If you’ve been back squatting for a while and you weren’t aware that there were two different options for the bar position on your back, don’t worry! Chances are you didn’t need to.
(Be sure to check out our FREE “Learn to Lift” Workshop, The Squat, on September 8th. Join us by registering here.)
The reason I was motivated to write this particular article is because I’ve received several messages on social media offering (unsolicited) feedback on my squats. These messages are always from men and the feedback that they give me (I’m leaning too far forward, I’m lifting the bar with my back, I should wear a belt, blah, blah ad nauseum) always tells me more about the things they don’t understand about back bar squatting than anything else.
Like you, my time is valuable and I don’t waste it conversing with people who feel the need to make themselves feel better by coaching from their couches while surfing social media. Don’t you love people who private message women with advice, when it was never asked for in the first place? (Guys, if this has happened to you, please share your stories, because I only hear of this happening to women)
I’d much rather spend my time sharing some useful information with all of you. And who knows, maybe a couple of those guys will also read this and learn a thing or two.
And speaking of learning, let me also say that my squats are a work in progress, like everything else that I do. If everything we did had to be perfect right out of the cage, NO ONE would lift. Lifting is a process. Things like technique, strength, and proficiency come with time, a lot of it. There are professional lifters who are still working on improving. That’s one of the things that is so GREAT about this stuff!
Do your best, work hard, mind the details and don’t rush the process. And when somebody on the sidelines comes along and tries to blow the wind out of your sails, dismiss them without a second thought. Stay the course. You’re doing the work, not them.
The Perfect Squat
This idea of a “perfect squat” is elusive to begin with. To learn more about that, you can read this awesome article from Bret Contreras where he explains all the variables (like ankle mobility, femur length, heel elevation, and BAR POSITION) that can affect the “look” of your squat.
How your squat looks and other peoples opinion on that, does not determine how strong you will or will not get. Safety is always key, but there are a lot of people who love to say “you’re going to get hurt” or “you’re doing it wrong” who have NO clue what they’re talking about.
Another important point to make. The point of squatting is to further increase muscle development and strength. And MAYBE to be able to lift really heavy weight if you lift competitively. Different people squat for different reasons and those reasons should factor into what squat variations you use and how you train them. For a really amazing, in depth look at everything we’re discussing here, I recommend you read this article from Greg Nuckols. It covers everything you need to know about this topic and in way more depth.
So, what’s the difference between High bar and Low bar back squats?
About a couple inches, to be exact.
High bar back squats
In a high bar back squat, the bar sits across the top of the shoulders. Because the bar sits higher on the back, most people will be able to keep their torso more upright and their hips will sink deeper into “the hole”. Also fondly known as “ass to grass”.
Greg talks in depth about the fact that high bar squats also require greater back strength, which makes sense, but you can read his godly squat wisdom on that, and everything else, here.
Greg also points out that for general fitness goals, the high bar position is really all you need to work with.
So why a low bar position?
Low bar back squats
Even though it’s called low bar, the bar really only sits a couple inches lower on the back. But those couple inches can make a world of difference when you’re trying to squat more weight.
The low bar position is most frequently used by lifters who compete in powerlifting, where the aim is to squat the most weight you can squat. Most people can squat more weight with a low bar position than they can with the high bar position. Read Greg’s article to really understand the nuts and bolts of the why’s but let me just say you might again hear something about back strength.
When someone squats with a low bar position, you’ll typically see more of a forward lean in the torso. The hips won’t be able to go as low either.
(It’s usually my low bar back squats that get all the unsolicited comments because my torso has more forward lean. But that low bar position has allowed me to squat 198 pounds competitively. I never could have squatted that much with a high bar position.)
Again, Greg will explain all the why’s.
Which should you pick?
It depends, really. I usually train both but on different days of the week. But I’ve competed in powerlifting and while I don’t plan to anytime in the immediate future, I just like to stay in practice. When my personal and professional life allow me more time to get back into training, I’d like to enter another competition.
Like I said above, and like Greg states in his article, if you’re just looking to get stronger and develop some nice muscles, high bar works just fine.
If you plan on competing in a powerlifting meet, then at some point you will have to start training low bar, IF you want to squat the most weight you can squat when you compete. But that’s also up to you!
Remember, if it’s a safe squat, no matter what it looks like, it’s an awesome squat. You’re squatting to make yourself happy, right? Tell those couch coaches to beat it! You can also send them this article!
Now get out there!
Jeannine Trimboli, Founder,
real [FIT] life
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