When you lose tension at the bottom of a squat, you will automatically feel a lack of power. This may contribute to failing the lift, especially if you’re attempting a max weight. Worse though, you may be risking injury as a loss of tension can lead to a loss of position, which will compromise your technique.
So how do you fix losing tension at the bottom of a squat? Here are 8 ways:
- Breathe and Brace Properly
- Practice Squats Without a Belt
- Do Pause Squats
- Check Your Barbell Path
- Build Knee Extensor Strength
- Don’t Go Deeper Than Necessary
- Try Widening Your Stance
- Monitor Your Eccentric Tempo
Each of these tips will serve as a checklist for you to start analyzing what is the potential causes and corrections for losing tension in the squat.
Not all of these tips will apply to everyone equally though. What might work for one person, may or may not work for another.
I suggest taking one of these tips, implementing it into your training over a period of a few weeks, then see if it works. If it does, great. If not, move onto the next tip.
I’m confident at least one of these tips will work for you! And if not, feel free to contact me.
One of the consequences of losing tension at the bottom of a squat is feeling like you’re going to fall forward. However, there are several reasons for falling forward in the squat. As such, I put together an entire article on How To Fix Falling Forward In The Squat. Check it out if you think this is more of the problem you’re experiencing.
1. Breathe and Brace Properly
The number one problem I see with lifters who lose tension in the bottom of the squat is a lack of ‘breathing and bracing’ technique.
Breathing and bracing properly in the squat allows you to stabilize your core while lifting.
This is important for three reasons:
First, when you stabilize your core you have more efficient force transfer to your limbs.
Second, stabilizing your core allows you to maintain proper posture while squatting, i.e. your torso angle.
Last, bracing your core properly has been shown to take hundreds of pounds of pressure off your spine while lifting.
I wrote an entire article detailing how to breathe properly in the squat. Here are the basics steps you need to follow (although I highly recommend you read this article if you have problems with losing tension):
- Pull your belly button into your spine (don’t lose this throughout the remaining steps)
- Take a large breath into the abdomen utilizing your diaphragm (cue: big air)
- Hold this breath and create pressure in the abdomen by forcefully exhaling WITHOUT letting any air out (this process is called intra-abdominal pressure)
- Brace your core by pushing your entire trunk out in a 360-degree fashion (front abs, side abs, and low back)
- Squeeze hard and visualize that someone is going to punch you in the stomach and you’re ‘bracing for impact’
One of the common squat mistakes I see with lifters is the lack of timing of when it comes to implementing the ‘breathing and bracing’ technique. I cover a lot of the common issues in my article on Why Powerlifters Hold Their Breath.
You want to ensure that you’re setting up your brace PRIOR to descending into the squat. If you try to breathe and brace as you’re squatting, you will limit the ability to maximally engage your core. As such, you’ll be more likely to lose tension in the hole.
Therefore, at the top of each squat rep, make sure you’re resetting your brace. Don’t neglect this as you fatigue or the weight gets heavier. This is when you need to brace the most.
If you don’t breathe and brace properly, it can also affect your squat lockout.
2. Practice Squats Without a Belt
I find that lifters who develop an over-reliance training with their belt will lose tension in the squat as the weight gets heavier versus someone who naturally has a strong core.
This point might seem counter-intuitive.
You might think that if you’re losing tension at the bottom of the squat that you should be wearing a powerlifting belt.
Don’t get me wrong: if you lose tension in the bottom of the squat a powerlifting belt will certainly help and I definitely recommend using one.
However the issue occurs when you ALWAYS train with a belt, and you don’t take periods of time practicing beltless squats to develop your natural core strength.
You need to have a strong core naturally if you want to leverage the full benefit of wearing a belt. If you’re attempting a max weight, a belt will amplify an already strong core, making it easier to maintain tension.
However, wearing a belt with a weak core will only mask your deficiencies up until you attempt a max load. At that point, the belt is not a magic cure for your lack of core strength and it’ll be far more likely you lose tension in the bottom.
To ensure you’re not developing an over-reliance on your belt when squatting, do the following:
- Don’t wear your belt during warm-up sets
- If you squat more than once per week, consider making one of those squat workouts beltless
- If you’ve been training with your belt for two consecutive training cycles, consider not using a belt for the next training cycle.
If you don’t have a powerlifting belt already, or you’re looking to upgrade to a professional powerlifting belt, check out my reviews of the top 10 best powerlifting belts.
My #1 pick was the Inzer Forever Lever Belt (click to check today’s price on Amazon).
3. Do Pause Squats
An effective way to build tension in the bottom of the squat is to implement exercises that increase the time under tension, such as pause squats.
The pause squat is exactly the same as the regular back squat, except you will pause for 2-seconds at the bottom-end range of motion.
This will remove the ‘stretch reflex’ that occurs at the bottom of the squat, and you’ll have to rely on generating force from a dead-stop versus relying on any mechanical advantage.
The key to maintaining tension in the bottom is to ensure that when you pause you keep the barbell motionless. This will generate greater tension through your quads, core, and back, so that when you return to regular back squatting these muscles are stronger.
If you find that you can’t keep the barbell motionless through the pause, or before driving up your body needs to dip downward first, then the weight is too heavy.
While technically you can implement the pause throughout any range of motion in the squat, you’ll want to select the point in which you start to feel the initial loss of tension occurring.
I wrote an entire article on pause squats, so if you plan on implementing it into your training check out How To Pause Squat (Technique, Benefits, Muscles Worked). If you want even more of a challenge, you can do pause squats using a Cambered Squat Bar.
4. Check Your Barbell Path
If you’re losing tension in the bottom of the squat it may be because your bar path is lacking efficiency.
