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LAVERA STEWARTEditor-in-Chief of the Approved By Coach
Whether you are just a rookie in the gym or you have some experience, you probably know what squats are. It is safe to say that many people see them as too demanding and avoid doing them! Indeed, squatting isn’t easy. It can be demanding and even painful, which is the reason many people don’t want to do them.
We were among those people too. But with time and practice we were getting stronger and more confident, so we decided to talk with the coach about squatting, more specifically the high bar vs lower bar squat, since those seemed to be the most popular. We learned then that squats are indeed challenging, but they also bring a plethora of benefits. Much to our surprise, we learned that there isn’t only one way to squat. As they told us, there were plenty of variations so every single person could find something that would work for them.
Our further investigation into squats helped us understand better everything they talked about, and finally, we got particularly curious about the difference between high vs low bar squat. At first glance, it seemed like the only difference was related to the position of the bar. But then it turned out that many other things make these squats particularly exciting. We got determined to understand the science behind the low bar vs high bar concept. Ultimately, we did, and now it is impossible to imagine going to the gym without squatting.
But we know that many people don’t have the privilege of time to study each exercise they see in the gym. Most people are lucky if they have time to go to the gym in the first place, considering all the work and family stuff they have to do during the week. We feel that it is essential to maintain good health in general, and in these excessively stressful times, more. That is why we thought it is our job to summarize everything that we learned and compile it in this text about high bar squat vs low bar squat. Let’s see what we have prepared for you!
- 1 Barbell Back Squat At a Glance
- 2 What Is a High Bar Squat?
- 3 What’s a Low Bar Squat?
- 4 Similarities and Differences Between the High Bar and Low Bar Back Squat
- 5 Conclusion: Which Squat is Better?
Barbell Back Squat At a Glance
Okay, so we said that our focus today is going to be on high bar vs low bar squat. What we didn’t say is that these are the variations of a barbell back squat, though! What is it? Squats, and particularly barbell back, are often referred to as the royalty of the leg moves. Barbell back squat works literally every muscle in the lower body. But keep in mind that it is also upper body exercise because you are also lifting weights. The more load you are lifting, the more your upper body muscles work. Apart from that, you have to stabilize your core and contract the muscles of the back to keep the torso in the correct position.
As we mentioned, there are countless benefits of this fascinating movement. It is not only that it builds the muscles and strengthens the core. It also strengthens the joints, tendons, and ligaments around the knees and hips. Apart from that, doing these squats can boost your performance in many other ways because it requires ankle stability, core stability, and shoulder mobility. Since it is a full-body movement, it burns a whole lot of calories. Plenty of people get surprised when they hear this because we mainly associate cardio workouts with weight loss and calorie burning. However, this high-intensity, compound movement crushes calories faster than you imagine. A study conducted by researchers from Harvard School of Medicine showed that a 155-pound person burns about 230 calories for 30 minutes of vigorous strength training. Besides all this, barbell back squats promote the release of Human Growth Hormone. A study that involved participants who performed six or twelve sets of squats showed they recorded an increase in GH production. The biggest increase is recorded in those participants that performed six sets.
As mentioned, squats are complex compound exercises, and as such, they seem overly challenging for many people. Hence, it is not uncommon to think that it is only for professional athletes such as bodybuilders and powerlifters. But that is a misconception! Barbell back squats are for everyone who wants to build a strong and healthy body. Of course, it is not possible to enter the gym and start squatting. You first need to become strong enough. That means that you begin by doing standard bodyweight squats and slowly progress toward the moment you can squat with the barbell. However, people with back or knee injuries should maybe consider other alternatives. As we are getting older, our connective tissue, muscle tissue, and bones become weaker. It is especially the case for people who have a history of weightlifting. Older lifters may consider replacing barbells with dumbbells or kettlebells to prevent potential injuries.
What Is a High Bar Squat?
Some of you may think that it is not so important because, in any case, the bar is behind. However, it is crucial that you know what to do because mixing up these two techniques can cause pain and injuries.
Let’s now dive into the high bar squat technique. When you are doing a high bar squat, the bar shout sits on your trapezius muscles, and your hands should be as little apart as possible. The torso needs to be as upright as possible. The barbell has to be in line with the middle of your feet. As you are going down, your knees need to be pushed forward. Keep in mind that the high bar squat doesn’t allow you to use as heavy a load as the low bar squat. However, this exercise comes with plenty of benefits for the knees, ankles, and hips and enables you to perfect your flexibility and strength.
When to Use High Bar Back Squats
Many powerlifters and bodybuilders claim that it is easier to learn how to high bar squat. That is why it is excellent for beginners. But it is also a perfect choice for people who don’t want to join any competition but are training to improve their overall strength and gain quad muscle mass. People who have good ankle mobility also enjoy doing it. Also, generally, it is considered that people with shorter legs benefit more from high bar squat form.
- Upright posture
- Greater motion range
- Activation of the anterior side, mainly quads
- Contributes to improvement in athletic performances
Potential Drawbacks of the High Bar Squat?
Regardless of how beneficial it is, every exercise comes with the same downsides as well. So what are the drawbacks of high bar squat? Well, if you are only doing this squat, your quadriceps will be happy. However, you will neglect the hamstrings. If you prefer high bar squats, make sure to do other exercises that will target the hams to create balance. Besides that, this exercise places anterior force on the knees. People who have knee issues will maybe focus more on low bar workouts for this reason.
How to Do a High Bar Back Squat?
- Position yourself in front of the bar, making sure that you are in the center. Your feet should be apart in the width of your shoulders. Put your hands on the bar.
- Don’t bring your shoulders to your ears. Activate your trapezius muscles and place the bar behind your upper back.
- When the bar is well settled, go one step back and assume the foot’s position again.
