angle that is going to work for everyone.
Rather than an exact angle, it’s more of a range that is considered optimal. For example, it’s not realistic to say that a 45-degree torso angle is ideal for everyone. Each person is going to be built slightly different, which is going to warrant a slightly different position when squatting.
Based on your leverages, the proportions between your torso and leg lengths, you will have either more or less forward torso lean. Neither the ‘more forward’ or ‘less forward’ torso position is better. It simply depends on how you’re built. Therefore, instead of thinking that you need to squat ‘more upright’, you need to determine, first, whether or not your leverages will allow you to do so.
This is the best video explanation to understand how a person’s leverages impact how far forward they lean in the squat:
When is it okay to lean forward in the squat?
There are two scenarios where no matter how much you try to squat upright, you won’t be able to based on your proportions.
- If you have a really long femur (upper thigh bone) compared with a short tibia (lower leg bone)
- If you generally have long legs combined with a short torso
If you fit these proportions, then it’s okay to lean forward in the squat.
No matter what recommendations I make in this article on fixing your forward lean, you won’t make any progress. You are simply not built to squat upright.
Therefore, this means you need to have a stronger low and mid-back compared with someone with different proportions when squatting. When planning your exercises, make sure to include a lot of low and mid-back accessory movements.
When is it NOT okay to lean forward in the squat?
There are two scenarios where you should be squatting upright based on your proportions:
- If you have a really short femur (upper thigh bone) compared with a long tibia (lower leg bone)
- If you generally have short legs combined with a long torso
If you fit these proportions, then it’s NOT okay to lean forward in the squat, and you should work to correct it.
If you do find yourself leaning too far forward in the squat with these proportions, then you have one of the four issues that I’m going to outline below.
Why Do You Lean Forward While Squatting (4 Reasons)
I’m going to explain 4 reasons why you lean forward while squatting, and then in the next section, I’ll describe the solutions to each of these problems.
Reason #1: You lose your balance
When you lose your balance you might feel like you’re falling forward. If this is the case, your torso will begin to lean forward and you will struggle to keep an upright posture.
Losing your balance can be caused by several reasons, including moving your gaze around when squatting (i.e. your eyes), having poor ankle mobility, or having a lack of squatting experience generally.
However, the number one reason why you lose balance and feel like you’re falling forward in the squat is that you haven’t activated your feet. Your feet are the connection to the floor, and without ‘active feet’, you may begin to lean forward when squatting.
Reason #2: You have weak quads
When you have weak quads, you will struggle to maintain an upright posture as you drive out of the bottom of the squat.
At the bottom of the squat, the majority of the loading demand is placed on your knee extensors, so your quads have to work a lot harder to drive the barbell upward. If you have weak quads, your body is going to search for leverage to help assist with this range of motion. In this scenario, you begin to lean forward, which places more loading demand on your hip extensors. As a result, your glutes begin to work a lot harder to compensate for the weak quads.
Therefore, if you find that you can maintain an upright posture squatting on the way down, but out of the bottom position, your hips shoot up and your torso becomes more parallel to the floor, then this is a sign that your quads aren’t’ doing their job properly and there is a lack of strength.
If you’re interested to learn about how specific muscle groups impact your squat technique, read our full guide to the Muscles Used in The Squat. This is not just an article outlining the muscles used, but how your muscles work together to complete the movement.
Reason #3: You have a weak upper back
When you have weak upper back muscles, you will find that your upper back tends to round while squatting, which may also cause you to lean more forward.
When I’m referring to your upper back muscles, I’m specifically talking about the muscles underneath where the bar sits on your back (traps, rhomboids, rear delt, and to some extent, lats).
To understand whether this is the reason why you lean forward when squatting, you need to know what it looks like when you get close to your fatigue limit. For example, if you find that you can maintain an upright position throughout most of your squat reps, but when you get to the end of a set, or you’re attempting a max weight, you notice your posture begin to change.
If this is the case and you find your upper back rounding at the same time as leaning forward more, then this is a reason to believe that you have a weak upper back.
Reason #4: You have tight hips
When you have tight hips, you will struggle to get deeper into the bottom of the squat, which will cause you to lean forward more.
