I always felt more comfortable looking slightly in front of my feet when squatting. But I never knew if this was correct or not, so I decided to investigate it further to see if there was a method that was more superior.
Where should I look when squatting? The key is to find a fixed point that you can look at throughout the entire portion of the lift. For some, this might mean looking straight ahead. For others, this might mean looking down. The exact position will vary based on the environment in which you train and personal preference. The most advanced squatters tend to hold their gaze longer than novices.
I will explain some reasons below on why you might look straight or down when squatting. But, whether you decide to look straight or down, there are definitely some common mistakes that you'll want to avoid. I also found one commonality that every advanced squatter does to increase their squat performance.
Where You Look When Squatting Should Improve Balance & Stability
When you squat, you will be the most balanced if the barbell is directly in line with the centre of your foot throughout the entire range of motion. If the barbell begins to drift forward or backward from the centre line of the foot, you will risk becoming off-balance. You'll be spending strength and energy to fight the stability required to keep you upright rather than maximizing your force production through the ground to stand up.
One of the critical factors in maintaining your balance and keeping the bar directly over the mid-point of the foot is where you decide to look while squatting. This is the case because the brain's natural response is to move in the direction of where you look.
You might remember when you were being taught how to drive, that your driving instructor told you to ‘look where you want to go' not ‘what's in front of you'. This is a tactic used to avoid car crashes. If you want to avoid the object in front of you, look to where you want to go, don't look at the object. The same principles apply to squatting. If you look to the left, your body will most likely move to the left and you'll start to twist. If you look straight down at your feet, you might start to bring your chest to the ground and lean more forward.
The goal of where you're looking should be to maintain your balance and keep the barbell directly over the centre of your foot.
Want to improve your squat technique?
So, Should I Look Up or Down When I Squat?
It's based on your personal preference and training environment. But you'll probably pick one of two options: Looking forward or Looking down.
If you decide to look forward, you'll want to find a spot on the wall in front of you. You'll stare at this spot throughout the entire range of motion. If you squat in front of a mirror this is going to be tricky to do because you'll be tempted to look at yourself while squatting, and it will generally be harder to find a fixed object. So, select this option if you have a wall or something concrete in front of you. If you have a hard time keeping your eyes fixed, you can put a piece of tape on the wall so that you have a marker to look at.
If you don't have a wall in front of you, or you are squatting with a mirror, you'll need to look down at the floor. Find a spot about 4-8 feet in front of you, and pick a spot to look at throughout the entire range of motion. Again, you can use a piece of tape to have as a marker. This was my personal preference when squatting. The reason was because as a competitive powerlifter, I knew that I would always have a spot on the platform in front of me to look at. If I decided to look forward, I would be looking into a crowd of spectators and it would be hard to find a fixed object.
Why not look straight up?
If you look straight up (to the ceiling), you'll probably feel like falling backward.
Why not look straight down?
If you look down at your feet, you'll probably feel like falling forward.
Three Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Avoid cranking the head/neck up or down.
You need to disconnect what's happening with your eyes and what's happening with your head/neck. Wherever you decide to look, your head/neck needs to be neutral. Let's say you decide to look forward, but your head/neck is tilted backward, you'll most definitely negatively impact the mechanics of the squat.
- Avoid ‘fluttering eyes'
The important part is keeping your eyes located on a fixed object. You'll want to avoid shifting your eyes from one object to the next when squatting. While this might seem like common sense, I see it happen all the time with beginners.
- Inconsistent Practice
Pick a specific gaze and then do it every single time you squat. Don't look forward one workout, and then down the next. You'll find yourself not gaining the consistent practice needed to hone your balance and stability.
What Top Powerlifters Do
It's been shown that expert athletes hold their gaze 62% longer than novices (1).
The best athletes in the world have a longer and steadier gaze through the entire movement process from set-up to execution. This is known as the ‘quiet eye', which signals the athlete's ability to fix their gaze and concentrate their focus on one spot. Novices, by contrast, tend to shift their focus between different areas, with each fixation lasting for shorter periods of time.
So as long as you feel balanced in the squat, and the bar is directly over the mid-line of the foot, the difference in getting to the next level is not where you look but how fixed your gaze is throughout the entire movement process. Find your spot to look at and hold it.
After deciding where to look while squatting, you'll want to learn how to master your squat walkout.
Look forward or look down, neither is wrong. Assess what allows you to keep the bar balanced over your feet, and the type of training environment you're lifting in. Both of these factors will determine your optimal gaze more than any specific rule of thumb. Make sure to keep your head neutral, gaze fixed, and practice where you look the same time every workout.