There is nothing more defeating than wanting to build a strong squat but feeling like you’re going to fall backwards.
I’ve had several of my novice and intermediate level powerlifting athletes express this very issue when lifting heavy, and there were some key fixes that we implemented to solve this issue.
Here are my 11 tips to stop falling backwards in the squat?
- Use a counterweight
- Elevate your heels
- Use a resistance band around your hips
- Do more pause squats
- Warm up your calves and ankles
- Warm up your hips
- Learn and practice bracing
- Squat to a box
- Do tempo squats
- Adjust your stance
- Squat more frequently
Regardless of your ability, whether you’re a competitive powerlifter or someone who just simply wants to feel more balanced when they squat, this article will cover these tips in more detail so that you can solve this pain point once and for all.
Why Are You Falling Backwards in the Squat?
Let’s first address why you might be falling back in the squat in the first place.
Falling backward in the squat is a multi-factor issue where one underlying issue can be causing additional downstream effects.
The 4 reasons why you are likely falling backward in the squat are:
1. You Have Poor Ankle or Hip Mobility
Poor ankle and hip mobility is often the cause of an inability to sink deep into a squat and as a result will also be the cause of losing balance and falling backward when trying to sink deeper.
You’ll know this is your issue if you find your calves are very tight, feel discomfort at the top of your foot, see your heels rising, feel tightness in the hips or thighs or as if there isn’t any “room” in your hips to squat comfortably.
To learn more about improving mobility check out:
- How To Increase Hip Mobility For Squats: 13 Drills To Follow
- How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats: 13 Exercises
2. You Have Poor Bracing Technique
Another possible factor for why you are falling backwards is that your current bracing technique is either non-existent or not strong enough.
This is because bracing your core is what creates rigidity and stability throughout your torso and so weakness in this area will compromise the mechanics of your entire squat.
For more information on breathing and bracing in the squat, check out:
3. Your Back Is Too Upright
A common mistake many novices make when learning how to squat is that the cue “keep your back flat” is misinterpreted as keep your back fully upright.
Generally, everyone will need to lean to some degree when squatting down, especially if you aren’t extremely mobile.
This mistake will cause you to load the weight over your heels rather than midfoot, where it is meant to be and will cause you to fall back.
4. You’re Not Engaging Your Glutes
Another reason your body weight may be shifting backwards and causing you to fall out of the squat position is because you aren’t engaging your glutes adequately.
It’s important for your glutes to be both strong and activated when sinking below parallel so they can bear the load of the weight or even just your body weight.
To learn more about activating your glutes in the squat, check out: Can’t Feel Your Glutes While Squatting? Try These 9 Tips
Want to improve your squat technique?
11 Tips To Stop Falling Backwards In The Squat
There are 11 strategies you can use to help you fix and prevent falling backward in the squat.
While not every strategy may be right for you, try them out and combine the ones that work the best for your needs.
1. Use a Counterweight
One of the fastest solutions to the problem of falling backwards is to grab a weight and hold it out in front of you or at your chest, like in a goblet squat. This extra weight doesn’t have to be heavy, and I would actually recommend it to not be too heavy.
It’s only purpose is to provide a counterweight and prevent you from falling back.
This strategy is particularly great for beginners and novices just to learn the basics of squat mechanics and get them to feel the different muscles fire without feeling like they are risking a fall every single time.
Eventually the goal will be to learn to hold yourself up and one should not rely on a counterweight long term, but it serves as a great temporary strategy or relief for anyone who is having trouble incorporating any squats into their program due to this issue.
2. Elevate Your Heels
If the reason you are having trouble staying on your feet while squatting is because of poor ankle mobility, you will likely benefit from elevating your heels slightly.
This elevation can be created temporarily by standing on some 5-10lbs weight plates or, for a more long term solution, by purchasing a pair of squat shoes with an elevated heel.
Elevated heels are approved in competition and are used by competitive powerlifters and weightlifters; therefore, there is nothing wrong with using this tool to get you to your goals.
If elevating your heels doesn’t fully eliminate the problem then it’s likely that some other underlying issue is at play and you will need a different or an additional strategy to help you out.
For more information on elevating your heels for squats, check out: Squatting With Plates Under Heels: Should You Do It?
3. Squat with a Resistance Band Around Your Hips
A resistance band that loops around the hips is typically a tool used for glute-specific exercises or simply for warming up. However, you can keep it on throughout your sets, as long as you keep in mind that it does add an extra challenge and you will want to adjust the weight accordingly.
This strategy would be best implemented by those who are having trouble activating and using their glutes during squats. You may be surprised how much just added awareness can bring to how comfortably you can sit in a squat.
The key to doing this correctly is to place the band around your thighs, just above your knees, and then pushing the band out with your glutes and squatting down while keeping the band stretched throughout the movement.
This is something that helped me a lot with learning how to squat comfortably to depth as I personally struggled with falling back in a squat because of my over-reliance on my legs to bring me down into a squat.
4. Do More Pause Squats
Pause squats are used by lifters of all experience levels and can be done with any style of squat. All it entails is pausing at the lowest point, at the bottom of the squat for roughly 1-2 seconds.
