Many people come to me to improve their squat technique. There are so many of you out there who want to squat more weight (yay!) but you have plateaued at a particular weight, or the weight seems to be increasing at a glacial pace.
When I meet someone who has plateaued for a long time or who is clearly squatting weights below their strength levels, I ask: ‘how often do you fail a squat in training?’
Almost every time, the answer is ‘never’.
Why? Fear of what might happen, that primal instinct of self preservation that kicks in at the bottom of the squat (even if we ‘know’ it is safe to fail).
For heavy weightlifting, powerlifting, and Olympic lifting, knowing how to bail out of a squat is critical. In fact, according to a 2020 study, the “most common exercises that caused injury were squats.”
I’m here to help you learn how to fail your squat safely and correctly. A failed squat is something every weightlifter should know how to perform in the event the bar falls.
Why should you learn how to fail a squat?
Every seasoned gym goer has probably experienced a few close calls in the gym. Accidents happen in the gym, whether you’re a powerlifter seeking a new best on the bench press or you tried to squeeze out that last rep in the squat rack to max your quadriceps.
Fortunately, significant weight lifting does not have to be risky. Exiting an exercise safely requires skill as much as mastering the movement itself. Knowing how to terminate a bad set safely, in particular, can save your skin and give you the confidence to give it your all in the weight room.
Studies have found that limiting joints, or ‘weak links’ are most often to blame for failing a squat, but in the moment, how can you save yourself from serious injury?
Here’s how to depart a missed lift safely so you can return to it healthy, powerful, and determined.
How to fail your squat safely
If you have access to one, a spotter is an excellent choice. Don’t be scared to ask someone at your gym for a spot on your last couple of sets where you’re likely to fail. However, for certain movements, you may still need to know how to abandon ship!
Although the low bar squat has multiple possible sticking spots, most athletes will hit a wall about halfway through their climb. If you’ve ever attempted a new one-rep max in the squat, you know what it’s like to grind through a big rep that started out easy.
The path out is the same whether you give in to a big squat at the bottom or halfway up. Thrust your shoulders back, let the bar fall, and drop to your knees to safely exit a failed back squat.
If you do the exit correctly, your torso should become straight as you progress to a full kneeling position, and the barbell should easily fall to the ground — or onto the safety pins — behind your back.
Working on your squat mobility should lower the likelihood of you hurting yourself when failing a heavy barbell back squat.
Because the bar is in front of you, bailing out of a front squat is less risky. Nonetheless, we encourage practising bailing before you need to, because it’s much easier to try with modest weights than it is to stack up huge weights and try to figure it out under duress.
Begin by preparing your squat as usual. Set the safety spotter arms just below the height of the bar at the bottom of your squat if utilising a power rack.
Release the bar from the bottom of the squat or wherever you feel most comfortable. If you prefer to grip the barbell with your arms crossed over, uncross them in order to release it. Let go if you’re holding on with your hands.
Bring your elbows back in and hop backward after releasing the bar. By no means does the jump have to be your finest try at a backward long jump, but a short and low hop to keep your knees, thighs and toes away from the bar path is essential.
Squatting in the rack with the safety bars is the greatest option here. Set the safeties so that while you’re down, you can merely lean forward slightly to rest the bar on the safety.
A heavy weight squat fail example
In the video below, my PT client, Ness, practises a squat fail for the first time. She uses 60kg, a weight she can squat comfortably for 8 reps.
Looking for expert strength building classes?
Lifting heavy weights is vital for encouraging hypertrophy (muscle growth) and building strength and muscle, but it’s meaningless if you’re putting your health and wellness at danger. Knowing when and how to bail out of a squat allows you to lift big safely when you don’t have a spotter around.
At Strength Ambassadors, we provide strength training classes, one-on-one coaching in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and more. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, our team of knowledgeable instructors can help you achieve your strength objectives.
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How to safely fail a squat FAQs
How do you fail a lift safely?
Basically, when you think you’re about to fail, let go of the bar and thrust your body forward as swiftly as you can, letting the bar fall behind you. Remember that the bar wants to fall straight down, so shift your body out of the way and you’ll be fine.
Can you squat without a spotter?
Yes, in some cases, squatting without a spotter is quite acceptable. However, it is largely dependent on the surroundings and equipment available to you. Using a power rack or squat stand with adjustable safety pins, arms, or straps is the safest way to squat without a spotter. Anything less can be dangerous.
Is it bad to fail a squat?
Being stapled by a weight is never fun, but knowing how to fail safely is essential if you want to push yourself in the gym. Using the safety features available, such as safety bars, will ensure that you don’t hurt yourself while making big strength and muscle gains.