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  • Writer's pictureAndray Voronov

High bar or low bar squats?



Since we're still talking about squats...

Yesterday I posed the question,

"Which style of squat do you prefer? low bar or high bar?"

Today, I thought I'd skim the surface of what each style of squat is and how they differ

Essentially, the difference between HIGH and LOW begins with the position of the barbell on your back

As you can see with the example on the left (HIGH), the bar is sitting high on top of my imaginary trapezius muscles. This natural shelf that is created by the traps is the most common and conventional place to sit a bar when performing back squats.

In the example on the right (LOW), you can see that the bar is sitting a lot lower. To highlight their position, I've added a drawing of my shoulder blades. Each shoulder blade has a "spine", which is a boney ridge separating areas where certain muscles will attach. The low bar position places the barbell on that boney ridge.

So what are the differences?


In either squat, in order to be able to apply maximal force to the barbell, it needs to be balanced over the centre of your foot.

If you look at the drawings, this is the case in each scenario, however, you made notice that there are two major differences. The angle at the ankle and the angle at the hip.

Because a high bar requires a more upright torso, there is less need for hip flexibility and more need for ankle flexibility (remember the 5-inch rule?)

The low position of the low bar squat means that you can keep your ankles relatively neutral, which is great if you don't have mobile ankles, but you do require more hip mobility, in which case, someone who is low bar squatting will usually have a wider stance to accommodate a little more hip movement.

Furthermore, if you imagine that in either squat, your spine is a lever. The longer the lever, the more core strength is needed to stabilise the barbell. This is why the mechanical advantage of a low bar squat usually means you can squat a little more weight.

Muscle activation:

This also falls under mechanical differences, but I thought I'd separate it a little.

Because a squat is a multi-joint movement, there are multiple fulcrums/pivot points in the exercise. The main two we are concerned with are the hip and the knee.

In the high bar squat, the distance from the centre of mass to the hip-fulcrum is shorter than that of the knee-fulcrum, which means that more force and weight will be driven through the knees. This means that the quads will be the main force producers here.

On the other hand, in the low bar squat, the distances are reversed and much more emphasis is placed on the glutes/hamstring muscles. This is another reason why most people can squat a little heavier during a low bar squat.

So.. who uses which style of squat?

well that depends

athletically a high bar squat is used by Olympic weightlifting athletes because the upright position is what is needed for barbell snatches and cleans

a low bar squat is used by powerlifters because their main concern is how much weight you can lift

Which one of these squat styles is right for you?

That depends on your daily functional needs and your mobility/flexibility levels

But in general, I would say the average person should have a combination of each style in their training routines

high bars for deep squats that carry over into everyday life

and low bar squats that help increase your maximal strength


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