When you’ve mastered unweighted squats, as covered in our previous guides, the next step in ensuring lasting healthy knees is to build your overall body strength. Correct form prevents imbalances, but to ensure the muscles are resilient to being overworked in the future (the major source of recurring trigger point and join pain problems), strengthening your muscles is the essential next step. There will come a point when your bodyweight is not enough to build strength, and the best way to add weight to your squats, for further improvements, is through lifting a bar.
Starting with weighted squats, you might find a bar is too heavy, so to begin with we can use a broom handle or a mop. This should help you to comfortably grip the bar, and strengthen your body in a bar holding position, in preparation for adding weights.
Holding the bar
The grip you use on the bar may seem strange at first, but you will get used to it. The key points in achieving a correct grip are to make the bar pass through the middle of the hand by resting it mid-way along the soft pad of the thumb and hooking it into the lowest point of the little finger. After hooking the little finger around the bar, the rest of your fingers can touch the bar in a line, with just the tip of the index finger touching the bar. The thumb does not need to wrap around the bar.
This grip will leave the forearm at an angle to the bar, to essentially create a W shape with your arms bracing the bar against your shoulders.
Placing the bar against your shoulders
Using a broom handle or mop to begin with, we can just lift the ‘bar’ overhead and place it across the shoulders. Holding the bar against your shoulders with the correct hand position should immediately encourage completely straight wrists, which won’t bend inwards or twist. This should also brace the bar in a straight line across your shoulders.
At all times, keep the correct form of the unweighted squat in mind, with the chest pushed up and the chin tucked in for a tight, secure form. Your elbows should be pushed behind you, which will raise your shoulders to create a ledge for the bar out of your rear deltoid muscles. Keeping your hips slightly back ensures that this ledge is level enough for the bar to stay put – moving your hips forwards too much will upset the level of this ledge and place the load of the bar behind the mid-line of your torso which will cause the bar to slip.
The bar should now rest on top of the rear deltoids, the muscles which are raised due to pushing your elbows back. This should position it immediately below your upper traps. It may feel low compared to the instinctive “high bar” position most people adopt, but when you master it you will appreciate how much more stable and, eventually, more comfortable, it can be, especially with higher loads.
For a clearer demonstration, the following video covers the same principles, and more:
When you’ve got your hands in the right position, wrists straight, elbows back, chin in, chest up, hips slightly back, that bar will stay exactly where it needs to be, and you’re ready to squat.