If you’re becoming a more dedicated lifter and taking your numbers seriously, one key aspect to always keep in mind during max effort attempts is the safety aspects, in particular the scenario of a failed lift.
I know it’s something that most people don’t like to consider, after all, why try to do a lift with a specific weight you don’t think you can successfully hit? Well, pushing the boundaries is one very effective way of progressing and pushing your body to new levels but you also need to do this in a safe manner – even if the expectation is a failed lift.
You can have things in place like spotters and safety bars but even then, there are times you will need to bail out of a lift and the squat is one of the most dangerous to bail out from. Just check out the video below to see what happens when you time it wrong…
Therefore, in this article, we’ll cover the steps on how to bail out of a squat successfully and safely whilst also explaining how to dump a squat – the technical term for dropping the bar during a lift.
What to Do if You Get Stuck in a Squat
Pushing the boundaries when training is great for progress but these max effort sessions won’t always end in success and can oftentimes even be dangerous when you are not properly prepared. One of the most dangerous (and scary) situations is when you get stuck in a squat.
Getting stuck in a squat usually happens at the bottom or mid-portion of the squat between the concentric portion of the lift. The lowering of the weight is always easiest but for one reason or another, people will find that they get stuck in a squat, and knowing what to do in the situation could be the difference between a failed lift or a serious injury.
This might not be a thought for many beginners or even experienced lifters but everyone can fail a squat for some reason so what should you do if you get stuck in a squat?
The most important thing you can do if you get stuck in a squat is to bail out of it. This means you need to drop the bar whilst simultaneously moving in the opposite direction, away from the bar to avoid it bouncing up and hitting you.
Is It Bad to Fail a Squat
Before moving on to discuss how to bail out of a squat, it’s important to know that it’s not a bad thing to fail a squat – providing you do so safely and correctly!
Failing a lift basically means you are pushing your body to progress and failure is an important part of training. Both to develop strength and grow new muscle tissue as the body needs to be forced to adapt and we can only do this by constantly progressing and testing new limits.
Failure also gives you a point of reference for your current level of strength and can help you identify any weak points. If for example, you fail a squat in the bottom portion of the lift, your glutes and lower back might not be strong enough to handle the weight in this position so it gives you a good indicator of where you should strengthen and improve.
Just to emphasize again though, while it’s not bad to fail a squat, you need to be prepared for failure which involves having the following in place:
- Safety or spotter bars set to the correct height
Even when using the correct equipment, there’s no guarantee that all squat racks and squat stands are safe.
If you are failing a squat without these things in place, the best thing to do is bail out of the squat.
How to Bail Out of a Squat
Bailing out of a back squat is a 3 step process that involves the following:
Step 1 – If you notice you are going to fail a squat, you need to remain calm and fully commit to bailing out of the lift. This is a decisive decision that will allow you to safely dump the bar.
Step 2 – The moment you decide to bail out of a squat you should keep your chest and head high (to stop the bar from falling forward where you are in a weaker position), drop your elbows and arms, and shrug the weight backward.
Step 3 – While the weight is dropping backward, you should move forward out of the direction where the bar will land and bounce.
The key to bailing out of the squat is to move the bar path backward and away from you. There will always be a split second between releasing the bar and it falling with speed and this is enough time for lifters to quickly and safely move away from the bar.
Back Squat Bailout
Bailing out a back squat can be tricky (and terrifying) due to the awkward positioning of the bar. If you’re in a heavy squat and feel as though things are taking a turn for the worse, it’s important to stay calm. Jerky movements can make the difference between a safe escape and a potentially dangerous situation.
Whilst the severity of your situation will depend on what stage of squat you’re in, safely bailing out of a squat requires quick thinking and rapid movement.
Dumping the Bar on a Squat
The only option you have in this situation is dumping the bar.
It may not look pretty, but it’s a necessary action you have to take to avoid serious injury. You’ll be embarrassed, sure, but it’s a situation most seasoned gym-goers have been in at some point and it’s something that’s expected when lifting at an elite level.
