5 Low Bar vs High Bar Squat Differences For Better Squats

Barbell squats are one of the most effective exercises for many people and a sure-fire way of boosting strength and adding serious muscle mass. There are many squat variations, ranging from front squat, back squat through to the low-bar and high-bar squats. Each squat variation has unique benefits and drawbacks depending on your specific goals and your ability.

You can use kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, or machines to do different variations of squats. If you do not want to add any intensity or load, simply using your body is enough too.


Recommended Reading – Front Squat Vs Back Squat – Which Is Better


But when choosing variations, the low bar back squat and high bar squat are the two most common. In this article, we’ll consider the differences between these two squat variations.

What Is A Low Bar Squat?

low bar squat

A low bar squat is a back squat variation that involves positioning the barbell across the upper rear deltoids. It’s sometimes known as the powerlifting squat because it is the preferred type of squat for a competitive powerlifter who would be looking to maximize their strength.

During the descent of a squat the bar path should remain in line with and over the middle of the foot. A low bar placement results in a more forward lean allowing the barbell to remain over the mid foot ensuring that correct form is maintained throughout. As low-bar squatting results in more leverage to the hips, this may allow the lifter to squat more weight.

How To Do a Low Bar Squat?

How To Perform A Low-Bar Back Squat:

  1. Take hold of the barbell with an overhand grip outside of shoulder width apart.
  2. Position the bar below the trapezius but just above the rear delts.
  3. Unrack the bar and take a small step backwards.
  4. Keep your head and chest upright.
  5. Engage your core throughout for stability.
  6. Breathe in and push back your hips.
  7. Bend your knees but keep them incline with your feet.
  8. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  9. Exhale whilst pushing through your heels and power back up to the starting position.

Benefits of Low Bar Squats

Increased Activation Of Posterior Chain Muscles

Low bar squats activate the glutes and hamstrings more when compared to a high bar squat. A 2020 study found that low bar squat allows more muscle activity from the biceps femoris, gluteus maximus, and lumbar erector spinae.

This increased activation is due to the barbell position across the lifter’s back resulting in that slight forward lean. Likewise, there’s an elevated anterior pelvic tilt combined with a wider foot stance. These differences mean that more of the weight is transferred to the posterior chain.

Improve Core Stability

Since there’s more core engagement during the low bar squats, it can improve your core stability. The increased activation of your lumbar erector spine and abdomen muscles translates to better control of your core during the exercise.

Regular low bar squats can help improve form and stability when performing exercises such as deadlifts, kettlebell swings, and overhead presses. With stronger core stability, you can generate more power during functional movements.

Squat More Weight

As mentioned, a low bar squat has more forward lean than a high bar squat due to the bar’s positioning on your body. Due to this, a larger force is applied to the hips, which results in more load capacity.

This allows you to lift heavier weights and potentially allowing you to increase your strength. By increasing your strength, you can increase muscle mass and power. The additional load capacity allows for more efficient lifts when doing plyometric exercises and other types of explosive movements.

What Is A High Bar Squat?

high bar position

A high bar squat is a back squat variation where the barbell is positioned across the top of trapezius muscles. It’s a good option for people with mobility issues who cannot easily get into a low-bar position. Plus, lifters with kyphosis (rounded upper back) can usually achieve a more upright posture with the high bar squat.

The higher position of the barbell prevents lifters from leaning forward too much, this puts less stress on the spinal erectors. making it a better option for those with any pre-existing back issues. Squatting with a high-bar position tends to be performed by Olympic weightlifters.

How To Do A High Bar Squat?

Squatting with a high positioned isn’t really that much different to a low bar squat

  1. Take hold of the bar with your hands at around shoulder width apart.
  2. Retract the scapula and position the bar along the top of your traps.
  3. Brace your core, inhale and push back your hips.
  4. During the eccentric portion (descent) ensure the bar path stays over your feet.
  5. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  6. Push through your heels back to the start and repeat.

Benefits of High Bar Squats

A high bar squat relies on your quadriceps strength. It’s a great exercise for people who want to gain muscle mass and strength in the quadriceps. Here are some benefits of high-bar squats.

Improve Squatting Technique

High bar squats require a more upright plane of motion, allowing athletes and lifters to get accustomed to a proper squatting technique. It helps lifters improve their form potentially reducing the risk of injury. If you’re new to squatting, getting accustomed to high bar squatting is a good idea before moving over to low bar squats.

Increased Range of Motion

The high bar squat places more torque on the knee joint allowing a greater depth to be more easily achieved when compared to a low bar squat.

Low Bar vs High Bar Squat : How Do They Differ?

The main difference between a low bar squat and a high bar back squat is that of the bar position. The low bar squat requires the bar to be located along the rear upper deltoids. Conversely, a high bar squat involves positioning the bar across the trapezius. This slight alteration results in a difference to the torso angle during the eccentric (downward) portion of the squat.