If you keep pushing yourself into a range of motion that your current mobility doesn’t allow, then your body will need to compensate in some way. The most common way that your body will compensate will be to lean forward. You will know if you have this issue because you’ll feel very restricted at your hips and no matter how much you try to get deeper in the squat, you are unable to do so.
If you want to know how to properly warm up your hips, read my Full Guide To Squat Warm-Ups.
5 Fixes To Stop Leaning Forward While Squatting?
Now that I’ve discussed the main reasons why you are leaning forward in the squat, let’s talk about the solutions that you need to implement to start squatting more upright.
The key part of implementing these solutions is not to do every single one.
You need to identify the reason why you are leaning forward based on the previous section, and then only implement the fix that is associated with the given problem.
Fix #1: Cue Your Feet To Find Your Balance
If you can’t stay upright in the squat because you always feel like you’re falling forward/losing balance, then you need to ‘activate your feet’ before squatting.
To ensure you’re balanced while you squat, you need to find the 3-point contact with your feet:
- Feel your pinky toe
- Feel your big toe
- Feel your heel
You want to specifically draw your attention to these parts of your foot, and actively press them into the floor. I like to go one step further and “claw the ground” with my feet where I’m curling my toes into the floor.
By doing this, you will feel more balanced throughout the squat and should be able to maintain a more upright torso.
Fix #2: Build Quad Strength
If your hips are shooting up too quickly out of the bottom of the squat, causing you to lean too far forward, then you need to build your quad strength.
Building your quad strength all comes down to the exercises you choose to implement into your training program. The best exercise I can recommend for building quad strength is the front squat.
Other quad-dominant exercises that can build quad strength are:
- Pause Squats
- Safety Bar Squats
- Narrow Stance Leg Press
- Goblet Squat (Heels Elevated)
- Walking Dumbbell Lunge (Bending Into Front Knee)
Building strength in your quads won’t happen quickly. You’ll need to invest in these exercises for 8-12 weeks before you notice that your torso angle in the barbell back squat is improving.
Fix #3: Cue Your Upper Back Before Taking The Bar Off The Rack
If the muscles underneath where the barbell sits are not tight enough before you take the bar off the rack, then you’ll be more prone to leaning forward when performing the squat.
Before taking the bar off the rack, actively pull the bar down almost like you’re ‘rowing the bar’ into your upper back. At the same time, you should be squeezing your hands strong and making sure that the connection between your upper back and the bar is as tight as possible. Once you’re set, take the bar up and out of the rack, and walk back into your starting stance.
If you’re interested in learning the most optimal position for the bar to sit on your back, read our full guide HERE.
Fix #4: Build Upper Back Strength
Regardless of whether you cue your upper back muscles or not, if those muscles are weak, then you’ll still have a problem leaning too far forward in the squat.
Developing your upper back strength will require you to choose the right exercises to implement into your training program. The best exercises I can recommend for building upper back strength are:
- Wide Grip Pull-Ups (Assisted or Weighted)
- Wide Grip Pendlay Rows (Reset on the floor each rep to avoid heaving the weight)
- Wide Grip Seated Rows (Pulling high on your chest and keeping your elbows ‘out’)
- Snatch Grip Barbell Shrugs
- Incline Dumbell Reverse Fly
Like any muscular weakness, you need to stick with targetted exercises for 8-12 weeks before you notice any meaningful improvement.
Fix # 5: Stretch Your Hip Flexor Muscles
If your hips are too tight and you notice that you have problems getting deep into your squat, then you’re more than likely going to compensate by leaning too far forward.
The best approach to increasing your hip flexibility is to implement a static stretching routine post-exercise. Static stretching is when you hold a stretch anywhere from 30-seconds to 2-minutes in a passive nature.
The best hip flexor stretch is the rear foot elevated hip flexor stretch.
Feel free to incorporate any series of hip and groin stretches; however, the important part is to be consistent with them and only perform post-exercise (not before).
If you struggle with squat depth, read my 9 Tips To Squat Deeper.
If you are leaning too far forward in the squat, you need to identify the underlying reason why it’s happening and then select the appropriate intervention to correct your form. None of the fixes are quick, and you’ll need to stick with it over the course of 8-12 weeks to see any meaningful changes. Remember, some people just simply don’t have the leverages to squat upright. If that’s the case, implement some additional low and mid back strengthening work so that you’re stronger in a ‘bent over’ position.