To dump the weight safely, it’s imperative to move quickly and avoid hesitation. If you’re in the bottom position of a squat and can’t get back up, you’ll need to dump the bar forward and step back to avoid getting hit by it.
If you’re in the top or middle position of a squat, then it’s easier to dump the bar backward and move forwards. For safety’s sake, aim to dump the bar in the top position if you can help it.
The video below shows the correct technique for safely dumping the bar and bailing out of a squat
Front Squat Bailout
It’s a lot easier to bail out of a front squat due to the more convenient position of the bar. If disaster does strike during a front squat, all you need to do is push the bar forward.
This sounds easy enough in theory but panic can set in, causing you to overthink your decision to bail. The most important thing to remember when bailing out of a front squat is to stand well back.
You don’t want the weight of the bar to crash and land on your toes – you’ll be on the shelf for months if this happens.
Bailing out a front squat is a lot easier and safer than bailing out of a back one.
Split Squat Bailout
Split squat bails can be tricky due to the compromised position of your torso. The weight of the bar is already putting a lot of stress on your spine and back, and a sudden jerk forward can seriously injure and compress your spine if done halfheartedly.
Whilst it’s not easy to bail out of a split squat, it can be achieved by throwing the bar backward and using your back leg to drive yourself forward.
The secret here is to complete the escape as quickly as possible. If you delay even for a second, you risk the falling bar landing on your back leg – which will lead to serious injury and unthinkable pain. Do not, under any circumstance, throw the bar forward as the momentum will take your torso, and head, in the direction of travel of the bar.
It may feel unnatural to throw the bar backward, but it’s something that needs to be done. Worst case scenario, you don’t move your back leg on time and end up with it broken. Although that’s not great, it’s a lot better than throwing it forward and ending up with a broken neck and shattered skull!
Sorry if that is a bit graphic but it’s true. A barbell loaded with weight can do serious damage if you miss a lift and are not set up with the correct safety fallbacks.
Dumbbell Squat Bailout
The safest ‘bailing’ option comes when doing dumbbell squats. Dumbbell squats are safe and easy to escape from due to their smaller size and lower weight.
If you’re failing on a goblet squat, then all you need to do is drop the dumbbell away from your toes and hope that it doesn’t damage the gym floor.
Dumbbell split squats can be a little more tricky, again due to the compromised position of your torso. However, with smaller handheld weights, you have the luxury of being able to drop the weights easily to your side – not overhead or backward.
Safety Measures when Squatting
No matter how you look at it, the easiest way to bail out of any squat is to stick to a weight you can handle. It may sound tempting to overload the bar and test yourself, but without a spotter or safety bars, you run a serious risk of injury.
If your gym has a power rack, make sure you do your squats there. The safety bars on the side were designed to catch the weight in the advent of failure. You can use spotter arms, safety bars, or actual spotters to support you during a heavy squat so never attempt to do it solo when going for any kind of max weight or max effort set.
If you’re new to squats, then don’t test yourself too hard too soon.
Stick to a comfortable, yet challenging enough weight and always rack the bar close to failure, with maybe a few reps left in the tank.
Another vital step is to have a spotter. Though this isn’t an option if you’re training alone, there’s no excuse not to have one if you’re training with a buddy or in a group.
To know about a squat bail out, you’re likely already a seasoned lifter but even still, try to keep these measures in mind can be the difference between successful lifts or an injury – even at the most elite level of lifting.
Bailing out of a squat might seem like an embarrassing scenario, especially when done in a more mainstream/commercial gym. The truth is though that bailing out of a squat is an essential skill that serious lifters need to learn – especially if you train solo.
It’s easy to fail a squat for a number of reasons and being prepared is going to be the difference between successfully failing a squat or getting injured. Simple preparation involves using a spotter(s) and safety bars set just below parallel on your squatting depth.
If these aren’t in place, the safest way to fail a squat is to bail out and dump the bar during the lift using the strategies and tips outlined above.