Form

In a low bar squat, you would typically position your feet wider which places more emphasis around the hip muscles. This in turn elicits greater activation of the glutes and hamstrings.

Meanwhile, in a high bar squat, the distribution of the angle of resistance and load is different. The bar is placed across the top of your traps essentially forcing you to adopt a more upright position during the descent.


Recommended Reading – 7 Significant Benefits Of Hindu Squats To Promote Better Leg Growth


The distance between your feet is narrower in a high bar than in a low bar. Thus, there is a vertical angle to the hips and the torso. When in a high bar position, you will be more comfortable if you place your hands closer to your shoulder on the bar.

Total Weight Load

Since there is a lesser range of motion and greater activation of the posterior chain, you will be able to move more weight in a low bar squat than you can in a high bar squat. Due to this, more resistance induces greater muscle fiber contraction. However, it also puts you at risk of injury if there’s too much resistance, especially if your form is incorrect.

Safety

If you do them with proper form, both high and low bar squats are safe. However, the low bar squat has a lower risk of injury than the high bar due to its shorter range of motion.

Plus, a low bar squat has a wider foot positioning, which helps with hip stability and provides a more stable base for the lifter. Meanwhile, the high bar squat has a narrower foot positioning, putting the lifter at risk of losing balance or having a bad form.

But in some cases, the high bar squat may be safer since it has a more natural movement compared to the low bar squat. The motion patterns and biokinetics of a high bar squat are more in line with what the human body is used to doing.

Mobility Requirements

As the squat is a multi-joint exercise, you should have some degree of joint mobility and flexibility for both squat variations. However, a low bar squat needs less knee mobility since most of the resistance is on your posterior chain and the hips. If taking on a wider stance, you’ll need a higher degree of mobility to the hips.

In a high bar squat, you need more ankle and knee mobility due to the wide range of motion involved in this exercise. The squat also puts your knees in a position where they have to bear most of the resistance during the workout.

Muscles Worked

Both the high bar and low bar squat will activate the quadriceps, adductors and glutes whilst working the hamstrings, spinal erectors, and abdominals. However, the degree of activation does differ slightly between the two squat variations.

The low bar squat typically involves squatting with a wider foot placement and increased torso angle which in turn places increased weight load onto the glutes and hamstrings.

[html_block id=”21408″]

Low Bar vs High Bar Squat : Which Is Better?

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to which one is better than the other. Rather it depends on workout goals, ability, and the consideration of any pre-existing injuries.

Back Pain

The high bar squat is a better choice if you suffer from lower back pain. The low bar squat has more forward lean, which can flare up existing lower back pain by putting increased weight load onto the lumbar spine.

Hypertrophy

Lifters want to target muscle growth when they squat. Both low and high-bar squats can help in increasing muscle mass. A low bar squat is better for muscle growth to the posterior chain muscles due to their increased activation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Common Mistakes Lifters Make During Squats?

One of the most common mistakes during the squat is rounding of the lower back and folding in at the knees. In both cases, this is usually down to poor mobility to the hips and ankles and poor core strength. By focusing on stretches that improve flexibility and mobility and adding in some abdominal work may address these issues.

What Squat Variations Should I Do?

There are a variety of squat variations that you can do to target different muscles and increase your strength. Some common variations are regular barbell back squats, goblet, overhead, front, and sumo squats. You can also add variations such as pause squats, jump squats, or box squats to make the exercise more challenging.

The most important things to remember when executing any squat variation is that of correct form. Proper mechanics and coordination are crucial when squatting to limit the potential for injury, this is especially important when incorporating a weight load.

Is The Low Bar Squat Better Than The High Bar Squat?

If you want to elicit better activation of the glutes and hamstrings a low bar squat would be beneficial. However, if you have a weak lower back, then a high bar squat would be more suitable.

Do All Powerlifters Do Low Bar Squats?

No, not all powerlifters perform low bar squats. Squat mechanics vary significantly between a lifter due to the ability and their anatomy and which one they choose will depend on these factors.

Is A High Bar Squat Harder Than A Low Bar Squat?

A high bar squat is not harder to execute when compared to a low bar squat. The differences in bar placement simply alters activation of different muscles groups to a small degree. If you suffer from poor ankle and hip mobility (which is very common) you may prefer a high bar squat. However, if you have trouble with your knees, the low bar squat is likely a better option.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s anatomical structure is different with some having longer femur bones than others. This could correlate to one squat variation being more difficult than another. If you have a long femurs, you’ll probably find achieving depth on a low bar squat is easier.

Conclusion

So, we we know the significant differences between the high bar and low bar squat which will you choose? Overall, the low bar position is ideal if you want to squat heavier loads or focus attention on your posterior muscles. Whereas the high bar alternative requires less mobility of certain joints making it a better choice if you suffer from poor mobility and flexibility.

Leave a Comment