If you lean to one side during the squat you are limiting your overall strength and performance, increasing your risk of imbalances and injury, and setting a foundation for further movement issues.
How can you fix leaning to one side during the squat? You can fix leaning to one side during the squat by ensuring you are setting up with an even grip, stance, and bar position. Additionally, increasing your shoulder and hip mobility, and actively pulling the barbell down on your back will help you with a more balanced squat.
In order to fix leaning to one side, you first need to identify the causes of why it happens in the first place. Once you pinpoint the exact reason, you can then work to correct this.
Let’s first discuss whether leaning to one side is a problem or not.
Why Is Leaning To One Side A Problem?
Some lifters may only have a very minor lean to one side in the squat, others will display a more pronounced lean where it appears the bar is drastically shifting to one side.
Whilst a slight lean on the occasional set will not be a significant issue, the more pronounced the lean is, the bigger the issue becomes.
There are three main issues that arise from leaning to one side:
1. You Will Feel off Balance
Leaning the barbell to one side will shift your body further to that side as well, rather than the load from being centred over your stance where you are most stable.
This will lead to you feeling off balance and unstable, both of which negatively impact your squat. This will also increase your chances of failure, and overall risk of injury.
2. You Will Be Loading One Side of Your Body More
The main issue with this is that you are over relying on one side of your body to produce the force needed to complete the squat.
Relying more on one side is going to be far less efficient at producing force, and therefore moving more weight, than loading both sides evenly.
This may lead to further muscular imbalances and increased injury risk.
3. It Can Lead to Other Movement Issues
Exaggerated periods of time squatting whilst leaning to one side can lead to developing further movement issues, such as hip shifting. Where not only the bar is leaning to one side, but your entire body begins to shift into loading that same side.
This could also lead to muscular imbalances due to the uneven loading and even increase your risk of injury.
Check out my other article on the Top 17 Squat Mistakes.
Why Do You Lean To One Side During A Squat?
There are seven main reasons you lean to one side during the squat:
- Poor Proprioception
- Poor Shoulder Mobility
- Uneven Grip Placement
- Uneven Bar Placement
- Poor Hip Mobility
- Uneven Foot Placement
- A Muscular Imbalance
If your hips are shifting in the deadlift as well, then check out my article How To Fix Hip Shift In The Deadlift (10 Tips).
1. Poor Proprioception
Proprioception is your ability to perceive how the body is positioned or moving. In essence, your awareness of where your body is.
In relation to leaning in the squat, this could be an awareness of the bar position on your back, your shoulder positioning, grip width or even an imbalance of these things side to side.
If you are unaware of these positions and how they should feel, this could be the cause of you leaning to one side in the squat.
With poor proprioception, you will have to think more about how you are positioning your body throughout the squat. This is where learning proper squat cues come into play.
2. Poor Shoulder Mobility
Poor, or uneven, shoulder mobility can cause you to lean to one side during the squat.
If one shoulder is more mobile and able to get into a different, be that better or worse, position than the other then this will cause a lean.
I too had problems with my squat leaning to the left as I was not able to get my right shoulder into the same position I could achieve on my left side.
Here is how you can test for limitations:
For shoulder flexion: while lying on a foam roller, you should be able to bring both arms back, comfortably to the floor.
For shoulder external rotation: while side lying, you should be able to bring your hand to touch the floor from this 90 degree position.
Note any imbalances side to side; limited range on the right will often cause a lean to the left and vice versa.
3. Uneven Grip Placement
Uneven grip placement is a frequently overlooked contributor. If one hand is gripping the bar wider than the other this will cause a lean.
You may not have even considered your grip width before when squatting.
Those with better shoulder mobility or shorter arms may look to take a narrower grip, whilst those with longer arms or worse shoulder mobility may look to take a wider grip.
We go into greater detail about how to set up your grip on the barbell for squats in our article: Squat Hand Position: 4 Rules To Follow.
4. Uneven Bar Placement
This could either be setting one side higher/lower on your back or setting the bar further to one side entirely.
If the bar is sitting further to one side, then the weight on that side will cause the lean.
