Excessive leaning forward in a squat makes it feel gross, increases injury risk, and needlessly limits the weight you can lift.
The real problem is that this is a common issue that you’re probably dealing with. Most people still need to work on this issue or refine their technique, even past the novice stage.
For all these reasons, it’s time you learned how to stay upright in your squats and build stronger legs and hips. Let’s start with the problem…
Leaning Forward In The Squat: Overview
One of the main limitations to squatting for beginners is “falling forwards” – leaning too far forward when squatting. This is a problem because excessive forward lean both limits the weight you can lift and increases the risk of injury by:
- Moving the center of balance too far forwards
- Causing back rounding
- Leading to collapsing knees (or sharing a common cause)
- Causing the hips to shoot up early and putting pressure on the back
- Limiting squat depth
Beyond just these issues, it’s actually going to reduce the effectiveness of your squat. Excessive forward lean or collapsing posture will reduce the amount of work in the legs, instead shifting them into the hips and lower back – which aren’t the goal of a good squat.
By combatting this forward lean, you get to develop your legs more effectively while also staying safe. So, how do you stop leaning forward in the squat? Why does it happen, and how can you fix it?
Why Do I Lean Forward When I Squat?
There are many reasons you could be leaning too far forward in the squat: poor ankle mobility, bad balance, weak or lazy hips, rounding your back, or a weak core and back. Most newer lifters have at least one of these problems – and often multiple.
These can be handled one at a time, and each one you fix makes the others easier to deal with. We’ve outlined the most important exercises and cues you can use to fix your squat.
A lack of deliberate practice is the main thing that causes beginners to struggle. These will all improve with time, practice, and more time under the bar. Don’t get disheartened if you’re leaning forward in the squat. Everyone does as a beginner, and it’s just a function of experience.
We’ve broken down the fix into two parts: technical changes (things you can do in your next session) and accessory exercises (for a long-term fix).
Technical changes are about how you squat, how you think about the movement, and what you think about while doing it.
These are short-term changes you can make today as you practice the skill of squatting.
Foot and Ankle
One place to look straight away is how your feet and ankle are moving during the squat. This is the first place where your body meets the floor. Getting this wrong is a shortcut to leaning forward in the squat and getting yourself hurt.
The foot can collapse, changing how you squat and removing important muscles from the lift. You need to keep this base stable, with full foot pressure through the floor. The ‘tripod foot’ is a popular way of thinking about this:
Equally, poor ankle mobility can cause you to run out of depth easily, making it hard to squat properly. Ankle mobility controls how much your knees can travel forwards in a squat.
A deep squat requires more ankle mobility the longer your femur is, so ensure you warm up your ankles like a taller squatter. This can help reduce forward lean all by itself.
Yes, your knees should travel forwards in a squat; this is not bad for your knees. Ankle mobility makes that possible, taking stress off other joints and keeping you upright while squatting.
(Caveat: you still need to improve the other aspects of your squat, even if your ankle mobility improves enough to stay more upright!)
Choose Your Angle
The first technical change you can make is to choose your torso angle: you should set a correct amount of lean for yourself.
The real problem isn’t forward lean by itself – it’s forward lean during the squat. If you choose your torso angle from the start and keep it the same, you will have a predictable, stable, and efficient squat.
Look at elite powerlifters – many of them squat with a lot of forward lean. This is fine because they maintain the same hip angle throughout, and their weight stays in the middle of their foot (or slightly behind it).
Start your squat by bending the knees and hips together, keeping the back flat, and choosing the lean.
Keep the Back Flat
One of the easiest ways to fall forwards in the squat is poor back and core control.
When you can’t keep your trunk stable, the bar will move forwards, bending you forward and moving the weight into the front of your foot.
This is the culprit for many new lifters who haven’t yet developed proper core and back control. Building this fundamental strength is key to getting better.
This is easy with proper core and back exercise and a squat warm-up that prioritizes it. Use things like cat-cows and Kang Squats (below) to practice.
Extend the Hips
You keep your chest up by using your hips.
One major mistake is to think that you need to hyperextend your spine to keep your chest up. Instead, focus on extending the hips and pushing your shoulders into the bar throughout the squat.
Using the hips helps you keep your torso angle stable and is an essential part of good squat form. You need to bend at the hip to squat, but the hips should still be active. You need to resist excessive lean by keeping the knees out and ‘opening’ the hips as you descend.
You won’t actually open them, but you’ll resist excessive flexion. This is also important on the way up, as it keeps the chest high and prevents you from putting the weight into the lower back.
Proper Center of Balance
The hard part about balance is that it’s both a cause and symptom of squatting problems. The poor technique causes poor balance, but the opposite is also true.
Losing your mid-rear foot balance in the squat can seriously ruin your technique, even if everything else is good.
Drifting too far into the forefoot or so far backward that you reduce quad involvement can both cause excessive lean.
- When you come too far forwards, you’re going to have to push the hips back to compensate or lose posture.
- But when you go too far back, you’re only going to be able to squat with the hips.
High bar squats are more at risk of going too far forward, while low bar squats can easily go too far backward.
