Having the proper back angle for the squat is one of the most critical parts of your technique. The “back angle” is defined as your torso position in relation to the floor, and it’s something that will be totally individual based on your size and build. In other words, don’t compare your back angle with others!
So, what is the best squat back angle? The angle of your back while squatting will depend on the length of specific limb segments. If you have long legs combined with a short torso, your back angle will be more horizontal to the floor. If you have short legs combined with a long torso, your back angle will be more vertical.
The angle of your back will also depend on your squat stance, squat style, and level of mobility. I’ll breakdown each of these factors below so that you know exactly what your back angle is supposed to look like while squatting.
Let’s get started!
Once you’re finished this article, you may also want to check out The Best Back Angle For Deadlifts. In this article I breakdown the differences in the back angle for conventional vs sumo and common mistakes I see.
Squat Back Angle: 3 Technical Principles To Understand
As I said, the angle of your back for squats is going to depend on how you’re built.
However, no matter how you’re built, there are three technical principles that will apply to everyone when it comes to your squat back angle.
These technical principles are:
- The barbell needs to remain over the mid-foot
- The spine needs to stay neutral
- The load should not change the angle of your back
So before we get into the nitty-gritty details of how your individual differences affect your back angle, let’s understand these technical principles a bit further.
Bar Needs To Remain Over The Mid-Foot
Throughout the entirety of the squat, one of your main goals should be to keep the barbell over the midline of the foot. You can have a back angle that’s more or less horizontal to the floor, but the barbell in relation to your foot should remain constant.
Maintaining the barbell over the mid-foot while squatting is optimal because it will maximize your balance and strength. When the barbell isn’t swaying back and forth, you won’t have to worry about falling over, and you can focus strictly on applying maximum force.
Dr. Megan Bryanton, a sport biomechanist and expert in the squat, says:
“When the barbell travels forward or backward off the vertical axis, the weight on your foot will shift underneath it and it is up to your muscles to prevent that forward or backward swing. You can think of it like driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the break. If you’re constantly swinging back and forth between giving it gas (accelerating upward), and then putting on the break (slowing down to prevent yourself from falling forward or backward), then you’re probably going to burn through that tank pretty quick”.
In other words, you’ll use work less if you can keep the barbell over the mid-foot.
You can read my complete guide on the Best Bar Path For Squats.
Spine Needs To Stay Neutral
The angle of your back does not refer to how your spine flexes and extends throughout the movement. Your spine should maintain a neutral position, not showing excessive flexion or extension, regardless of the angle of your back.
The angle of your back is how your torso is positioned relative to the floor. On either end of the extreme, it can look like your back is completely vertical, or it can look like it’s parallel to the floor, or anything in between. This is what we’ll be talking about later.
On the other hand, your spine can show excessive curvature either through rounding or arching. The goal is to prevent the spine from moving into any of these extremes, and instead, maintain a neutral position where the spine is rigid and straight.
So when we talk about the angle of your back, we’re not talking about the curvature of your spine. For all lifters, we want to maintain as much spine neutrality as possible.
In the deadlift, there are some cases where it’s okay for the back to round. Read my full guide on Back Rounding For Deadlifts.
Load Should Not Change Back Angle
Whether you’re lifting a warm-up weight or maxing out, the angle of your back while squatting should remain constant. If there are changes in your torso angle as the load increases, this is a sign that there is a structural weakness somewhere within the body.
Once we’ve settled on the most optimal torso angle for your size and build, this is something that should stay consistent no matter what the weight on the barbell.
Later in this article, I’ll discuss mistakes that I see where we’ll go into greater detail on what you should do if the load does affect the angle of your back.
The Hatfield squat is a great variation to help reinforce an upright back posture. I wrote a full exercise guide that discusses the benefits.
Individual Differences: How Your Squat Back Angle Will Change
Now that we understand these technical principles, let’s discuss how individual factors impact your back angle while squatting.