If the bar is sat lower on your back on one side, then this will also cause a lean to that side.
Take a look at my article on how to effectively place the barbell on your back for squats.
5. Poor Hip Mobility
Similar to your shoulders, limited or excessive mobility of your hips can cause a lean in your squat.
Here we want to consider internal and external rotation.
To test this, sit with your legs hanging over the edge of a chair with your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle, then you need to point your knee outwards whilst having your lower leg turn towards the opposite leg.
You should be able to create a 40-60 degree angle without discomfort.
Internal rotation, within the squat, is your ability for the knees to track inwards and sit into the bottom of the squat without discomfort or knee cave.
To test this, using the same position as above, but instead of rotating the leg inwards, you need to point your knee inwards and push your lower leg outwards away from your body.
You should be able to create 30-40 degrees of motion without discomfort or like you need to adjust your body position to achieve this.
6. Uneven Foot Placement
Foot placement and side to side differences are often not considered, or simply not noticed.
One foot rotated inwards/outwards more than the other, or placed further forward/back, will cause you to lean in your squat.
You need to have your feet evenly placed and evenly rotated.
7. A Muscular Imbalance
Muscular imbalances can also cause you to lean during the squat.
As with mobility, muscular imbalances can impede the positions you are able to achieve, but they also raise the issue of potential strength differences.
For example, if you have larger quadriceps and glutes on your left side, then you are likely to load this side comparatively more than your right and lean to this side.
Read which muscle groups are responsible for each range of motion in the squat.
7 Ways To Fix Leaning To One Side During Squats
Now that you know why you may be leaning to one side during the squat, I want to cover the ways you can fix this.
My top seven tips to fix leaning to one side in the squat are:
- Make Sure You Set Up Evenly
- Widen Your Grip
- Increase Shoulder Mobility
- Pull The Bar Into Your Back
- Use Wrist Wraps
- Improve Hip Mobility
- Use Pin Squats
1. Make Sure You Set Up Evenly
The easiest tip to implement is to make sure you are setting up evenly in the first place.
Most bars will have a centre knurling (the sharpened patch on a bar) and smooth rings towards either end. Use these as reference points.
Set your grip evenly distanced from the rings or end of the barbell and keep this consistent session to session.
If you lack shoulder mobility or have longer arms, start with a slightly wider grip that feels comfortable.
If you have great shoulder mobility or shorter arms, you may be able to start in a narrower grip position.
Next, ensure that the bar is centred on your back and not positioned towards one side, and also that it is not higher or lower on either side as well.
Either get someone to check this for you or film your set up from behind so you can check to see if the bar is evenly placed on your back.
Lastly, you need your stance to be even.
If it helps, draw a line on the ground with chalk, or even take some tape in to mark a straight line for your toes to be against.
You also want to make sure your toes are pointed in the same direction.
2. Widen Your Grip
Widening your grip helps us in two ways.
Firstly, it reduces the demands on shoulder mobility by lessening the range of motion needed to get into position.
This reduces the effects of uneven or poor shoulder mobility on causing a lean to one side.
Secondly, it widens the base in which the bar is placed upon. This will make it easier to feel if there is a lean to one side and also reduce the chances of it happening in the first place.
Think of standing with a wider stance vs narrow stance if someone were to push you.
It is far easier to stand evenly and maintain your balance with a wider stance.
The same thought process applies to a more stable wider grip.
3. Increase Shoulder Mobility
Whilst widening your grip can reduce the required shoulder mobility, you may want to stick with your current grip position, and I always recommend addressing any underlying mobility issues as well.
Looking at videos of you squatting can help identify these imbalances initially. Bar lean itself may indicate this, but also look at the difference in your overall shoulder, wrist and elbow position too.
If one of these is different side to side, it will indicate a difference in either your shoulder mobility, or grip and wrist positioning.
These are two stretches I do prior to my squat sessions to help with my shoulder mobility.
Shoulder Flexion Stretch
This stretch is for those of you that identified limitations or imbalances with your shoulder flexion using the test above.
Perform the stretch 2-3 times for 10-15 seconds.