The pause squat can be used as a great tool to reinforce good bracing, core and lower body strength in the bottom of the squat. This would be especially useful for anyone who finds they are falling back once things get challenging and can’t create a consistent squat position regardless of the load.
This strategy can also be paired with something like using a hip resistance band, you can add both the band and the pauses to really challenge the glutes. This can also be paired with using a counterweight and doing paused goblet squats.
5. Warm up Your Calves and Ankles
If you have concerns with your ankles or tightness in the calves in particular, you would most likely benefit from warming up your calves and ankles prior to squatting.
For many individuals, myself included, my ankle restrictions come from tight calves and not so much from a problem in the joint itself. Therefore, things like foam rolling the calves, doing some slow eccentric calf raises, rotating the ankles or doing ankle banded distractions can all lead to my squats feeling so much more stable and strong.
Sometimes this may be enough to help you out, eliminating the need for elevated shoes or can be used in conjunction with also an elevated heel.
6. Warm Up Your Hips
If your hip mobility is limited you will likely have trouble with squatting well and struggling with falling backward. Therefore, adding in hip mobility work and effective warm ups to your routine may help you work through these limitations.
For some the struggle stems from poor external rotation whereas for others it can be the internal rotation of the hip that is lagging behind. Either way, it’s important to assess and address accordingly.
Some examples of warm ups for your hips are banded lateral walks, squats with internal rotation (touching your knee to the ground), frog stretch, and cossack squats.
For more ideas on hip mobility drills, check out: How To Increase Hip Mobility For Squats: 13 Drills To Follow
7. Learn and Practice Bracing
Bracing is an integral part to all exercises, especially compound movements like the squat. Learning and practicing this skill will help you prevent yourself from falling backward in the squat because it will keep your torso rigid and prevent any instabilities or weaknesses stemming from your trunk.
If you are brand new to bracing one of my favourite techniques to help me feel it the best is a weighted plank where you place a plate on your back and have to brace to resist the urge to fall. I find with this movement, the only way to “push” the weight up is to brace and works great with novices.
The next step would then be practicing the brace while actually squatting. A way to think about it is taking a big breath and expanding the belly, then releasing the air and pushing the ribs down while keeping the 360 degree tension around the torso.
Once you learn how to do it, make sure you practice it every single time you do a squat and it is sure to become second nature.
8. Squat to a Box
Another great beginner strategy for those who fall back when squatting is by taking a low box or platform and placing it under the hips. This object is meant to act as an external reminder that everything is alright, you have hit adequate depth and are safe.
Something I have noticed is that those who are not strong enough to hold a squat in the bottom position and who tend to fall back, become very afraid of squatting low in fear of falling backwards. Therefore, adding a “safety net” can psychologically help them get over that fear which allows them to continue practicing a full squat without the fear of falling.
This “fix” is a great way to get beginners to keep going and keep trying to improve their mechanics while also preventing any accidents due to instability or weakness. The goal should be to eventually remove the box or object.
Don’t have a box? Try a box squat alternative.
9. Do Tempo Squats
The point of a tempo squat is to manipulate how fast or slow you come down into the squat, how long you stay in the hole, how fast or slow you get up and whether there is a pause in between reps.
Tempo squats are denoted typically with 4 numbers for each of these phases. For example, a 4-0-1-0 squat is one where you take 4 counts to come down, you don’t pause at the bottom, take a second to stand up and then start the next rep as soon as possible.
These can help you if you are falling backward in the squat because of any muscle weaknesses or form inconsistencies. Tempo squats tend to really exploit your trouble areas and make you realize where you are going wrong or what needs to be adjusted.
Therefore, if you are falling back frequently when squatting you may want to slow down the lowering phase of the squat and add a short pause at the bottom to really hone in on the skill of staying over midfoot.
10. Adjust Your Stance
A good squat needs a good foundation and that means your feet need to be in the right spot for your anatomy. This means not every lifter is going to feel comfortable in the exact same foot position; therefore, it is definitely worthwhile to experiment a little.
You may be falling back simply because your feet are placed too narrow or pointed too straight ahead, making your leg bone jam into your hip, preventing you from sinking low or knocking you straight off your feet.
Try body weight squats with some light weight in your hands with your toes pointed at different angles and your feet a few inches wider and you may be surprised by how quickly things start to feel.
To learn more about what stance you should take while squatting, check out:
11. Squat More Frequently
This may sound like really generic advice, however, it is true that you will only get better at the things you do frequently and practice over time. If you are currently struggling with falling back while squatting and you are only squatting once a week, you need to increase your frequency!
If doing weighted squats more than twice a week is too much volume for you, you can also just add light weight or even just body weight squats into your warm ups on all days of the week. You can quite literally be watching a show and practice a bodyweight squat.
The more you implement the movement pattern into your week, the less “foreign” it will start to feel and the faster you will get to a point where you can squat comfortably and safely.
If you want to learn more about squat frequency, check out:
It is never too late to fix up your squat and while it may take some patience and perseverance, it will be well worth it once you learn to squat safely so you can also eventually get stronger.
Falling backward in the squat is a fairly common issue especially among novices and those who have not practiced squatting below parallel. However, it is something that can be overcome with the strategies and tools mentioned in this article and lots of practice.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.