There are four factors to consider:
- Limb Lengths & Proportions
- Stance Width
- Barbell Position
Depending on each of these factors, your back angle will be more or less horizontal to the floor. This is why you don’t want to compare your back angle with other people because the exact angle is largely impacted by how you’re built and how you squat.
1. Limb Lengths & Proportions
In general, your back angle will be more horizontal to the floor if you have a combination of long legs and a short torso, in particular, long femurs (upper leg bone). Alternatively, your back angle will be more vertical if you have a combination of short legs and a long torso, in particular, short femurs (upper leg bone).
If you have long legs, check out my special review on the Best Squat Shoes For Tall Lifters.
You might have heard people talk about someone’s “individual leverages” when it comes to squatting.
“Individual leverages” refer to how long or short certain limb lengths are in relation to one another. In the squat, we’re specifically referring to the length of your torso and upper/lower leg.
Based on these limb lengths, and the proportions of them relative to each other, your back angle will be more or less horizontal to the floor.
To learn more about how different body types impact powerlifting, check out my article on What Body Type Is Best For Powerlifting? (Science-Backed).
How Do You Measure Your Limb Lengths?
A study by Hales (2010) examined the torso, leg, and arm segment lengths as proportions of the overall body structure. These segment lengths offer a reference point to determine whether some limbs are considered ‘long’ or ‘short’.
You can use this chart to measure your limb lengths. Here’s how you should measure:
- Torso Length: Start at the hip bone (greater trochanter) and measure to the top of the head
- Leg Length: Start at the hip bone (greater trochanter) and measure to the floor
After you’ve measured yourself, you need to figure out the percentage of these limb lengths in relation to your overall height. Simply divide your limb length by your overall height and multiply it by 100.
For example, if your legs are greater than 49% of your overall height, then you’d be considered someone who has long legs. Similarly, if your torso is greater than 32% of your overall height, then you’d be considered someone who has a long torso.
This analysis isn’t going to tell you the exact back angle you should have while squatting, but it should give you some relative idea if you’re more suited to an ‘upright squat’ position, or a more ‘bent over squat position’.
Example of Limb Lengths, Proportions, and Back Angle
As a reference point, here are my limb lengths and proportions.
Based on my measurements, I would be classified as someone who has long legs and a long torso.
Because I fall in between the two extremes of having short legs/long torso or long legs/short torso, my back angle would likely be halfway between being completely vertical and parallel to the floor.
In other words, I would probably feel most comfortable around a 45-degree back angle while squatting.
However, the other factors I’ll discuss might change the angle of my back, so let’s keep going.
2. Wide vs Narrow Stance
If you squat in a wide stance you’ll likely have a back angle that is slightly more bent over compared with someone who squats in a narrow stance.
Broadly speaking someone who squats in a wide stance is trying to engage more glutes and someone who squats in a narrow stance is trying to engage more quads. As a result, the torso angle will change depending on the muscle group that the lifter wants to prioritize.
A wide stance squatter will try to keep their shins more vertical and limit any forward knee bend. This lifter will instead hinge quite far forward from their hips, creating a more parallel back angle to the floor.
A narrow stance squatter will angle their shins more forward and push into their knees to a greater extent. This lifter won’t hinge forward at their hips, which will force them to maintain a more upright back angle
If you don’t know where to begin with picking your squat stance, ready my article on Are Wide Squats Better For Powerlifting?
3. High Bar vs Low Bar
If you squat in a high bar position, you’ll likely have a back angle that is slightly more upright compared with someone who squats in a low bar position
The two dominant squat styles are high bar and low bar. This simply refers to where you place the barbell on your back, whether it’s on your upper traps (high bar) or at the top of your rear delt (low bar).
When the barbell is lower on the back, the lifter will need to lean forward more to keep the barbell over the midline of the foot (one of those important technical principles we talked about previously).
Side note: I just wrote a review on the 5 Best Squat Shoes For Low Bar. Check it out!
Most Olympic weightlifters will squat in a high bar position, while most powerlifters will squat in a low bar position. This is one of the reasons why you see weightlifters have a more vertical torso while squatting compared with powerlifters.
