High Bar or High Bar Squat? Ask 10 people and you’re liable to receive 10 different (some comical) answers and arguments in support of one in favor of the other. The truth is, Low Bar Squats are better at certain things than High Bar Squats, and High Bars are better than Low Bars in other aspects.
The difference between the Low Bar Squat and the High Bar Squat really comes down to a matter of inches, levers, and torque. The end result is Low Bar Squats enable the athlete to burden an extra 5 – 10% overall weight; with High Bar Squats allowing for better range of motion.
Two forces must be overcome by the lifter as he or she rises from the deep seated position of the squat to a vertical standing position: knee extension and hip extension. The quadriceps have to contract hard enough to meet the knee extension torque and the hamstrings, glutes and adductors all have to contract hard enough to meet the hip extension torque. The movement of the low bar squat is somewhat more mechanically efficient in that when the bar is dropped lower on your back, the lever of the torso is effectively decreased in the movement.
With the high bar squat, the bar rests on the trapezius as the lifter is in a slightly forward lean. A vertical position is still maintained so that the bar stays over the area of the mid-foot. This is a common exercise among CrossFitters. The vertical angle of the torso in the high bar squat mimics the “snatch and jerk” of weightlifters and it is a good position for receiving. In theory, the more upright the lifter is, the less likely they will be to miss the lift in front of them. The hands are placed in a stationary position, shoulder width apart with knuckles facing forward.
The high bar squat is more dominant in the quadriceps than the low bar squat because the angle of the hip is more open, thus causing the knee to come further forward. In the front squat form, the knees will have more of an acute angle and they bend further leaving the hamstrings and gluteus muscles less involved. As the lifter learns how to engage and utilize the gluteus and hamstrings muscles in relation to the movement, the high bar squat may feel better and actually be a lift that is stronger.
Proper form and balance are crucial to the high bar squat. In the front squat form, less muscles are worked and more stress is placed on the knee than in the back squat form. The lifter can lift more weight with the back squat form. A steady pace and smooth range of motion is more beneficial to the high bar squat.
A lot more ankle mobility is required for the high bar squats. That is why many lifters opt to perform them while wearing lifting shoes. The lifting shoe offers a high heel and is able to alleviate some issues mechanically that are caused by an inflexible ankle.
The knees and the hips go through a huge range of motion with the high bar squat. In the low bar squat the opposite happens due to the angle of the torso being more forward so the knees aren’t traveling as far. The high bar squat requires a deeper flexibility for the lifter to be able to perform the motion as deep as possible.
Similar to other squats, the low bar squat is different because the bar rests on the lower back instead of the trapezius. The bar is placed further down to sit more on the rear deltoids just above the scapula. In comparison to the high bar squat, positioning can be a bit more difficult. In general the bar placement in the low bar squat allows for a higher amount of weight to be used. This is why this is a more common squat among the powerlifter. Due to the placement of the bar, the body’s center of mass is shifted.
The weight of the bar should be on the body itself and not the arms. The hands should be positioned at the lowest point to make the bar stable. Elbows need to be up and the wrists should not be under the bar. You do not want any wrist flexion. The width of the grip should be the narrowest as possible that still allows the elbow so remain up. When the elbows are dropped this can cause thoracic flexion.
The front squat form and the back squat form is changed slightly in that the angle of the back is in a more forward position and the gluteus will extend further back. In this position the knees will go back further reducing the stress on the quadriceps and the knee as the emphasis is shifted to the back, gluteus, and hamstrings. As the lifter performs the movement of the squat, the weight is kept over the center of their body mass. The angle of the torso in relation to the thighs is smaller than the lifter will be accustomed to, however it is not always true that the torso has to remain completely vertical.
To move with the weight, the angle of the lower torso actually makes using the posterior chain that includes the lower back, glutes, hip adductors, and hamstrings to complete the range of motion. The start of the low bar squat allows the hips to be pushed further back with the torso in a slightly forward position. With the emphasis of the movement beginning with the hips, larger muscles can be engaged more efficiently and more weight can be lifted.
Many people, women in particular are quad-dominant. This is one of the main reasons that females have so many knee issues. With the low bar squat utilizing proper positioning from the front squat form and back squat form the efficiency of the hamstrings, hip adductors, gluteus, and lower back muscles can increase the strength so that the legs are more proportionately balanced.
Foot positioning is important in any squat formation. It is important in any front squat form or back squat form to make sure your knees and feet are going in the same direction. This will prevent and improper twisting of the ligaments in the knee because the feet are properly aligned with the thighs. The toes should point out 30° as a general rule of thumb. Heels should remain on the floor as you move through every rep.
Deciding which exercise is better than the other is actually relative to what you are trying to accomplish from your squat routine. If you are trying to implement the squat into your Crossfit routine, It will be in your best interest to focus more on the low bar squat. The low bar squat is beneficial to strengthening your posterior chain muscles. Regardless of the benefits, the low bar squat is a bit more difficult to learn than the high bar squat. More tension in the gluteus and hamstrings is required by the low bar squat. If your knees bottom out by coming to far forward in the lower position, you can lose all of the potential energy in the larger muscles and become stuck. The low bar squat requires more practice to master than the high bar squat. On the other hand, if you just want to improve the strength of the quadriceps, then the high bar squat should be more of the focus.
For beginners, who haven’t quite mastered the positioning of the back squat form overall might find the high bar squat to be a bit easier as well as more comfortable. Women in particular on the other hand will find the low bar squat to be more beneficial as it helps to strengthen the muscles pertaining to the movement of the knee. In relation to the goals of a good Crossfit routine to be a better-rounded athlete it is best to know both types of the front squat form and the back squat form and put them to good use overall.
In relation to the front squat form with the high bar squat, a minimal lean forward of the torso is required to maintain positioning of the bar over the mid-foot area. The movement of the arms between the hips and the bar is shortened and the movement between the arm and the knees is more elongated. This creates a squat that is easier in relative terms of hip extension, but it is more difficult in reference to knee extension. This is why the high bar squat that utilizes the front squat form is considered to be a better quadriceps builder.
The low bar squat in relation to the back squat is just the opposite. The majority of the movement is shifted to the muscles of the hips. This makes the low bar squat more of a hip dominant movement. It is important to consider that the more leverage required to overcome the joints to complete the lift is relative to the movement of the arm between a joint and the bar.
With the low bar squat and the high bar squat every muscle of the body is utilized. The weight is held by the arms and back and the body is stabilized by the core. The squat is driven by the leg back up from the bottom positioning. With both of these squats there is no doubt that your strength will increase. You are calling upon various muscle groups to work together. A good squat routine will help improve your mobility and flexibility. Focusing on perfecting the form will help to also make your posture better. Many people utilize a chair at a desk for their daily functions. Proper form will help the muscles get stronger and increase stability. This can help offer a reduction in any infractions of the posture and avoid injury and carry over to a much healthier lifestyle.