Is pain in your upper body holding you back from getting the strong legs needed to be a better wrestler?
Listen, I’ll be one of the first to sing the praises of the squat. The bottom line is that it builds unbelievable strength for wrestling.
However, in your quest to become stronger, if you’re experiencing a lot of pain in your shoulders, elbows, and/or wrists, you may need to do some re-evaluating.
So in this post I’m going to detail 3 strategies that will help take the stress off the joints in your upper body. This should get you back on track to building stronger legs without the pain. Ultimately, you’ll get stronger, not be in as much pain, and, as a result, your performance will improve.
1. Switch The Bar You’re Using
The first thing you can do it switch from a straight bar to one of the following:
Safety Squat Bar
Unfortunately the SSB is not common in most gyms. However, the Manta Ray is an acceptable alternative (and they’re inexpensive).
Notice how using the Manta Ray helps keep the bar high on my back. This ultimately leads to a pain free squatting experience (as far as the shoulders, elbows, and wrists go).
The damage from squatting with a straight bar is done as it gets lower on your back. This puts the joints in your arms into more extreme ranges of motion.
Again, take a look at the picture of the guy squatting above to see what I mean.
Now compare it to the video of this submission.
Look at how similar the Americana is to the position of your arms when holding a bar on your back when squatting. Notice how in the video the man says that as the lock moves lower the pressure increases. The same way things happen when the bar slides down your back.
To summarize, both the SSB and the Manta Ray do a great job of locking the bar high on your back. This prevents unnecessary strain on your shoulders, elbows, and/or wrists.
2. Change How You Position The Bar
If you don’t have access to a SSB or Manta Ray, you can also simply adjust how you hold the bar.
This is the traditional way to hold a bar when performing a Front Squat. As you can tell by my face, this way could still lead to a lot of pain in your elbows and wrists.
So instead, try using straps or anything else you can think of to help you position the bar like this:
Holding the bar in the Zercher position (in your elbows) can also save you pain. Using a standard straight bar can sometimes lead to discomfort when it digs into your elbows.
To fix this wrap a towel around the bar, use a squat pad, or put Fat Gripz on the bar where it comes in contact with your elbows.
I have written a couple posts on Zercher Squats, how to execute them properly, and also introduced a couple variations. Check them out- Zercher Squat and Other Zercher Lifts,
High Bar Squat
If you don’t have or don’t like the options above, you can simply focus on holding the bar as high on your back as you can tolerate.
3. Other Tips
Finally, if you don’t want to make any major changes, here are a few subtle changes you can make.
Chalk Your Back
This will help prevent the bar from slipping down your back.
Be as liberal as you want. Just make sure to have someone wipe it in with their hand after applying the chalk. This helps to maximize it’s effectiveness. I’ve found that too much chalk may lead to slipping but rubbing it in always fixes it.
Sleeves And Wraps
Wearing elbow sleeves, elbow wraps, and wrist wraps are all ways to help add additional support.
However, these can also be used to cover up pain. If you think that’s the case, you may want to consider some of the other adjustments rather than this one.
Keep Reps Low
Try to keep all of your reps at or below 5.
Performing high reps increases the likelihood that the bar will slip down your back.
So keeping your reps in check will cut down on the total time you’re under the bar. This reduces the risk of the bar slipping down your back over the course of a set.
I made a re-discovery the other day when I used a straight bar to squat- It Sucks!
My shoulders were tight and I had to wear wrist wraps to keep them from feeling like they were going to snap.
Like I said above, squatting is great. However, if you’re not going to be competing as a powerlifter (where a straight bar is used in competition), I don’t really know if you need to subject yourself to the potential damage.
In fact, one of the D1 wrestlers I train was in so much pain this past the summer from squatting with a straight bar that he could barely use his arms some days.
How is this going to help you reach your goal of becoming a better wrestler?
Save yourself the pain and start implementing some of the strategies above.
Shoulder/Elbow/Wrist Saving Squat Tips
Out of all the programs you have listed as well as any programs you know of… what do you believe to be the best post season plan for a wrestler to follow? if i am training wrestlers year round and i am personally working with one or two, what programs would i go about using???
Hey Bryan, thanks for leaving a comment. In all honesty (and this is not just a shameless plug), I’d suggest you get on my email list and stay current with the monthly programs I send out. While I do have packages with various programs for sale, and while they are good, the system that I implement is constantly being refined as I work with more and more wrestlers. However, if you’d rather follow a set 12-16ish week program, let me know and I can send you different links to some of the programs I offer. Just let me know what works best for you man. Talk to you soon and thanks again for commenting.
and how exactly would i go about doing that? getting on the email list that is… if im not already…
Just enter your email in the top left portion of my blog and hit “Get Updates” From there you’ll get a confirmation email that you’ll need to click the link in and then you’ll be all set.
Thanks for all the help so far… i was wondering, how often do you send out new programs?
i plan on starting up my post season training for my wrestlers tomorrow (monday)… and i’d like to see what you think i should start with now that the season is over!
Hey Bryan, the next is going out a week from today. When you get the chance, leave me a comment with info about what you’re looking for and what you feel your wrestlers would benefit most from. Thanks for the help man; talk to you soon.
My wrestlers are young, the technique is there but what they need is the pure raw strength and explosiveness to back it up… we will be working all off season to make these boys as strong, explosive, and dominant on the mat they can be by next year…
I think I can help you out with that, Bryan. Thanks for the input man, talk to you soon.
no, thank you man! cant wait to get started!
Thanks for all the great information on your site. Powerlifting retired me 20+ years ago from the gym, one day I looked at the bar and thought, man, that looks heavy, and that was it! I powerlifted for about 12 years with my personal best was winning the teenage drug free nationals in 88. Now I am working on strength training my 14 year old son who wrestles, in my old gym, and on the same equipment I used 25 years ago. I wanted to train him the way I trained, and sounds like the way you did as well, but see now that is not whats best for him. I took him back to the squat rack on day one but after him complaining about the bar hurting his back we moved to the leg press, (glad my old lifting partners weren’t there to see that) I see know from reading your articles I better keep him squatting. I also didn’t see any reason for him to go low like I did but learned a lot from your post on squatting low too, great article! Wanted to say thanks for the great postings here, really appreciate it!
Thanks for the great comment, Scott. One of the big issues I’ve run into is a lot of guys complaining about the bar hurting their back. Rather than force them to push through it I just accepted that it takes time and a lot of upper back mass to help alleviate discomfort caused by the bar. As such I started letting the wrestlers I train choose between the Safety Squat Bar or Manta Ray to the bar; so in the end it’s made squatting easier for them and gotten rid of various arm pain that some of the guys I work with used to suffer from.
Thanks again for the feedback on how you’ve been able to use the info in my posts. Let me know if you have any questions about training your son; I’m always looking for topics to post about that I know will have a positive impact on the training programs of as many readers as possible.