Article written by Kevin Cornell
A lot of times, I get the question of whether to high bar squat or to low bar squat when I am training someone new and not yet established with what style of squatting to grow accustomed to. Before making a decision, we must first go in depth with each squat and what the purpose of the squat is.
When looking at the low bar squat, we usually see a lot of weight being lifted in the matter of one rep. This lets us know that these men or women using this style of squatting are very strong and have the goal of lifting as much weight as possible. This is typically, but not always seen with powerlifting. The goal in powerlifting is to have the highest total on that given day; thus the strongest person will win. Therefore, if I were going to enter a powerlifting competition, I would use the squatting style most efficient for lifting a mass amount of weight, which would be the low bar squat.
Looking at what muscles the low bar squat works is another key factor in our decision on which squatting style we want to use. The low bar squat is going to incorporate more of the posterior chain than would the high bar squat just because of the positioning of the torso and hip angle. We are slightly more bent over with the low bar squat then the high bar squat, putting more pressure on our strongest areas:
1. Back 2. Glutes (butt) 3. Hamstrings.
This is what causes us to lift these massive amounts of weight when squatting.
The next style of squatting and the one most commonly seen, but not limited to, in Olympic Weightlifting is the high bar back squat. When looking at the high bar back squat we tend to see less weight being handled than powerlifting (in a relative manner) and higher volume usually being performed. The reason being for both of these cases is the fact that 1. The high bar back squat is not as efficient for holding heavier weights as the low bar back squat. Secondly, we see more volume in the high bar back squats because it is not a sanctioned lift in most events you will find it being used.
For example: The back squat is not used as a main lift in Olympic weightlifting; it is used as an accessory lift and done for reps. This does not mean that it is less or more valuable than the low bar back squat they are just too different animals all together. Another reason most people do high bar back squats is because they are using the “bottom” position of the squat in their respective sports, and want to strengthen that area which the low bar squat is not known for doing. For example: a weightlifter might use the high bar as opposed to the low bar squat because it will strengthen his “bottom” position in both the snatch and the clean. This does not mean that the low bar back squat will not strengthen you as well; it just won’t have as much carry over to the Olympic lifts.
When looking at what muscles are used during the execution of the high bar back squat we notice the positioning of the bar is higher on the shoulders than the low bar back squat, and the torso is slightly more upright. This alleviates some pressure from the “spinal erectors” and allows for a deeper position than the low bar. However, in doing so, this is takes away pounds from the squat for a more upright torso. Although, as we mentioned before with the high bar back squat, we are not looking for maximum weight, but repetition and that deep positioning. Therefore, the high bar will work more of the quads and glutes as opposed to the entire posterior chain that the low bar squat will work.
For somebody learning to do a squat for the first time, the high bar back squat would be the easier option to teach based of its basic function. Just remember, that strength does not come overnight, and must be worked by putting in long hours at the gym and having intense determination and a strong will.