Low vs High Bar Placement and Squat Efficiency

Written by; Kevin Cann

I want to discuss bar placement on the squat in this quick article because it is not as simple as it may seem in an Instagram post.  The idea of putting the bar lower on our backs is to give the hips greater leverage and it also decreases the thoracic extensors moment arm making it easier on those back muscles.

However, lifters seem to take this to the extreme.  They will place the bar so low on their backs that the back rounds and the torso must lean forward to support the weight.  One, this lower bar position will require very high flexibility in the shoulders and the elbows to lead with the chest out of the hole.  Most lifters will not have this flexibility and it will lead to some pitching out of the hole.

When we lean forward like this and the back rounds the bar gets further away from our hips.  It also shifts the center of gravity forward onto the toes.  This is where the lifter will have to drive the knees forward to initiate the squat to achieve balance with the barbell.  This makes the lift longer and maximally loads the quads instead of the stronger muscles in the back of the body.  This can also lead to depth becoming an issue at heavier weights.  

We want the bar to move back towards the heel to give the hips more leverage.  This doesn’t mean the weight shifts all the way back, but instead still in the center of the foot but slightly back of center.  This is what happens naturally as we widen our stance.  When the bar comes forward it shifts the leverage from the hips to the quads.  Ideally, we would want larger traps so that the bar is pushed slightly further back to give the larger muscles on the back of the body greater leverage.

The lower back and abs need to be strong so that we can maintain these more efficient positions in the hole.  The obliques need to be a primary emphasis in abdominal training here as they have tie ins to both the hips and the lats.  An efficient squat requires us to be strong in the right areas so that our body can appropriately coordinate the movements under heavier weights.  If we neglect any of these weak areas we will see a loss of position and eventually fail to improve our lifts.

This is why only utilizing the competition lifts in training will not work in the long term unless the lifter has a very strong foundational base.  In America this is usually seen with lifters that have a strong athletic background in a sport that often brought them into the weight room for many years doing GPP work.  

Sheiko had done some research at Russian nationals and found that under 3rd attempt weights it was not uncommon for lifters to have a 10 degree torso lean at the start of the squat.  The fact that this lean starts at heavier weights and gets worse as the load increases tells us it is a physical weakness.  How is only doing the comp lifts under lighter weights fixing this problem?  It doesn’t because the problem does not exist there.

Yes, the SSB and some high bar squats can potentially increase the strength in the low back by placing the weight further away, but with a more upright torso it may actually be a complete wash.  This lifter needs a lot of good mornings, reverse hypers, and oblique work.  Those weak areas are where we want to get the majority of our training volume.  You make a weakness stronger, and you will hit a PR.

Training volume in this case should not be coming from the main lifts, but instead in the exercises I mentioned above otherwise the weakness will remain and the lifter will be disappointed at some point if not injured.  

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