If you watch your squat from the side, you should see that the barbell travels in a straight line from the start to the finish. In addition, this vertical bar path should fall directly in line with the midfoot.
When you keep the barbell over the mid-foot it allows you to (1) work less, (2) increase balance and stability, and (3) decrease the loading demands on your low back.
One of the issues when analyzing bar path if you lose tension in the bottom of the squat is that you have a “chicken-and-egg problem”:
- Are you losing tension at the bottom of the squat, which then causes a poor bar path?
- Or do you have a poor bar path, which then causes a loss of tension at the bottom of the squat?
It’s tough to know exactly.
But, if you see that your bar path is not maintaining this straight line over the mid-foot, I would look to address the bar path and see if your tension issues improve.
Some things you could try are:
- Improving your ankle and hip mobility
- Use the squat cue “claw the ground with your feet”
- Ensure you’re breaking from the hips and knees properly
- Track bar path under different loads
- Make sure you’re not squatting in running shoes
I cover a lot more of the “how-to” in my article on What Is The Best Bar Path For Squats. If you think your bar path is an issue open this article up in a new tab.
5. Build Knee Extensor Strength
If you lack tension in the bottom of the squat it could be because of a lack of knee extensor strength.
Any time you can’t keep tension on your muscles within a specific range of motion, you should look to address any muscular weaknesses that might be occurring.
At the bottom of the squat, there is a greater loading demand on your knee extensors.
Your knee extensors are primarily your quad muscles (i.e. they are used to extend the knee).
Therefore, you should look to develop greater strength in your quads to see if your bottom-end tension improves. Regardless, building quad strength should make a noticeable impact on your strength as you drive out of the hole.
Building quad strength comes down to effective exercise selection. Consider picking 1-2 of the following exercises (click exercises to be taken to my guides):
Check out my guide comparing the Hack Squat vs Leg Press and see which one is better for building knee extensor strength.
6. Don’t Go Deeper Than Necessary
Most people will want to squat down until their hips break the plane of their knee. Don’t aim to squat any lower than that if you lose tension in the hole.
I’m not here to discuss whether deep squats are better than half squats. If you’re curious to know my answer, you can check out my article on Should You Squat Ass-To-Grass.
However, the issue for people who lack tension in the bottom of the squat is that squatting too deep will only create greater lack of tension. In other words, it’s not going to get any better the deeper you go.
Now, this is not to say that you should purposely squat shallow to avoid the range of motion where you feel weak. But, you should still aim for a squat that allows you to break parallel, with the caveat that if you go deeper it won’t yield any further benefits.
The key is to become consistent with your depth, knowing exactly where your hips are in space, going to the proper depth each rep, and then driving up. It might be helpful to video yourself from the side to learn whether you’re going to the proper depth or not.
Another tool I like to use when teaching lifters proper depth is setting up a box at the height when the lifter is supposed to drive up. Once they tap the box with their hips, they know what the proper depth feels like. Over time, you’ll want to remove the box.
If you experience your knees caving inward in the bottom of the squat, then check out my article on How To Fix Knee Valgus While Squatting.
7. Try Widening Your Stance
If you squat in a narrow stance and you lose tension in the bottom of the squat, you should try a slightly wider stance.
A narrow stance would be considered a stance that is either shoulder-width or inside shoulder-width.
If you’re someone who has long femurs and you squat in a narrow stance, I would guess that this is one of the main reasons why you lose tension in the bottom of the squat.
For these lifters, a wider stance has the ability for you to activate your glutes to a greater extent, in addition to preventing excessive lumbar flexion (low back rounding).
If you want to start taking a wider stance, I recommend placing your feet outside shoulder width with your toes slightly flared. You could even take a squat stance as wide as 1.5X the distance of your shoulders.
If you do end up squatting wider, be sure to read my article on Wide Stance Squats. I talk about some of the other benefits of wide squats, including having the potential to increase your force production.
8. Monitor Your Eccentric Tempo
The tempo that you use on the way down can impact the level of tension you’re able to maintain while squatting.
Eccentric tempo and muscular tension have a direct relationship:
- The slower you squat down, the more muscular tension you have
- The faster you squat down, the less muscular tension you have
So it very well could be that you’re just squatting down too fast. This is referred to as a ‘dive bomb’ squat where you just bring the bar down as fast as possible, usually bouncing in and out of the whole quite aggressively.
If this is you, then you’ll want to consider slowing the tempo as you squat down.
However, I don’t want to be misinterpreted: I’m not saying that a slower squat is better.
In fact, for most of my lifters, I’m trying to get them to squat down slightly faster. This is because if you squat down TOO slow then you’re just simply wasting energy that you otherwise could use squatting the weight up.
There’s a trade-off between tempo and tension:
You want to squat down slow enough where you maintain tension, but fast enough where you’re not wasting energy.
The goal is to try and find a balance between where you’re maximizing how fast you can squat down, while at the same time maximizing the tension you can create.
For those lifters who lose tension in the bottom of the squat, I would say you probably need to squat down slower as you haven’t found that balance yet.
A lot of technique corrections can be made if you understand the differences between the eccentric vs concentric squat. Check out my other article explaining what you need to know.
Losing tension at the bottom of the squat will make you feel weaker and you’ll be more likely to compromise your technique. Each of these tips in this article addresses a specific cause of why you might be losing tension. Start by selecting one tip at a time and see if it makes an impact on your ability to increase tension while squatting. For some of these tips, you might need to wait a few weeks before noticing any significant difference in your technique. Stay patient and trust the process!
Struggling to get deep in the squat? Check out my article discussing 22 Exercises That Will Improve Your Squat Depth.