Last updated on November 3rd, 2022 at 06:03 pm
Have you experienced shoulder bruises from squats?
If so, I’m sure you’re wondering whether this is normal.
Should you wear these bruises as a badge of honour or are you doing something wrong?
I’ll now explain everything you need to know about squat bruises and what you can do about it.
Table of Contents
Shoulder Bruises From Squats
It is completely normal to get shoulder bruises from squats, especially if you are new to squatting. Your traps, shoulders, and upper back are simply not used to having a heavy weighted bar placed on them. As an experienced squatter you may simply have softer skin, or are more prone to bruising. Ensure you retract your shoulder blades and place the bar in the correct position for high or low bar squats. Many lifters imagine bending the bar to create a better trap “shelf” for the bar. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with using a squat pad if you find the bar painful.
1. Your Body Isn’t Used to the Bar
It’s actually fairly common to get shoulder bruises from squats.
This is especially true if you’re new to squatting.
Then again, if you happen to be going up in weight as a regular squatter.
Basically, the barbell is resting on various shoulder muscles and placing stress on them.
This in turn can burst blood vessels in the shoulder area, which will leave a spotted line or the appearance of a bruise.
Now, this probably sounds pretty horrific, but it’s actually nothing to worry about.
Resistance training will often “damage” the muscles and surrounding areas, but the body will automatically repair itself.
This is how you get bigger and stronger.
In terms of shoulder bruising, this is simply your body’s way of telling you that it isn’t used to the pressure you’re applying to it.
As with most things exercise-related your body will eventually adapt.
With that being said, some of us simply have softer skin or are more prone to bruising than others.
So, you may find that you are constantly bruised whenever you squat.
As long as it’s not causing you any pain or discomfort this isn’t really a problem.
2. Are You Retracting Your Shoulder Blades?
One of main form cues for squats, and various exercises, is to retract the shoulder blades.
Basically, it’s almost as though you’re trying to tuck your shoulder blades into your back pocket.
So, in effect, you draw the shoulder blades back and then towards each other.
I like to visualize that I’m trying to hold a tennis ball between my shoulder blades.
One reason that you should retract the shoulder blades is that it’s important for your shoulder health.
This is especially true if you lack shoulder mobility, which many of us do.
You may not think so, but the shoulders play a very important role in squatting.
With that being said, retracting the shoulder blades also provides a “shelf” for you to sit the barbell on whenever you squat.
So, if you’re not using your shoulder blades to your advantage, you may be have the bar placed incorrectly.
3. Where Are You Placing the Bar?
Where you place the bar during squats could be the cause of your bruises.
Plus, incorrect bar placement may even be causing you pain.
This is definitely not what you want.
There are 3 “main” types of barbell squat (yes, I know there are others too), and barbell placement is different for each.
For the high-bar barbell squat, which is typically the squat that most of us perform, you want the bar to rest on the upper traps.
Then we have the low-bar squat which sees the bar rest of the upper back and posterior deltoid region.
Finally, for the front squat you want the bar to rest on the meaty part of the front shoulders.
I note that many lifters complain of bruising to their clavicle area when front squatting, which would mean that they typically have the bar placed too high.
Front Squat Bar Placement
4. Try “Bending the Bar”
There are a number of cues and methods for creating that “shelf” for the barbell back squat.
One of these is to imagine yourself literally “bending the bar”.
So, you set yourself up under the bar and place your hands in the required position.
You then want to almost try to bend the bar forwards.
I guess the best way to imagine it is that you’re on a pec-dec machine and you’re trying to bring your hands together.
Just this simple movement can help you contract the upper back and traps, which in turn will create a perfect shelf to rest the bar on.
With that being said, you also need to be a bit careful with the “bending the bar” cue.
There is a tendency to actually pull the bar forward, which may see you rest the bar on the back of your neck.
This of course is not what you want.
5. Pump Up the Traps First
Another great cue for creating the perfect shelf is to actually work your traps first.
Now, I’m not talking about a full-on upper back and trap workout here.
In fact, doing so may actually affect your mobility when trying to squat.
So, rather than tiring out the traps, you’re trying to create a pump.
Therefore, you’d be better off using a very light weight for high volume.
Some of my preferred exercises would be cable face pulls, or bent-over shrugs, or even both.
And when I say use a light weight, I mean a very light weight.
I would look to perform 20-25 reps of both exercises prior to squatting.
What you’ll find is that this will not only help with shoulder mobility, it will also create a slight pump.
This in turn will provide the perfect “shelf” for the bar, and it should also help you to squat better.
How to Squat – Low Bar
6. Make Sure The Bar Doesn’t Slip or Bounce
You can actually have the barbell in the perfect position, be experienced at squatting, not have soft skin, and still end up with shoulder bruises.
This is something I see time-and-time again in the gym.
Allowing the barbell to slip or bounce.
Basically, you don’t have full control over the barbell.
Firstly, you have the bar set up perfectly to squat, but as you squat down or come back up, the barbell slips.
This will typically happen if you lack shoulder mobility and you’re finding it difficult to hold onto the bar in the desired position.
More often than not your clothing will get trapped between the bar and your body and you’ll probably end up pinching the skin too.
Then again, perhaps you’re allowing the bar to actually leave the body with each rep.
A great way to squat is to take advantage of stretch reflex at the bottom of the movement.
In effect, you squat all the way down and you literally “bounce” at the bottom to return to the starting position.
However, too much bounce and you may find that the bar shoots off your traps and then falls back down.
This will not only bruise your shoulders, but can also be a precursor for injury.
7. There’s Nothing Wrong With Padding
Squatting with some type of cushioning almost seems to be a taboo subject.
I have even heard lifters say that using a squat pad, a towel, or something similar to cushion the bar, is a bad thing.
Personally, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s almost as though you’re not perceived to be as big, macho, or “bro” as other lifters if you use a pad.
I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.
Okay, I’ll admit that I do squat with a bare bar, but that’s not to say that I disapprove of anyone using a pad.
Of course, I don’t.
We are all different, our bodies react differently to exercise, so there is no one-size-fits-all as far as I’m concerned.
If using a squat pad allows you to squat safely, with good form, and spares you of any discomfort, then do it.
Definitely don’t allow someone else’s small-mindedness to impact your workout.
It’s not “bad” to use a squat pad, it doesn’t make you any less “tough”, and I would rather that you do what suits you and your body.
So, as you can see it is fairly normal to get shoulder bruises from squats.
If you’re new to squatting, using heavier weights than normal, have soft skin, or are prone to bruising, this can definitely occur.
For many of us we will adapt to the pressure the barbell places on the body, so this may only be a temporary thing.
You should also ensure you have the bar placed in the correct position depending on which type of squat you’re performing.
You’ll want to create a “shelf” for the bar by retracting your shoulder blades, “bending” the bar, or even “pumping up” your traps before you squat.
Also, be wary of the bar slipping or bouncing.
Finally, if the bruising is causing you discomfort then there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a squat pad or some other type of cushioning.
Next, make sure you check out article about not feeling squats in your glutes.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.