Bar Path: the most important squat cue

There are many cues being given out by personal trainers, online coaches and fitness enthusiasts when squatting, with most having a good reasoning behind them. But one thing that is often over-looked by the majority of novice and intermediate lifters is keeping the bar path straight. Before you continue reading this post, a word of warning: things are about to get physic(s)-al. If you would prefer not to read all that and cut to the chase (I do not blame you), feel free to scroll to the summary.

In physics, work is what we do when we apply a force to an object (e.g. when we lift things) and can be summed up using the following equation:

Work = F (cos x) D

If you look at the equation, you notice the symbol “D” which stands for the distance through which the force acts. Force (F) in this equation, is the push or pull exerted on an object, often resulting in a change in motion of that object and is given by the equation: F= M(A) – Newton’s Second Law – where M is the mass of an object and A is the acceleration (which is linked to velocity and speed).

This is where bar path comes into play. If you keep all the other variables constant and have two lifters squatting the same amount of weight but with person A having a straighter bar path than person B, it would be person B who would be doing more work and thus struggling more, as the bar path would be longer. And with respect to a straight bar path, the more vertical, the better.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 21.52.01Now time for some more (fun) equations. If the lifter above had made use of bar path C as opposed to A, it is possible to draw up a triangle (with the base being the ground) and use Pythagoras’ theorem:

A*2 + B*2 = C*2

to find that despite both being straight bar paths, the distance travelled would be greater for path C than A, thus meaning more work would need to be done to lift the same amount of weight.

This is where one common squatting cue has one of its main flaws: always make sure your knees do not travel further forward than your toes. Although, this was based on interpretations of the findings of a study in the late 60s-70s that suggested that travelling forward with your knees whilst squatting may make you more prone to injury (which I shall talk about in another article), it may be impossible for some to maintain a straight, vertical bar path whilst doing so.


– Keeping a straight, vertical bar path when squatting is optimal in decreasing the workload and difficulty of lifting the weight (hence helping you to lift heavier – happy days!)

– Ensuring your bar path is vertical can be done via checking with a friend/personal trainer or recording yourself from a side angle.

– Do not fall for the “Never allow your knees to travel further forward than your toes” squat cue and sacrifice a vertical bar path in doing so.





Physics in Biology and Medicine – Paul Davidovits

The Physics Classroom (

The Physics Hypertextbook (

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