If the barbell slows down at the top of your squat then it’s a sign that you have a weak squat lockout. Until you improve your squat lockout, you’ll find it hard to get stronger because you’ll always fail max loads in the top end range of motion.
So how do you fix your squat lockout? Here are my top 5 tips:
- Practice Accelerating Out Of The Bottom
- Build Glute Strength
- Cue Your Hips “Up and Through”
- Keep The Barbell In Line With Your Mid Foot
- Dedicate 1 Training Day To Squat Lock Out
Before discussing these solutions in greater detail, let’s first talk about why your lockout is weak in the first place. Based on these reasons, you’ll implement a specific fix to help develop a stronger squat lockout.
This article is part of a series on improving your squat. Check out my other articles on How To Fix Losing Tension at Bottom Of Squat, How To Fix Heel Rising During Squats, and How To Fix Leaning Too Far Forward In The Squat.
Why Is Your Squat Lock Out Weak?
If you’re here it’s because you’ve noticed that your lockout is the weakest link when performing a heavy set of squats.
Either you always fail heavy loads in the top end range of motion, or you need to grind through the lockout in order to complete the movement successfully.
To improve your squat lockout, you need to understand why this problem is occurring.
There are generally three reasons why your squat lockout is weak:
- You have weak muscles
- You have poor technique
- You have improper cueing
I’m going to discuss these reasons in more detail below.
Read through and try to figure out which one applies to you the most. This matters because the specific solutions that you implement will depend on the reason for your weakness occurring in the first place.
As discussed in my Squat Muscles guide, each part of the squat range of motion will involve more or less of certain muscle groups:
- The bottom range of the squat is more knee extensor dominant, which involves a lot more strength from the quads.
- The top range of the squat is more hip extensor dominant, which involves a lot more strength from the glutes.
As you stand from the bottom of the squat to the top, you are going to be using less quads and more glutes.
Eventually, when you are at the very top of the squat, there is an extremely small amount of quad activation and the primary muscles used are the glutes.
Takeaway: If your squat lockout is weak it may be because your glute muscles are weak.
Squat technique is highly individual based on how you’re built, level of mobility, and experience.
However, there are best practices that everyone should implement in order to have a strong lockout.
The single most important technique principle to understand if you have a weak lockout is that you want to be “as balanced as possible” prior to entering the lock-out phase.
If you feel like you’re either going to fall forward or backward prior to your lockout, then when you’re trying to lock the weight out, the problem will only be exaggerated since it’s the weakest part of your lift.
You can think of it as driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the break.
As soon as you start to feel unbalanced, it’s like constantly going back and forth between giving it gas (trying to drive the barbell to the top), and then putting on the break (slowing down to prevent yourself from falling over).
If this is how you squat, then you’re going to burn through your tank pretty quickly.
Takeaway: You’ll be a more efficient squatter and have a stronger lockout if you don’t have to worry about your balance and you can simply drive as fast (and as hard) as possible through the entire range of motion.
A squat cue is a short, meaningful phrase that reminds you of what you need to do at certain times throughout the range of motion.
Implementing cues while you squat will help you generate more force and allow you to maintain optimal form when it matters the most.
If you’re going into the squat and you’re not thinking about anything (i.e. you’re not using cues), then you’re missing an opportunity to hone your focus and attention.
You only need one (maybe two) cues at a time to be successful. That’s because it’s hard for the brain to focus on more than one thing while squatting a heavy load. I’ll explain one of my best cues for the squat lock-out in the next section.
Takeaway: You don’t want to go into the squat ‘hoping for the best’. You need a squat cue to help you break through your sticking point at the lockout.
How To Improve Your Squat Lock Out
Now that you know the reasons why your squat lockout is weak, let’s now discuss what to do about it.
There are 5 strategies to implement when you have a weak lockout in the squat.
You don’t need to implement each one of these solutions all at once. My recommendation is to select the training strategy below that best relates to the reason why your lockout is weak in the first place.
Here are my 5 tips for improving your squat lockout:
1. Practice Accelerating Out Of The Bottom
What does accelerating out of the bottom of the squat have to do with the lockout?
If you have a sticking point in the lockout, then it means that the barbell will slow down as you stand up.
If you can generate more speed earlier in the range of motion where you’re the strongest, then the likelihood that you can carry that speed through your sticking point is much greater.
Here’s an example: let’s say the slowest part of your squat is the 4-inches at lockout.
If you casually drive out of the bottom position then you’ll enter your sticking point and start to slow down immediately, at the beginning of your 4-inch sticking point.
However, if you drive as fast as possible out of the bottom position, then you’ll enter your sticking point with greater force and you might be able to get 2-3 inches into your sticking point before slowing down.
In this scenario, you’ve eliminated a large portion of your sticking point where you’d otherwise feel like you’re ‘griding’.
Therefore, the key is to produce as much force as possible in the range where you’re the strongest (at the bottom) so that you can carry that momentum higher up in the squat where you’re experiencing difficulty (at the top).