If you want to know more about high bar vs low bar, read my article on Where Should You Put The Bar On Your Back When Squatting?
4. Mobility Limitations
One of the main reasons why someone can be more bent over in the squat is because they lack ankle mobility (dorsiflexion).
Your ankles need to display a certain level of mobility in order for you to achieve the proper depth in the squat.
If your ankles are tight, the mobility needs to come from somewhere, which is usually at the hips. So as you move into greater hip flexion, the torso leans forward and compensates for the lack of mobility at the ankle.
By leaning forward, you’re able to achieve the proper squat depth, but your torso is not in an optimal position while doing so.
This is a situation where you likely should be squatting more upright but your mobility is preventing you from doing so. As a result, you should implement some sort of ankle mobility routine. Here are some routines that I like:
Banded Ankle Distractions
Soft Tissue Calf Release
If you have issues getting deep in the squat, check out my 9 Tips To Squatting Deeper.
Muscles Used Depending On Your Torso Angle For Squats
At this point, you should have a good idea of whether your back angle is going to be more or less horizontal to the floor while squatting.
However, depending on your back angle while squatting, your body is going to use different musculature to execute the movement.
It’s important to understand how the muscles are impacted with your torso angle because you may want to select certain exercises to support the muscle groups that are more responsible for moving the weight.
Muscles Used For A Vertical Back Angle
If you squat with a more vertical back angle, you will use more quads and less low back and glutes.
What this means is that in order to improve your squat, you might want to focus on accessory movements that bring up the strength of your quads.
These are exercises like:
Muscle Used For A Bent-Over Back Angle
If you squat with a more bent-over back angle, you will use more low back and glutes and less quads.
What this means is that in order to improve your squat, you might want to focus on accessory movements that bring up the strength of your glutes and low back.
These are exercises like:
Common Mistakes With Your Back Angle For Squats
The mistakes I see when it comes to the back angle is that the torso is either too horizontal or too vertical based on the factors discussed above.
In other words, if someone is showing signs that their back should be more vertical because they have short legs/long torso, squat in a high bar position, use a narrow stance, and have good ankle mobility, but they squat with a more bent-over position, then it would be considered a mistake for that individual person.
Mistake #1: The Back Angle is Too Horizontal
If your back angle is too horizontal to the floor, then you’ll be placing unnecessary loading demand on your low-back.
While this isn’t a bad thing in the short term, over time, you might reach a plateau in strength quicker because you’re not using your quad muscles as much as you could have.
I typically see this mistake with some athletes as the bar load gets heavier. These are athletes who otherwise have a vertical torso position, but under max weight, they begin to lean forward more.
If this is happening to you, then I would highly suggest reading my article on How To Fix Leaning Forward In The Squat. I cover 5 solutions to getting back to a more vertical torso position.
Mistake #2: The Back Angle Is Too Vertical
If your back angle is too vertical you may struggle to get to the proper depth in the squat and be placing an unnecessary loading demand on your quads.
While you won’t be putting your body at risk with having a back angle that is too vertical, you’ll be limiting the strength of your glutes and low back that may contribute to greater performance.
You’ll also generally feel uncomfortable in deeper positions of the squat, which may reduce your motivation for squatting overall.
If this is you, I would learn how to perform a proper ‘hip hinge’ movement pattern to allow your trunk to travel forward safely. In this deadlift article, I talk about working on your hip hinge movement pattern.
Before you worry about your back angle while squatting, recognize the key technical squat principles: (1) the barbell should always remain over the midline of the foot, (2) the back should always remain neutral, and (3) the back angle should never change as the weight gets heavier.
Once those basics are covered, then the best back angle for squats is going to depend on your individual proportions, whether you have a narrow or wide stance, whether you squat in a high bar or low bar position, and your level of mobility.
There is no definitive back angle that is going to apply to everyone. It’s a combination of the things discussed above that will determine whether you have a more or less horizontal back angle to the floor.