Where Do you Set the Bar?

Joes Barbell
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Barbell tip of the millennium folks, squat with it and go deep. If you haven’t picked up squatting you need to. If you have begun squatting regularly here is a little food for thought regarding the back squat. It’s a big movement that I’m not sure gets the credit it deserves for being very complex. To demonstrate its complexity I want to take a quick second and look at bar placement. There are two schools of thought; the high and low bar back squat. Like everything else this is not as simple as you’d think, you have options, and there are passionate advocates of both styles of back squat.

High bar placement is just like it sounds. The bar is placed high on the traps at the base of the neck and is the preferred placement of most Olympic lifters. Placing the bar in this position requires a more upright and vertical torso, hence the love affair with O-lifters (it’s very close to the position you should be receiving the bar in the clean and snatch). As depth is achieved the hips must remain as close to under the shoulders as possible, which will then force the knees to travel forward. This slightly forward inclination of the knee somewhat reduces the hamstrings ability to contribute to the lift. And, some would say, ability to handle and squat maximal loads.

Lower bar placement is also just like it sounds. The bar is placed below the spine of the scapula on top of the posterior deltoids. In order for the bar to remain balanced and over the mid foot the back angle changes slightly. The small change in bar placement allows for the knees to remain further back throughout the lift. Keeping the knees back allows the hamstring to contributing more to the lift, which increases hip drive, and potentially puts a more powerful squat in your tool box.

So, which technique should you incorporate into your training? That’s up to you. You have to think about why you are squatting. If you want huge quads and are looking to master Olympic lifting you are a high bar back squatter. If you want to push max load and your goals are purely strength driven you are probably a low bar back squatter. In my opinion if you are squatting to improve overall athletic performance then lower bar is the way to go, especially if you front squat regularly, which I do and you should too. Incorporating both movements covers all bases and also allows for maximal strength gains and activation of all the big movers in your legs, which is a good thing. Try both. It can’t hurt. Well, unless you hurt yourself. Trust me, I high bar squatted for my whole life and 2 months into low bar squatting am finally beginning to feel good about it. Take your time and don’t let your ego get you into trouble.

The paragraphs in this little post only scratch the surface regarding the 411 of proper squat technique. For more info on squatting check out the two books mentioned below. The squatting reviews are tremendously thorough and will give you enough information to write a post yourself. Or, you can wait around for me to get enough time in my hands to read and share. Don’t hold your breath people, get things done, and get strong.  

Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training , 2nd Edition by Mark Rippeteo and Lon Kilgore
Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches, 2nd Edition by Greg Everett.