2. Build Glute Strength
If your squat lockout is weak there’s a high probability that you have some sort of glute weakness.
You’ll know you have a glute weakness if you also feel like you are weak at the top of the deadlift or you generally have issues activating your glutes in various exercises.
I guarantee that if you implement some sort of glute-focused exercises into your program that your squat lock-out will improve. The key is knowing which exercise will have the highest impact to the squat.
Here are the top three exercises I recommend for building glute strength for the squat lockout:
Block deadlifts are when you deadlift with the barbell starting at knee height with the weight resting on the safety pins of a squat rack or deadlift blocks.
The top half of the deadlift requires a lot of loading demand on the hip extensors (glutes), so even though this is a deadlift variation, it has a high carryover effect to the squat lockout.
Sometimes block deadlifts can beat up your hands, which is why I recommend lifting straps for this exercise. Click to check out my guide on the best straps for lifting.
Partial squats are when you don’t allow your knees to go below 120-135 degree flexion. Without bending into your knees as much, your glutes are activated more, especially when heavier weight is used.
This exercise is hyper-specific to improving your squat lockout because the only range of motion that you’re training is the lockout.
I would also set the safety pins high on the squat rack so it forces you not to go below them.
Barbell Hip Thrusts
Barbell hip thrusts are a go-to exercise for building glute strength. In fact, hip thrusts and many hip thrust alternatives have been shown to create more consistent tension on the glutes compared with squats, in addition to producing greater metabolic stress.
If you want to target your glutes even more during the hip thrust, take a wider than shoulder-width stance.
Take a look at my Squat Accessories article for more ideas on different exercises you can implement to improve your squat.
3. Cue Your Hips “Up and Through”
At a certain point throughout the squat, your hips are going to be the furthest distance from the barbell as possible.
Your goal at this point is to try and bring your hips back up underneath the barbell as quickly as you can.
This is because the greater time you spend with your hips behind the barbell at its max distance, the harder your glutes need to work.
Remember, you likely already have a bit of glute weakness if your squat lockout is weak, so you don’t want to make your glutes work any harder than necessary.
As such, it’s important that you use the cue “hips up and through” while squatting.
This cue will ensure that as you transition to your lockout, you’re reminding yourself that you need to close the horizontal distance between your hips and the barbell.
If you leave your hips behind you too long, the risk is that you get caught in the lockout at your sticking point, and you’re unable to ‘grind through’ to the top.
Taller lifters have a hard time bringing their hips “up and through” because of their long legs. If that’s you, read my article on How To Squat With Long Legs
4. Keep The Barbell In Line With Your Mid Foot
One of the most important pieces of your squat technique is maintaining your balance.
If you aren’t 100% balanced entering the lockout phase in your squat, then you’ll be at a disadvantage.
In order to keep your balance while squatting, you need to ensure the barbell is in line with your midfoot throughout the entire range of motion.
Read my complete guide: What Is The Best Bar Path For Squats?
The easiest way to track your bar path is by recording your squat from the side angle and then watching whether the barbell shifts away (either forward or backward) from the mid-foot.
There may be a few reasons why you aren’t keeping the barbell in line with your mid-foot:
- You lack ankle or hip mobility. Read my article on how to warm up for squats for some ankle and hip mobility drills.
- You started the squat by bending your knees first rather than bending your hips and knees at the same time.
- You’re compensating for weaker muscle groups, in your case, it’s probably weak glutes.
5. Dedicate 1 Training Day To Squat Lock Out
If your squat lockout is weak you should dedicate an entire training day to working on it.
Many lifters like to focus on the exercises that they feel the strongest. However, without addressing your sticking points with the highest priority, you’ll fail to break through prior levels of strength.
If you’re only squatting once per week, I would recommend bumping this up to twice per week.
Related Article: Check out my guide on how many times per week should you squat.
On your first squat day, you’ll train as normal. On your second exercise, you’ll select exercises that specifically work your glute muscles to build your lockout strength, such as blocks deadlifts, partial squats, and hip thrusts.
You’ll also make it a priority to implement technique that helps facilitate your position in the lockout, such as keeping the barbell over the midline of the foot, accelerating out of the hole, and using the squat cue “hips up and through”.
Here’s a sample workout:
Sample Workout: Squat Lockout
- Box Jumps: 4 sets of 5 reps on 16-20 inch box
- Partial Squat: 4 sets of 4-6 reps at 80-85% of 1 rep max
- Block Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5-8 reps at 70-80% of 1 rep max
- Hip Thrusts: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
If your squat lockout is weak, the first thing you should implement is building strength in your glutes.
In combination with that, you should assess your squat technique and see if you can optimize the bar path or hip position as you transition into your lockout.
Building strength in the squat lockout is not an easy fix, but after 8 weeks of working on some of the solutions mentioned in this article, you should start to see a measurable improvement.