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Neck and Upper Back Pain from Squats and Barbell Rows


I've been getting dull pain on the right side of my neck behind the ear lately from (im guessing) straining my neck too hard during my squats. Only noticed recently after my neck started hurting (only the right side!! it's like a painful throb after a workout) after a couple sets that i've been looking slightly upwards. Also can't help to notice the side im getting pain on is slightly less muscular than my left.

Also when i try to do my barbell rows, i get a very sharp pain right next to my left shoulder blade near the spine. It FEELS like a tear. Even in lower weights i feel some pain in that area but nothing acute. And before you ask, i wasn't bumping my weights too high.

Are these injuries from muscle imbalances or just bad form? What do i do now? Tempted to go to a doctor because they are really killing my workouts!


Look slightly downward on squats. Pick a point on the floor about 15-20 feet in front of you, and keep your eyes glued to that spot.

I get the same exact pain when doing barbell rows, but only if I don't warm up properly. My warm-up is a combination of a DB version of face pulls, and light barbell rows focusing on scapular retraction. I alternate them for three sets, then get to the heavy stuff.

Hate to say it, but try never to ask a doctor about lifting-related issues. They're used to dealing with couch potatoes so they have limited expertise when it comes to lifting. All you're going to get is "squats are bad, mmmkay?".


"Also when i try to do my barbell rows, i get a very sharp pain right next to my left shoulder blade near the spine. It FEELS like a tear."

This sounds pretty similar to something I've had.

-Massage it and see if you find some tender spots in that area? If so try to apply some pressure and rub it around... preferably with something you can push against
-Stretch it
-Avoid aggravating. If you start to get that sharp pain, just stop that exercise and try again next time...
-Do you notice it getting tight during the day (non workout)? Do you have a posture that would aggravate it?


It's really hard to say via internet. The neck thing sounds like just part of adjusting to the strain from squats--that soreness will wear off in time. You're supposed to be looking upwards during the squat. The fact that you said that you look up as if it were a bad thing would lead me to recommend that you watch the Elite FTS videos "So You Think You Can Squat"--great series, and you can find it with a quick google or youtube search.

The back thing is more concerning, only because you say it feels like a tear. If it feels like a tear, then see a doctor. Either way, don't do stuff that's causing you actual physical pain (i.e. the kind that doesn't feel like a natural product of straining under the weight). I usually give any injuries a few days and work around them to monitor improvement, but if you feel that it's actually torn, you might want to see a doctor.


I acknowledge that I'm much less experienced than you, but.....isn't this bad advice? It's essential to keep the head and eyes up to keep the chest up.


well according to starting strength mark rippetoe, you need to look slight downward as if you're looking ahead 15 feet. A better idea for head position would be holding down a tennis ball underneath your chin.

I'll try a more extensive warmup for my barbell rows. The one that's killing me right now as i type is my throbbing neck pain. It doesnt feel like a normal muscle soreness (DOMS).. but then again i never had anything wrong with my neck so it could be a new thing.

I'll report back on how well my workout goes and possibly better observations.


Not really. Keeping your shoulders back and your chest up shouldn't depend on the position of your head. As a matter of fact, keeping the spine in a neutral position requires you to look slightly downward because of the forward tilt of your upper body.

They are all separate cues that should be on your checklist when you're setting up to squat. Mine goes like this:
Set grip width
Duck under the bar and pin shoulders back as tight as possible
Dig bar into the groove
Get feet under the bar
Chest up, back tight
Unrack and step back
Set stance width and foot angle
Lock eyes on spot
Chest up, back tight, big breath

It's important to note that I lift completely raw. No belt, no wraps, nothing. If you lift with any sort of gear, your list should be longer.


Payed more attention to my form and kept my head slightly tilted down. Didn't get any neck pain.

