Looking up is a cue that tons of young lifters learn in their dungeons, high school weight rooms usually tucked in a windowless part of the school.
This is where athletes are capable of getting really, really strong. There have been many 400 pound squatters and 300 pound benchers (I also love the proportion) come out of dedicated after school lifting.
This does not happen by accident and its importance cannot be underestimated.
I will admit that it is not perfect because there is often a lack of qualified supervision in these rooms, but it is no different than if the kids were going to a commercial gym.
Much of this strength comes at the sacrifice of good movement patterns and balanced strength. What in turn happens is that the athlete becomes borderline immobile and at risk for injury because they do not have the strength that they need in the right places.
One classic squat cue is “look up.”
This cue can be helpful to avoid staring at the ground and falling forward with a lot of weight on the bar. This is obviously advantageous.
I have no issue with athletes looking straight ahead when the squat. It is a good idea.
The thing that we need to differentiate is that we look with our eyes, not our head.
Maintaining Neutral Spine
Core stability and neutral spine are important to the success of squatting. I have seen very poor performances in the squat due to the fact that the athlete looked like Gumby under the bar.
If the body is capable of stabilizing the torso under load, then the lower body is solely responsible for moving the weight.
The spine is the key player in stability. If the spine is in neutral, the muscles can properly fire to maximize stability.
If we look at what a neutral spine is, most forget about the head. As long as the low back doesn’t go into flexion, most will call that neutral spine.
The upper back and neck are also part of the spine and can influence performance during lifts.
When the head is titled back it is no longer in neutral position. This is the equivalent of staring at the ceiling when standing still. The neck is now in hyperextension, breaking neutral.
This has to require some kind of compensation pattern.
When the head is cranked back mobility and stability are affected. Most athletes will lose hip mobility and lack core stability when the neck is not neutral.
Bringing the head back in will instantly fix the problem, like magic.
Tucking the Chin
In order to keep the head in neutral we must use the chin tuck.
Tucking the chin is like making a double chin, but not staring directly at the ground.
Maintaining a neutral head position requires looking at the ground, about 3 yards ahead. This usually ensures a chin tuck without flexing the neck towards the floor.
In this position, the athlete can still look up at the bottom of the squat. The head cannot look up; it must be from the eyes.
This will help with squat depth and overall strength development because the body will be moving with less compensation.
One Last Note
While we are talking about head position, forward head posture should also be avoided. This is less common but still exists.
For the same reasons as above, avoiding a forward head posture will also result in better movement and strength development.