High Bar vs. Low Bar Back Squat

When we back squat there are two different bar positions, the high bar and the low bar position. The reason for the two isn’t just “to change it up”. The different torso positions allow us to lift different weight and gives us a different stimulus each time we squat.

The high bar position, or the olympic squat position (the first three squats in the above video) creates a more upright torso through the entire squat. This usually allows for a deeper squat. It translates more to the olympic lifts that we do (clean and snatch) because it is very similar to the position we catch those lifts in. They are a stronger lift than the front squat because the bar is on the back and more easily kept in over the midline, but it is weaker than the low bar position. So it allows us to build strength in the position we make those catches. It is good to practice high bar squats at times for this translatory nature of the olympic lift catch and getting better depth to the squats. People with some low back issues might want to avoid this position as it loads the lower spine especially in the bottom position of the squat. However using this position with lighter weight and higher reps can also help stimulate blood flow to the lower back and strengthen the spinal erectors, especially when done slowly to a box (however high bar box squats can be dangerous at heavy weight).

The low bar position is more of a power position. As you can see in the second three squats in the video the bar is lower (hence low bar position) on the shoulders which makes the torso position be pitched forward more. The more horizontal the torso is the more the posterior chain is engaged, mainly the hamstrings and glutes (strongest muscles in our body). This allows us to lift more weight if we train in this position more often. It also allows people with some flexibility issues in the low back and hips to work lower with less strain on the low back.

I particularly like programming low bar squats frequently because it takes some of the need away from programming deadlifting for maxes on a constant cycle. Not that deadlifting is bad, it is a very good posterior chain exercise. However it is very taxing on the central nervous system (moreso than squatting) and also has a high chance of poor form when maxing out. These two aspects of heavy max deadlifting take a toll on recovery. The #1 part of getting fit is being able to get to the gym and perform the high intensity workouts we prescribe. If you are crushed or hurt from a lot of heavy deadlifts and cannot get into the gym, something is wrong. The low bar position allowing for more posterior chain engagement makes having to deadlift to strengthen that part of the body less necessary.

So why is this important? We just want to drop some knowledge on you mainly as we usually will direct you as to what position to use. We try to train both as it is good to get the different torso positions and get you used to squatting in different ways, as it also follows our constantly varied mentality. If we tend to favor one over the other it is the low bar position because it allows you to lift the most weight more often, giving you a greater stimulus hormonally to allow you to get stronger quicker.


STRENGTH: Back Squat
Spend 20 minutes finding a 1 rep max

10 Pistols (alternating)
75′ Bear Crawl
40 Double Unders

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