As you already know, the squat is one of the most common and helpful compound lifts which utilize more than 1 joint. When doing this movement, you’re likely to focus on important things such as our back, hips, knees, and ankles, right? But really, have you ever thought about the bar position? Believe me, what you do with the bar is just as important as what you do with your body. So, high-bar vs low-bar squats, which one is your best choice? If you don’t what to do with the bar, just scroll down and read.
Click to View Post Navigation
What Are High-Bar And Low-Bar Squats?
Whether or not it is a high-bar squat or low-bar squat depends on the placement of the barbell on your back. In details, a standard high bar position places the bar right on top of our traps. With the low-bar version, we place the bar lower, and usually, it rests on our rear deltoids. Now, you may think that it is no big deal, however, it does drastically affect your joints, muscles involved and entire squat position.
Remember that no matter how you squat, you have to make sure you’re keeping the bar over the center of your foot during the movement. This way you can stay balanced even when you’re lifting heavy weights. Also, to protect your spine, you should wear a weight lifting belt. It will help you a lot and prevent you from injuries.
With that said, if it is the high-bar squat, this will automatically put the bar over the center of your foot. Therefore, this bar position forces you to squat with your butt straight down and knees forward.
With the low-bar position, the bar will be put behind the center of your foot if you stand straight. In order to stay balanced, you will have to lean your chest and shoulders slightly forward and sit your butt back at the same time.
Squats are great exercises that work the lower body and can be very versatile in that they can be done with or without the additional weights. Dumbbells, barbells, and even machines can give you the option to load up the weight or you can simply use your own body weight.
You can also position the weights in front of you or do back squats and place the weights behind you as you slowly lower and raise yourself from the ground to complete one rep. Back squats can be done either high-bar or low-bar, which is where much of the argument stems from.
Let us first discuss what makes a high-bar squat high-bar and what makes a low-bar squat low-bar.
A high-bar squat is done with the bar of your barbell placed high on top of your trapezius muscles, across the top of your shoulders with your legs positioned shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward as you lower and raise yourself from the ground to do squats.
A low-bar squat on the other hand, positions the bar a bit lower on the back compared to the high-bar position, with the bar positioned at the level of the deltoid muscles instead of on top of the trapezius muscles as you do your squats.
The difference between the two is merely inches but you will notice that you must maintain a more upright position during the high-bar squat with more forward leg movement as compared to the low-bar squat. Placing the bar lower on your back also will make you lean a bit more forward at the hips to help you in keeping your balance and toppling backward.
The Muscles Worked
In high-bar squats, you will develop more strength and mass in your quadriceps muscles, which are the muscles in front of your thighs, as it depends heavily on the strength of your quadriceps to move against the weight and perform your squats.
On the other hand, the low-bar squats are perfect for the posterior chain of muscles, which includes the gluteus muscles, the hamstrings, and back extensors. It recruits more muscles in its performance and if you are looking to target this group of muscles then you might want to look into a low-bar squat.
Balance is Key
In maintaining your balance and performing the squats properly at the same time, the bar must be on the same line as the midfoot and this is where it makes it easier for those doing high-bar squats.
The position of the bar during high-bar squats already falls naturally in line with the midfoot from the beginning of the position, which makes it easier to stay in balance than the low-bar squat. In the low-bar squat, you must flex a little at the hip joint to keep your bar on the straight path towards the midfoot, which is why you must lean forward a bit to keep yourself from toppling back with the additional weight.
Also, in doing low-bar squats, one must have the adequate shoulder mobility and balance to adequately perform the reps and maintain the proper position throughout. The combination of improper posture and the additional weight is a perfect recipe for a disaster that could cause possible injuries.
Some people will naturally find either high-bar or low-bar squats easier to do than others due to differences in anatomy.
Those with longer legs might be more comfortable with doing a low-bar squat and those with shorter legs should do high-bar squats. Those with limited ankle mobility might also benefit more from low-bar squats as the knees don’t have to move as far forward beyond the ankles in comparison to the high-bar squat, in which your knees act as the fulcrum working against the weight placed high on your back. Some important gears for this workout are knee wraps, ankle weights, etc.
So Which One Is It?
Now it seems that both high-bar and low-bar squats are equally matched. They work different sets of muscles more despite only inches in the difference in the positioning of the bar. However, these inches spell the difference in using either the quadriceps as your main muscle and your hips as the main fulcrum by which you push against the weight (high-bar) or the posterior chain of muscles and your knees as the fulcrum (low-bar).
1. Your Goals
Knowing that both kinds of back squats will work different kinds of muscles, it is your choice ultimately which one you should go for during training. Besides, it is advisable for you to differentiate back squats from front squats. If you want to strengthen your quadriceps, then you should go for the high-bar squats. If you are looking towards working your glutes, your hamstrings, and even your core, then the low-bar squats are your new ally, as reps with the bar slung lower on your shoulders will help you more with the posterior chain of muscles.