However the acute back pain still comes around even when i warmup correctly with barbell rows. Im GUESSING its because of a muscle imbalance in the back. My left bicep is weaker than my right bicep so the left side of my back compensates by being stronger (i notice this sort of thing happens with bench pressing with triceps/chests). I decided to knock the weights down to and increment it to see where i get any trouble. The pains at 90 lbs for barbell rows (ideally i should be doing pendlay rows but the weights are small), which is the working weight that i first started to feel the back pain.

Any advice? My rows are really starting to lag behind all my other exercises and this back pain is the main culprit.

Rest of my lifts:
Squat 195 lbs 3x5
Bench Press 140 lbs 3x5
BB/pendlay row = problem
Overhead press 95 lbs 3x5
Deadlift 200 lbs 1x5


It is something a lot of good coaches disagree on. So essentially, not a make or break thing unless you are pushing big poundages. Wendler looks up when he squats. Rippetoe down. Some other powerlifters look down/ahead, some look up.

I look up when I squat. I have found the tendency for many many people looking down is also do cave their chest in, which makes you lose tightness. Looking up helps you (or me and many people I have trained with) think about keeping your chest up, back tight, and elbows down. You can do this looking out and down too.

Also, when I say "looking up" I am not talking about the ceiling!! I am looking out AND up, or slightly above parallel (i pick a spot on the wall at or slightly above head height when unracked, then keep my head looking up at it in the hole).

I think often times "looking up" gets translated in a newbie's head as "look at the ceiling" or "crane your head up". This is not right and can lead to the neck pain the OP was talking about. What many newbs end up doing is hunching over their upper back like they are at a computer chair, and then trying to look at the ceiling. Recipe for disaster there. Chest is down, back is loose AND the neck is craned up.


JAyL1--I am going to have to disagree and say see a doctor! Your regular doc is retarded when it comes to lifting, true, but there are sports medicine doctors that deal with sports injuries as well as physical therapists that can do so also. It is much much better to get chexked out and have nothing found wrong than it is to ignore something that could be potentially serious down the road!


I hurt my neck with poor squat form and found through trial and error that looking up is bad for me. I tend to look straight ahead or just slightly down now and also lowered the position of the bar on my back. Problem solved.


Alright, let's dig into this one deeper, then. Thogue made some good points above, so make sure to look into those.

If there is any way you can post a vid, then post it and ignore the following questions:
What is your arm span and what grip width do you use?
Where does the bar contact your body at the top of the movement?
Do you keep your shoulder blades retracted, or do you let them protract at the bottom?
Do you use any leg drive at all?
Do you control the weight on the eccentric, or do you let it free-fall?


  1. Don't know the exact length of my arm span (no measuring tape available) but it's about 2-3 inches above my height (i'm 5'7"). Grip width is about my shoulder width.
  2. Hits my uppermost ab, right under chest
  3. protract at bottom, retract at top, repeat
  4. no leg drive
  5. well the pain only comes from the concentric portion of the exercise. Yes i do control the weight on the eccentric only because the weight is so low (once i hit 45 lb plates or even 35 lb plates i will be doing pendlay rows)

One thing i noticed while looking straight the mirror (so the top of your head would be facing the mirror if you looked down) while doing these barbell rows is that my elbow position looks uneven. I try to correct it but the pain still comes. Could this be the cause?


Go wider with the grip. No wider than your benching grip, but wider than where you are now.

The spot where the bar hits your body should be the spot that allows your forearms to point straight down. It's going to be largely dictated by your arm proportions and grip width. The wider the grip, the higher the spot. Just get somebody to eyeball it for you.

Retraction should be the first part of the concentric, not the last. Squeeze at the top, but start the movement with a forceful retraction and maybe even a little bit of leg drive.


im assuming this applies to both bb rows and pendlay rows right?




wider grip,
retract shoulder blades right away,
squeeze up top,
controlled drop to the ground.

results: painless rowing. Thanks :slight_smile:
Conclusions: apparently retracting your should blades too late can potentially hurt you.


Can't guarantee painless rowing in your specific case, but technique correction just might do the trick. Try it and see.