The Back Squat

The back squat is probably the most popular squatting variation. It also allows one to handle the most load, therefore I considerit the most beneficial.

Early in my strength training career, I really didn't know the difference between the low bar back squat and the high bar back squat. My coaches probably didn't either.Like any beginner, I just put the bar on my back and started cranking out reps. For a beginner this is probably fine, you just need to get used to squatting with some weight on your back and adding pounds to the bar.

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Asone progressesto the intermediate level, it becomes useful to know the difference between back squatting in the low bar and high bar positions. This way one is able to choose which is a better fit for their goals.

High Bar Squat

The high bar position is the most commonly seen bar placement in the back squat. Walk into any commercial facility and you will likelysee anyBro Montana using a high bar position hammering out half reps with a puss pad and less than stellar technique. I'm not saying the high bar position is bad, just making a point that it's rare to see someone squatting correctly in a commercial gym.

In the high bar position, the bar is placed high on the shoulders, right on the upper traps. Due to the higher center of gravity one must maintain a more upright torso through the movement. This decreases the knee angle and increases the hip angle, thus making the lift more quad dominant.

Due to the quad dominant nature of the lift, the high bar squat is best used by those with more aesthetic goals in mind (big quads). High bar squats are commonly used by bodybuilders becauseof increased quadriceps recruitment.The high bar position is also preferred by Olympic liftersbecause it keeps the torso more upright (as in catching a clean in the bottom position).

The only real downside to the high bar position is that it limits the amount of weight that can be used.

Low Bar Squat

The low bar position is less commonly seen in your average commercial gym setting. Usually because it is more technically demanding and most people simply don't know how to do it correctly.

In the low bar position the bar is placed lower on the shoulders. The proper position is located right above the spine of the scapulae. The first attempt at maintaining this position is usually very uncomfortable, especially when the weight gets heavy.The "chest out" cue becomes very important when using a low bar set up.

Due to thelower center of gravity, this variationrequires a more angled torso during the descent. It feels a little strange at first because you have to actively lean forwardat the torsoand sit back at the same time. This increases the knee angle and decreases the hip angle, thus making this movement more posterior chain dominant andallowing for maximal glute and hamstring recruitment.

A low bar position is best used by those with more performance based goals becausethe lower center of gravity and ability to recruit the hips more allowsfor the use ofheavier loads. Low bar squats arecommonly used by moreexperienced strength trainees andpowerlifters. I would argue that they are more beneficial to athletes as well (stronger backside = more powerful athlete).

A downside to thelow barsquat is that it can be hard on the shoulders. Placing the shoulders in an abducted and externally rotated positionunder load can beat them up over the long haul. Especially if your shoulder mobility is a little shaky to begin with. If you decide to make the low bar squat your variation of choice, it would be wise to rotate periods of high bar and front squatting (along with the usualpre-hab)into your programmingto keep your shoulders healthy.


As always, knowledge is power. Knowing the correct variation to use based on your goals will serve you well over the long haul. I've cited it a few times on here now, but Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength is an excellent book for those of you that want to get more serious about your barbell training.

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