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Squatting with the ‘neck pad’ – it’s OK, right?

‘The Pussy Pad Neck pad’ is the official name for a controversial 2 foot piece of rubber. I can’t see out this article without acknowledging the pad’s universal name among lifters: The Pussy Pad. If you’ve never heard it named like so, you’ve not spent enough time in gyms.

( – #canttaketheneckpain

Rumour has it you can tell a serious lifter by whether or not they laugh when the affectionate name is used in general conversation.

“Did you see Bill squat a new PR the other day?”

“Yeah, but he used the pussy pad so it doesn’t count.”

Non-serious lifter reply…………

“The pussy pad, hahahahaha!”

Serious lifter reply………….

“I know. I really can’t fathom why people feel the need to use such a thing. It’s unnecessary.”

Thanking the pussy pad

First and foremost, if it weren’t for the presence of the pad, I’m sure we’d lose at least half of the world’s ‘squatting population’. The imminent neck pain would force a retreat to leg pressing, leg extensions and the like.

Why does the pad keep so many in the game? Neck pain. Or, shall I say, pain in the cervical column due to the compression on the joints from the load of the bar – namely where the thoracic vertebrae meets the cervical vertebrae.

Isn’t this normal though?!

Absolutely not. Regardless of what a fellow ‘pussy pad user’ tells you, neck pain and proper, mechanically correct squatting NEVER belong in the same sentence. Never. Squatting with faulty technique is often associated with things like neck pain – not only that, but lower back pain too. As you’ll see, very often these two hiccups are connected.

The fix? Upper back tightness.

Whether you’re a high bar squatter or low bar squatter, everything about to follow still applies. It even applies for ‘hybrid squatters’; those who squat with a blend of the two. Correct execution of both styles require a common denominator: Upper back tightness. 

PROPER high bar placement

( – PROPER low bar placement

There’s a stark similarity between both pictures, you should already be able to identify it; the elbows are down and back, the upper back musculature is engaged accordingly, and the chest is ‘up and out’. There’s no collapsing of the chest and no thoracic flexion. This is creating the ‘shelf’ you hear so much about.

Doing this is crucial for more than just comfort reasons. Maintaining thoracic extension throughout descent and ascent is vital in exploiting the full benefits of squatting from a muscle stimulus perspective. When the chest collapses, the trunk flexes. As this happens, where does the load get displaced? It shifts forward.

When the load ends up in front of the centre of gravity, you’re in a position of mechanical disadvantage. In this case, what was intended to be a squat becomes a good morning – or more like a good morning than a squat.

( – Notice how far the bar is in front of the mid-line of the foot

I’ve used this image before. Notice regardless of styles, all adhere to one law: the bar remains over the centre of the foot

The good morning is a posterior chain exercise, but primarily a lower back exercise. As the hips travel back and the load travels forward, the lower back is forced to work harder. It’s this hip shift which is often unbeknownst to the individual that causes excessive soreness in the lower back from squatting.

Optimally, the bar should rise simultaneously as the hips do. This is why the common cue of “LEAD WITH THE CHEST!” is used far and wide. However, try and lead with the chest without upper back tightness; much harder. Nye on impossible.

Getting tight

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a “huge upper back and traps” to achieve a tight upper back and sufficient ‘shelf’ for the bar. I repeat: You do not need a huge upper back and traps in order to place heavy loads across your back pain free.

I am far from a mass monster and owning massive traps, yet I can high bar back squat over 1.5 times my bodyweight without a pad – and more importantly, pain. Furthermore, I’ve often loaded up the bar to somewhere in the region of 500 lbs and stood with weights far beyond what I could squat, just to show people, in person, that the upper back region can support HUGE loads when engaged correctly.

( – you GRIP the bar. It doesn’t rest in your hands

And it’s all to do with grip. The narrower the better. The closer you can grip, the tighter you can get your upper back muscles. How close you can grip will depend on how much external rotation you can achieve at the shoulders. Many people who’ve spent years training chest at every opportunity are forced to grip right out near the sleeves – that’s what unintelligent training does, causes muscular imbalances that create immobility in crucial areas.

The bar rests on the shelf made by your upperback muscles. Note how much more tight the upperback is with a closer grip.

( – grip out near the sleeves versus a closer grip

This is why it’s so important to maintain good shoulder mobility and mechanics. A good exercise you can do daily is shoulder dislocates with an exercise band, a broomstick or a PVC pipe.

( – shoulder dislocations with a band

These should be the ‘bread and butter’ of any good pre-workout warm-up routine. 

Finalizing it

Here’s your blueprint for never needing the pussy pad again. Regardless of high bar/low bar positioning, you want as close a grip as your shoulder flexibility allows. If you go so close and experience joint pain of any kind, it’s too narrow. Widen it a touch.

From there, it’s time to apply pressure into the barbell – grip tightly. You’ll find this naturally causes your elbows to point down instead of back and up.  The more vertical the elbows, the less the wrists are strained as they’re not forced into over-extension.