Shoulder External Rotation Stretch
This stretch is for those of you that identified limitations or imbalances with your shoulder external rotation using the test above.
Perform the stretch 2-3 times for 10-15 seconds.
4. Pull The Bar Into Your Back
Pulling the bar into you, almost like you are performing a pull up or pull down, will increase the overall stability of your upper back and arms and improve the bar position on your back.
Pulling the bar down evenly on both sides will help ensure the bar is not leaning to either side.
This also ensures you are stacking your wrists and elbows under the bar which creates a stronger base for the barbell to sit on, reducing the chances of a lean to one side.
5. Use Wrist Wraps
While I do not think relying on equipment should be your go to in every situation, wrist wraps can really help here.
By wrapping your wrists, you can more easily maintain a neutral wrist position and hold the bar in place.
If the bar is leaning to one side, there’s a good chance the wrist on that side is shifted backwards. Wrist wraps will help prevent this by keeping the wrist and elbow positioned to support the bar and therefore contribute to reducing bar lean.
Looking for a set of wrist wraps? Check out our reviews of the 8 Best Wrist Wraps For Powerlifting.
6. Improve Hip Mobility
Similar to issues with shoulder mobility, videos can be really useful for identifying any mobility limitations you may have.
Film your squat from the front and see if your knees are tracking evenly on both sides, and that your hips are centred over your stance rather than shifting to one side.
My two personal favourite drills are front loaded squats and hip airplanes.
Front Loaded Squats
To perform these, get yourself a weight (10-20kg) and hold it out in front of you a comfortable distance to act as a counterbalance. From here, move through the full range of a squat.
You can incorporate pauses at the bottom and shift your weight side to side to further warm up your hips.
These front loaded squats are great if you typically feel restricted by your hip mobility in the back squat. The weight in front of you enables you to achieve a full range of motion more comfortably and remain more upright.
Elevating your heels on some smaller plates can also help with this exercise.
I recommend doing 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions, there’s no need to chase load on these as it’s simply to warm you up for the squat movement.
Hip Airplanes allow you to actively work through your range of internal and external rotation at the hip.
While standing on one leg and leaning forward slightly you want to rotate your body each way around the hip joint as demonstrated in the video above.
Ensure you are initiating the movement with your lower body and not just rotating at the torso.
You can support yourself by holding onto something to assist with the movement.
I recommend doing 3 sets of 6-10 repetitions for each leg.
We cover even more exercises to improve your hip mobility in this article: How to Increase Hip Mobility for Squats.
7. Use Pin Squats
Pin squats can be great for helping you address leaning to one side during the squat.
They give you an increased amount of time through the movement which helps you be more aware of any lean you may have.
If the bar is leaning to one side, you are likely to shift to that side more noticeably on the pins that you would in a normal squat. This acts as feedback for each rep throughout the set on your position, and also allows you the time within the movement to adjust this as well.
For example, if you realise you’re leaning to the left, you can adjust by pulling down more on the right side, and check your setup is even on the following set.
Pin squats also have the added benefit that you will actually feel and hear any lean to one side as the bar will hit the pins on that side first, and the bar will be straightened out as you come into the upwards phase of the rep and the following reps as well.
I recommend starting with 3 sets of 5 repetitions at RPE 7 or 60% of your best squat. Aim to progress the load each session whilst increasing the set and reducing the repetition count down to 5 sets of 3 over the course of several weeks.
If you are leaning to one side in the squat the easiest solution is to check you are setting up with the bar, your grip width and stance evenly.
If this does not work, you should try adjusting your grip width wider, actively pulling the bar into your back, or trial a pair of wrist wraps.
Along with all of these, assessing and improving your shoulder and hip mobility and addressing any imbalances here will be key to fixing the issue.
About The Author
Jacob Wymer is a powerlifting coach and PhD Candidate in Biomechanics and Strength and Conditioning, researching the application of barbell velocity measurements to powerlifting. He is involved in powerlifting across the board, from athlete to meet director. Jacob runs his coaching services at EST Barbell. You can also connect with him on Instagram.