In both cases, warming up with your weight in the middle of the foot – ideally with paused squats – can help to address this issue. Step one is just becoming conscious of your weight and working on it actively!
Strength & Corrective Exercises
Good mornings are one of the best ways to learn the hip hinge. They build postural strength while removing everything but the hip hinge. This is why they’re so hard to do but so productive for people who lean forward too much in the squat.
The lowering portion is great for building back and core strength and stability. However, the real benefit is in opening your hips up and driving the bar backward.
This is the main limitation that causes excessive lean forwards when squatting. By strengthening your good morning, you’re targeting the movement pattern and muscles you need to fix your squat. That’s why the (paused) good morning is the best exercise for fixing your forward lean in the squat!
Kang squats are a strange-looking exercise that combines the good morning with the squat. This helps you better understand what the good morning does in the squat, but – more importantly – it helps you find your center of balance.
When you perform the Kang Squat, there are only really 2 steps:
- Hips backward as far as possible without lifting the toes
- Knees forward as far as possible without lifting the heels
This is a perfect drill for finding your midfoot while also warming up the hamstrings, hips, core, and back. Finding this center point is crucial, and it’s what makes the Kang squat such an effective warm-up or accessory exercise to fix forward lean in the squat.
While other exercises teach the hip hinge, the step-up is the best way to learn how to drive with the leg and hip together. It’s an exercise that includes the hip muscles on both sides (adductors and abductors) and teaches you proper squatting mechanics.
Step-ups require you to actively stabilize your knee, push down, and extend the hips from the start. This is effectively just squatting on one leg, but without falling over!
Step-ups are an essential starting point for great squatting, especially once you’ve gotten the good morning and kang squat down. Learning to drive the leg and hip together is essential – and will help you drive up and keep good posture, building a better squat technique.
If you have a rounded back – especially in a low bar squat – it’s almost impossible to stop yourself from leaning forwards too much. This is because you’re not able to stabilize the bar backward using the hips or the core.
The hips stabilize the bar by hinging it open, but a weak core won’t transfer that force into the bar. Excessive rounding or the inability to produce stiffness in the trunk will ruin your squat before it’s even started.
Core exercises like the V-up, back extension, and 8-point plank are all perfect here.
They build core strength and stability while practicing stiffness and moving through your whole range of motion. Combine these with the squat-specific exercises we’ve mentioned – like the good morning – and you’ll be much better prepared for heavy squats.
The pause squat is one of the best ways to train your posture. You spend more time squatting, which makes you better at the isometric (or holding) portion. You also get the time to actively think about where you’re putting your center of gravity.
The slow-eccentric squat, where you go down as slowly as possible, will fix almost everything in your squat. Simply slowing the movement down highlights any problems with your form and helps you build conscious control and strength.
Strength is specific to the positions you’re in, and slowing down or pausing forces you to develop postural strength. Squatting slower makes you better at squatting.
How To Fix Leaning Forward When Squatting FAQ
How Far Should You Lean Forward When Squatting?
You should only lean forward as far as you can keep your center of gravity while keeping both your legs and hips active. You need to be able to drive with the quads, hams, and glutes – which is different for each lifter and changes depending on high or low bar placement.
Most lifters need to focus on their bar path and personal limitations to fix the lean. Most people lean too far forwards instead of driving their hips backward.
How To Stop Leaning Forward When Squatting?
You can stop leaning forward when squatting by practicing hip hinging, improving your center of balance, or simply slowing down your squats.
Technical problems include poor bracing, lazy hip action, or poor center of gravity – all of which can bend you over when squatting.
Practicing exercises like the good morning, step up, and slow-eccentric paused squat will improve your squat posture.
You can also use accessory exercises like box squats to drill the hip action. Still, you need to slowly lower the box towards your bottom position over time.
Is It Okay To Lean Forwards When Squatting?
Yes – it’s absolutely essential. Squatting is a movement that uses the hips and legs together, and you need to incline your torso to move properly. The problem is when you bend over and lean forwards without moving the hips backward or lose proper knee or foot position because of your lean.
This is when you go from a deliberate lean or inclination into a problem. Squatting should involve hip flexion and extension, but it should be on your own terms. You need to decide on the amount of lean, keep weight in the midfoot, and keep your back flat with your knees aligned to your feet.
If any of these change, you need to lean less.
Should You Look Down Or Forwards When Squatting?
Most people should look forwards when squatting – as this is the easiest way to stabilize your upper body and center your attention on a single point. While some people claim this is bad for the neck, they’re wrong because the neck is not axially loaded during the squat.
Some powerlifters look down-ish when squatting because their main action is hinging the hips, not bending the legs. This is why some people suggest looking downward, but that’s very specific to an aggressive form of low-bar squats that most people shouldn’t use.
Leaning forward is an essential part of squatting, but you need to ensure it serves your squat and comes from the right movement. It’s important to accept that you will lean, but you need to avoid issues elsewhere in the squat.
The exercises and cues discussed in this article are the best start to fixing your squat. After that, it’s just slowing down, getting practice, and being deliberate in how you squat.
Remember: only good reps produce good form. Every rep is a vote for what you want your squat technique to look like.
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