Also, if you are planning to go into Olympic weightlifting with its snatches and clean and jerks, you would want to build on high-bar squatting as this is the most common form for that type of competition.
2. Know Thyself
As with every step in your fitness journey, it is always important to consider your own anatomy and capabilities before you undertake a new exercise as it could spell the difference between success and injury. Always keep your safety first and foremost in your mind.
If you have longer legs and less ankle mobility might prefer to do low-bar squats. Those with knee injuries should also see a physician first before engaging in rigorous exercises such as high-bar squats, on which the knee acts as the main fulcrum used to go against the weight of the barbell.
3. The Test
Still not decided on whether you should go high-bar or low-bar? Well, there is a test to determine which one is the right fit for you!
To do this, perform a simple bodyweight squat without the added weights. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed at a slight outwards angle. Lower yourself down to a squat and observe your position. If you do not have a mirror, you can ask someone to watch you such as a gym buddy or your fitness instructor.
If your hips move backward, your chest tends to collapse towards the floor, and your knees move forwards past your toes, the low-bar squat will be great for you. However, if you can maintain an upright position, then the high-bar squat is for you.
High-Bar Vs Low Bar Squats
As mentioned before, the high-bar squat helps you prevent lower back injuries. Why? Remember that your hips will stay under the barbell, which means there is no torque on your lower back. That’s why it helps prevent lumbar spine injuries which are very dangerous for any lifter. Besides, the high-bar squat is helpful for exercises requiring vertical torso such as the front-squat, overhead press, and even snatch/ clean (Olympic lifts).
Another thing I like about the high-bar squat is that it involves a great range of motion. The more range of motion, the more muscle soreness. And in case you don’t know, the more muscle soreness, the more muscle growth. Hence, this squat style is beneficial for over leg development.
I’m pretty sure that this is one of the most common problems when it comes to squats, especially for beginners. That is the requirement of ankle mobility. For me, when I first started squatting, I was quite difficult for you to go all the way down.
In fact, pushing the knees forward requires your ankles to be very mobile. That’s the reason why some lifters with poor ankle mobility have difficulties maintaining balance and reaching depth during the high-bar squat. My advice is that if you’ve just started squatting high-bar, just put on knee sleeves or wraps for knee support.
The Low-Bar Squat
It is obvious that the low-bar squat recruits more muscles than the other. That’s why we can lift much heavier when compared to the high-bar style. In short, the more muscle you’re using, the more muscle you’re developing.
Additionally, the low-bar squat puts a great amount of stress on your posterior chain. When doing a low-bar squat, you have to shoot your hips back, thus, lengthening the hamstring. This will help you build stronger hamstrings and at the same time, prevent you from knee injuries.
Have you ever experienced any problems when you’re squatting high-bar and the bar keeps rolling onto your neck? For me, that is a terrible feeling and you can’t squat heavy comfortably at all. However, with the bar low on your back, it will be more stable.
Furthermore, unlike the high-bar squat, the low-bar version requires less ankle mobility. For anyone with tight ankles, this exercise is very beneficial.
Unlike the high-bar squat, this style neglects your quadriceps. This is because when you lower the weights, you don’t push your knees forward while sitting your hips back. However, this can be fixed if you squat ass-to-grass but it’s not very common.
I don’t know about you but for me, the low-bar squat is no different than the conventional deadlift. As you can see, they both recruit the hamstrings, lower back, and the entire posterior chain. Thus, if you do both low-bar squats and deadlift regularly, then I’m afraid that you’re repeating the same pattern all the time.
The Bottom Line
Now, let’s get back to the question at the beginning: High- bar vs low-bar squats to find out which is the winner? Well, as you can see, each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. If you look at the big picture, none of them is better than the other. So, which one is suitable for you?
For those who want to be better at the Olympic lifts such as the snatch, clean and jerk, the high-bar squat is their best choice. These people need to practice deep high-bar squats with a vertical upper body since that is the position they practice Olympic lifts.
For people who are interested in Powerlifting, it is important to try to lift as much weight as possible. Therefore, the low-bar squat is better as it allows you to lift more weight than the high-bar style.
Anyway, if you are a person who just lifts for health and fitness purposes, my advice is to squat high-bar. This is because it is the most natural and purest form of squats. To be honest, it is also more challenging and is that what your training all about?-challenging yourself and pushing yourself to limit
Just put the bar on your trap, sit your butt all the way down with chest and head up, and stand straight up. Sounds simple, huh? However, that’s my personal opinion, so if you have poor ankle mobility or anything difficult like that, it’s fine to choose the other.