The elbows should remain as neutral as possible throughout. A good cue for this is to consciously push your chest out at all times. The pressure applied through the grip is to remain constant; from the unrack position to the ‘hole’ position at the bottom. From eccentric to concentric, you’re trying to crush, and rip apart, the bar.

This will give you a whole new world of tightness that the pussy pad cannot match.

Is it OK to use the pussy pad for squats? 

No longer. You know better now. Get it done. 

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

16 thoughts on “Squatting with the ‘neck pad’ – it’s OK, right? Leave a comment

  1. I’ve never used the so-called “pussy pad,” but on numerous occasions when I’ve walked into the gym at 5 a.m. and approached the squat rack, this pad has been Velcro-ed onto the squat bar (people who leave the pad on the bar are the same ones that leave the plates on the bar rather than racking them when done). I rapidly remove it with the usual Velcro peeling sound and toss it aside. I need to feel the weight. This is also why I don’t use gloves.

    All that said, I’ve read time and again the advice about how to do a proper squat and have attempted to internalize these suggestions. The problem is, while I’m squatting, I can’t see myself from the side and back, so I have no practical method for judging my form.

    I do workout with my wife on Sundays (something we just started), but even though I’ve asked her to observe me doing a squat, she has no experience to judge just how well or how poorly (although she suspects the latter) I’m doing.

    While text descriptions, photos, and drawings of proper squat form are helpful, learning the correct form from the beginning is desirable. I’m going to have to break down and spend the money on a personal trainer so I can have someone who (hopefully) knows what they’re doing tell me where my faults lie and how to correct them.

    • Glad to hear you’re not a serial pussy pad user James. You’re quite right, many times those who use the pad do all the classic mistakes in one. Quarter squatting with the pad and a lifting belt is all too common. “Feeling the weight” definitely counts for a lot. Good point there.

      What I would do in your position is either a) cue your wife on things to look for (bar staying over the midline of the foot, butt wink, depth etc) or b) you could film yourself squatting and upload a video to your site and invite constructive criticism. Lots of people use sites like reddit to do that. You could even do both suggestions!

      • I suppose I could have the missus take a short video of me with her phone. On the other hand, I am calling up a trainer at my gym tomorrow to set up an appointment for me to speak with him. If he seems competent, it might be better to just go through a few sessions with him and let him teach me how to do squats, deadlifts and so on correctly.

      • It’s a done deal. I have my first appointment with the trainer at 5 a.m. on Thursday. Should be interesting.

  2. Wow, I’ve never heard about this stigma at all. I only really started lifting in college, though, and no one is really a “serious” lifter to the extent portrayed in the article. Using a pad or not was also just a matter of preference, I thought (I use one). I’m still going to use it, though (sorry). It was nice reading this and learning proper form and posture, but why can’t someone do both?

    • Hey Gemma,

      There’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with using the pad, it’s just unnecessary. I find it’s harder to get fully tight with the pad than without. Without tightness, you’ll always be more limited potential-wise.

      Have you ever tried squatting pad-less? Just wondered how you found/find it.

      • I used to in high school (we didn’t have pads), but would usually just use a t-shirt or something in it’s place.

        In college, we had them available, so when I was finally able to move from front squats to back, I used it – especially since the weights I squat are much heavier.

  3. Hi! Great article and it made me laugh as I do not use the pad (I do know of it’s stigma!) but my gym buddy does, so as we work up the weights I have to constantly faff getting it off and then she has to constantly faff putting it back on! I personally can’t stand squatting with the pad, it feels unnatural to me – not sure if this is strange but I like to really feel the bar and subsequent weight as it sits at the top of my neck. My gym buddy only seems to add the pad as we go heavier though – I think her reason is the bar +weight becomes uncomfortable, but having tried, I just can’t squat (heavy or light) with a pad. Thanks for liking my Gym Vs Cycling post by the way!

    • Hello, nice to meet you!

      Glad you’re cued in on the stigma, haha – it’s pretty much universal, right? That “feeling the bar” you mention plays a massive role in squat strength and performance in my opinion. It’s there to gloss over a faulty setup.

      No problem. I am actually going to get back into cycling soon myself. Because of my job, I HAVE to teach/lead/take spin classes and one thing is for sure: Spin has no carry-over to actual cycling! Although you know that anyway, haha.

      Thanks for getting in touch 🙂

      • I use to do spin, before I got into cycling…. I did enjoy it (in the way that you can ‘enjoy’ spin lol!) but for me now there’s nothing like getting out there on my bike! Def get back into it.. and I’m going to see if I can work my friend off the pad! 😉

      • Haha, yes, there’s only so much ‘enjoying’ you can do with spin isn’t there? I’ve already been riding a fair bit the last few days. I’m going to visit the Olympic cycling park near where I live very soon (either this weekend or next). You’re going to have a hard time I think, most pad users are heavily attached to their beloved piece of rubber. Physically and emotionally, haha! I’d be interested to see if you actually succeed.

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