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When I re-introduced high bar squats in to my routine I ended up with some red marks and bruising on the base of my neck. The cause? My form was simply NOT QUITE RIGHT as I had the bar too high up my back resting on the base of my neck. Luckily I managed to cure it – here’s what I found out:
At a glance…
- Neck bruising is common when high bar squatting
- It is usually caused by resting the bar too high on your back, creating a pinch point at the base of your neck where there is bone with little to no natural padding
- Prevent bruising by resting the barbell on your upper trapezoid muscle
- Some users – typically the very lean or those with less upper back muscle mass – may benefit from a bar pad to mitigate the bruising
- Consider different squat techniques if discomfort continues – if high bar doesn’t work for you, maybe try a front squat or even a low bar!
Why does the squat bar hurt my neck?
Developing a bruise on the back of your neck when high bar squatting is common. The bruise is caused by the relatively small contact patch created when the barbell is placed so high up your back it ends up resting on the base of your neck near (or on) the bone. This places ALL the weight on to a small area on the back of your neck with little natural cushioning provided by muscle mass.
If this sounds like you then your bar placement is likely too high and needs to be lowered slightly to rest on your traps, rather than your neck.
New lifters: It may just take time to adapt
A quick word for those new to working out – if you are just starting out (so in the first 12 weeks or so of your training regime) then your body may just need TIME to adapt.
Give it a few sessions and see if the bruising dissipates. If not – then come back and try these other options out.
How to protect your neck when squatting
There are a few ways to avoid getting a neck bruise when squatting:
- Lower the bar (but not too much!)
- Increase contact patch
- Build your traps
- Use a bar pad
Lets take a quick look at each of these in turn:
Lower the bar (but not too much!)
For MOST people who are suffering from neck bruising when squatting the issue is that the barbell is simply TOO HIGH.
If the bar is in contact with the bone in your neck then it is TOO HIGH UP!
Correct bar placement for a high bar squat is ON TOP of the TRAPS, not on the neck. The difficulty for someone new to the movement is likely HOW to get in to this position.
Retract your scapula by pulling your shoulders and elbows BACK before driving your elbows UP. Your upper back muscles will bunch up and actually form AROUND your neck and the top of your spine keeping them away from the bar.
Rest the barbell on this bunched up muscle mass – NOT on the bone of your neck. The result will be a slightly lower, slightly further back bar position.
The other benefit of proper bar positioning is that creating this ‘shelf’ to rest the bar on also helps tighten your body ready for the lift so you will find the reps feel far more controlled and deliberate.
Increase contact patch
The infamous neck bruise is usually caused by a small contact patch with a heavy bar creating a pinch point. Work around that by either decreasing the weight (not desirable!) OR increasing the contact patch to spread the load over a wider area.
The above guidance on creating a muscle ‘shelf’ on top of the trapezoids achieves this – the shelf created will be far longer than the single patch at the base of your neck!
Build your traps up
Even if you have the bar in the right place you can still develop bruises – occasionally this is due to a general lack of mass – be it muscle, or fat!
In these cases work to build your traps up specifically. Adding mass to this area will ultimately allow us to increase the surface area of our back we have in contact with the bar alleviating the stress – as commented on above.
I like to hit my upper back with shrugs, dumbbell rows and rear deltoids flies. You can even do these immediately BEFORE squatting to pump your traps up quickly to get a bit of blood in to the area to eventuate what size you have.
Use a bar pad
The last option is to use a barbell pad to protect your neck. This is a foam wrap that goes around the barbell and acts as a buffer against your body.
Personally I DO NOT like bar pads – they are squishy and can simply mask what is an underlying bar placement or form issue.
BUT some people love them, and they do have their place for some movements (e.g. barbell shrugs) or trainees such as those with lower bodyfat or less upper back muscle mass to naturally pad the bar.
So if you are still suffering from neck bruising despite really good squat form, maybe give the bar pad a go!
Consider changing squat type: Low bar, or SSB?
One way to avoid bruising is to simply change the TYPE of squat we do to avoid the pinch point all together.
You could try a low bar squat where the bar rests on the rear deltoids a few inches lower down the back, or use safety squat bar that is heavily padded or even swap to a front squat which uses the front deltoids to support the bar.
Neck bruises are super common when squatting – so don’t feel disheartened if you are suffering! Luckily it is an easy problem to overcome – first and foremost try and correct the SQUAT FORM by resting the bar on the shelf of muscle created when bracing your back, rather than on the base of your neck which may feel more natural to a newbie.
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