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High Bar or Low Bar? What is the best squat for you?

In this blog, I’d like to explain the differences between the high bar, and low bar back squat, and hopefully give you a good idea as to which squat might suit you better!

Why should we squat?

  • No matter what your experience level, or your goal, I’m sure you are all familiar with the back squat! Perhaps not familiar with the technique, but certainly aware that it is seen as an important exercise that is performed consistently in the gym by lots of different people, no matter their goal. The squat can help build stronger legs and therefore a stronger body, improve athletic performance, improve activities of daily living, and improve body composition. However, the aim of this article is not to go into depth on why we squat or the scientific benefits of squatting, the aim is to discuss which type of back squat is right for you!

 
High bar squat:
 

  • ‘High bar’, gets its name from the position in which the bar sits as you perform the squat, which is towards the top of the trapezius muscle (top of the back). It is also often referred to as the Olympic back squat, due to the benefits it has for Olympic weightlifters. With the high bar you can see a much more upright position in the torso than the low bar, with the hip being closer to the centre of mass, and the knee further away, therefore decreasing the back angle and increasing the distance between the knee and the centre of mass, and in the process recruiting the quadriceps more.

 
Low bar squat: 
 

  • The low bar back squat, is less popular for the general population, but is commonly used in powerlifting, and also often used by field athletes. As with the high bar variation, the low bar gets its name from the position the bar sits, which is lower down on the trapezius muscle and across the rear deltoids. In the low bar squat there is more forward lean in the torso, thus increasing the back angle and taking the crease of the hip further away from the centre of mass and therefore increasing the recruitment of the posterior chain.

 
See the below diagram for the difference in positioning between the two squats, but notice how in both variations, the bar remains in the centre of mass. The low bar can be seen on the left, and the high bar on the right. 

 
So which squat is right for you? 
 
Low Bar: 
 

  • Used by powerlifters and when trained well, often helps you lift more maximal load with the slightly reduced range of movement and increased recruitment of the posterior chain. So basically, if you want to be a powerlifter, or you are looking to squat as much weight as possible, I would recommend learning the low bar squat.
  • This is a good lift to use if you have restrictions in your ankle mobility, as the knee doesn’t have to travel as far forward as the high bar squat to achieve a good centre of mass.
  • The low bar is a good variation to use for athletes who want to specifically increase strength in the posterior chain.
  • A good movement for taller lifters or lifters with long femurs due to a decrease in range of movement, and less forward knee movement which can help those with longer femurs get into a better position.

 
High Bar: 
 

  • If you are keen to get into Olympic lifting, the high bar squat is more beneficial as it will strengthen the positions you will need to be strong in for the sport. It carries over better to the front squat, and more importantly to the clean and the snatch.
  • If you have excellent mobility in the lower extremity and want to be strong through a full range of movement.
  • A more comfortable position to hold the bar if you have shoulder mobility limitations.
  • Suitable for athletes with shorter femurs and a longer torso.

So in conclusion, choose the squat that is right for you! There are many other squat alternatives too which I’ll do another blog for in the future, but in regards to high bar vs low bar, generally speaking, the one that feels most comfortable and you can perform with the best technique will be the one for you. Feel free to email me any questions you may have, or ask myself or one of our coaches to have a look at your squat if you’re unsure.