- Keep your torso upright and slowly start to descend. Make sure that the knees are pushed forward. When you go fully down, place the feet on the ground and slowly return to starting position.
- Stabilize your core again and repeat the movement.
Important Safety Tips & Precautions
Regardless if you perform a high bar or low bar squat, or even a good morning squat, you always have to be safe. Hence keep in mind some helpful tips:
- Make sure that the lumbar curve and the abdominals are tightly braced.
- Always start squatting by pushing your hips first. Avoid dropping your knees.
- Stabilize the core to protect the spine.
- Make sure that your feet are not more or less than width apart.
What’s a Low Bar Squat?
As you may guess, the low bar squat technique means that the bar is positioned lower than when you are doing a high bar squat. The barbell, in this case, is on the back of your shoulders instead of the trapezius muscles shelf. When doing this exercise your hands are more apart on the bar, and your torso is not upright. Since you are leaning a bit forward, you have to make sure that you don’t put plenty of stress on the knees. It is necessary to know that low bar squatting is designed to build absolute strength, and thus you are carrying much more weight with this type of exercise. And in this exercise, you are not descending as deep as with a high bar squat.
When to Use Low Bar Back Squat?
People who are focused on gaining strength usually opt for low bar squats. The main reason is that with this squat is that you can lift heavier loads than with a high bar. Thus, It’s ideal for people who want to build the glutes, and activate the hamstrings. Generally, when doing a low bar squat, you are activating more muscles. Besides that, people who have issues with ankle mobility are more likely to opt for low bar squat form.
- The focus is on the posterior chain
- You squat more weight
- This exercise builds stronger hips and hamstrings
- Builds a strong back
Potential Drawbacks of The Low Bar Back Squat
One significant downside of this exercise is that many people don’t have the required shoulder mobility and balance. That is a problem because it affects the form, which then affects the performance. More importantly, when you can’t do it properly, the risk of injuries becomes much higher.
How to Do the Low Bar Back Squat?
Now when we know what it is, let’s see how to low bar squat. You will notice that the positioning of the bar isn’t as different as you might have thought. While with high bar squat, you keep the bar on the trapezius muscles, when doing the low bar variation, the bar needs to be placed a few eaches lower.
- Center yourself in front of the bar, stabilize your core. Place the elbows behind and activate the lats. In regards to shoulder mobility, place your hands as wide apart as possible. Ensure that the bar is pinned to your back. Keep in mind that it shouldn’t slip.
- Once you are sure that the bar is settled, step back and stand in the starting position again. Place feet a bit more than shoulder-width apart.
- Start descending into a squat with knees pressed out.
- After you finish going down, put the feet back on the ground and go slowly up.
- Stabilize the core and repeat the movement.
Important Safety Tips & Precautions
- It is necessary to note that the toe angle is the question of individual preferences.
- Try a thumbless grip to avoid potential elbow and wrist issues.
- Make sure that the knees don’t excessively deviate inwards or outward.
- The neck position is individual as well. Some people like a neutral neck position, while others prefer to look ahead. However, remember to never lower the barbell on your neck, since it can result in protrusions, hernias, and other injuries.
- Never place the barbell on your spine, especially C1-C7. Go lower.
- The lower you place the barbell the wider it’s best to spread your arms to grip it. It will help with stabilization.
Similarities and Differences Between the High Bar and Low Bar Back Squat
Okay, so, when comparing high bar vs low bar squat, we see some similarities and differences, just as it is with, let’s say, eccentric vs concentric squats. First, let’s see what is similar between these exercises.
- They are both compound workouts.
- Both of the exercises involve the barbell.
- Designed to work the lower body, mainly the legs.
- Effective as a full-body workout, if done correctly.
Balance and Back/Core Strength
Regardless of the type of squat, the bar should always be parallel with your midfoot during the entire movement. When you are doing the high bar squat, the bar is higher. If you are not holding it correctly, and you are not balanced, there is a high risk that the spine will round or collapse out of balance. It is because the bar has more leverage. In the low bar squat, the bar has less leverage.
Torso’s position is critical for the proper balance when you are doing these exercises. The difference between high bar and low bar squats is that in the first the torso is more upright whereas when you do the latter you have to lean. It is similar to the position of the torso in the front barbell squat. In the low bar squat the barbell is placed lower on your back. That makes you lean a bit more forward while you are standing. Of course, you still have to make sure that your core is braced to protect the spine.
Flexibility and Mobility
Comparing high bar vs low bar squat, you can notice that both variations have specific requirements regarding mobility and flexibility. If you want to perform a high bar variety, you need to make sure that you have good mobility knees and ankles. That is why this type of exercise probably isn’t the best choice for people who have some knee or ankle injury. People recovering from surgery need to take a step back from this exercise until their doctor or PT gives a green light to start doing them. Low bar squat is a better option for people who have ankle and knee mobility issues. On the other hand, this variation requires an excellent level of shoulder mobility.
As we already mentioned, these squat variations target different muscles. Indeed, they focus on the lower body. However, low bar squat focuses on the posterior chain, particularly hamstrings and gluteal muscles. The high bar is working the quadriceps.
|High Bar||Low Bar|
|Foot placement||Shoulder width||Wide|
|Hips||Directly under||Pushed back|
Conclusion: Which Squat is Better?
And that’s all about the differences between high bar vs low bar squats! We are pretty sure that you, too, share our opinion that these are phenomenal squat variations. And overall, high bar squats are better for people with high ankle and knee mobility. The low bar is better for those of you who have knee issues. The low bar is also more common among professional bodybuilders and powerlifters who have better shoulder mobility.
So have you ever tried any of these squat variations? If you have, which one do you prefer? If not, which one would you like to try?