Which Method of Squatting Should You Choose?

13 Feb
Article written by Fletcher Pierce for LiftBigEatBig.com

I want to preface this article by saying that it is coming from the perspective of an Olympic style weightlifter. That being said, when followers of LBEB started asking about how high-bar squats compare to low-bar squats, there is a much smaller window of comparison than you might think. Olympic weightlifters lift heavy most days, so we have to make every lift count. Every assistance lift performed by an Olympic lifter is designed to support one goal, lifting a crap ton of weight above your head. We don’t do lifts that are not dynamic, and a majority of our lifts replicate the positions and movements found in both the clean and jerk and the snatch, which is the main reason we high-bar squat. However, the low-bar squat is also a valid alternative to many other strength athletes, so here is a quick breakdown of both. 
 Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of both lifts, and talk about how either one will (or will not) benefit your training. First of all, the concept of the low-bar back squat is to move as much weight as possible, with some federations only squatting into the “parallel” position and then stand back up. Because the focus is on the amount of weight, lifters have developed a series of techniques to complete the lift with the shortest and most efficient way. If the bar starts lower on your back you can lean forward more with the bar remaining within your center of gravity. This requires a great deal of core and lower back strength, but the movement essentially becomes shorter. When you push your butt back you can get into a deeper position more easily and can maintain trunk stability.
 Powerlifters also tend to wear a flat footed shoe to help them get their knees and butt back. Of course these are completely legitimate tools to helping you be successful on a heavy low-bar back squat, but the application beyond powerlifting can be limited for some. It should also be noted that without breaking parallel, a majority of the stress of the squat is maintained in the knees instead of shifting to the quads and hamstrings. For those wondering, this doesn’t mean the quads and hamstrings are not being used. It means the knees are strained until the moment they break parallel, so without breaking parallel the tension is maintained throughout the lift. All of that considered, if you want to be able to brag to someone about how much you back squat, then the low-bar back squat is for you. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a difficult lift in its own right, it means it is designed for max effort and efficiency without having to be directly applied to another movement. 
 Now let’s move on to the high-bar back squat. The high-bar back squat is a perfect tool for any Olympic lifter, Crossfitter, or Strongman competitor. Because the bar is situated higher on your neck, your body can easily maintain a more upright position. A specially designed shoe with an elevated heel also allows the lifter to keep their knees forward (and out!) and stay in a more upright position. This gives you stability when moving through a greater range of motion than that of a low-bar back squat. This upright position is also designed to replicate the proper bottom position of the snatch and clean and jerk. When an athlete is properly high-bar back squatting, their bottom position should be nearly identical to that of an Olympic lift, with the obvious exception of the bar’s position. Another reason the high-bar back squat is beneficial for every athlete is because it breaks parallel. As I said earlier, breaking parallel releases tension in the knee joint and tends to lead to less knee injuries (I’ve been lifting for ten years and haven’t seen a single Olympic lifter in my gym hurt their knee). 
 The high-bar back squat isn’t just beneficial for Olympic lifters though. Strongman competitors also undoubtedly benefit from training with the broader range of motion and the explosiveness that the high-bar back squat can provide.
  For the Crossfitter out there who reads this article and is not sure which to choose I will try to shed some light on the matter. A Crossfitter will most likely see significantly less improvement from a low-bar back squat as opposed to the high-bar. If you are a Crossfitter it is important to keep the goals of a Crossfitter in mind . Range of motion, flexibility, and explosiveness are all desired and can be limited by continually training the low-bar back squat. It is an essential lift for powerlifters, but may not be the best fit for you. If you are a Crossfitter, you should understand that Olympic lifting is one of the major foundations of your sport and that you need to be utilizing the lifts used to benefit Olympic lifting athletes. With a high-bar back squat there is less back strain due to the more upright position, which will make performing high repetitions much safer and you could prevent a knee injury during a max attempt, an injury that could essentially kill your chances of becoming a successful Crossfitter. The explosiveness of an Olympic lifter is not only developed during the two main lifts, it is also greatly impacted by our high-bar squatting. If you are looking to develop your strength, speed, and core stability for box jumps, long jumps, sprinting, or any other dynamic event you come across, then high-bar back squats are for you. 
 Depending on your goals, you will have to make the decision as to which squat style will help you improve. For enhanced flexibility, range of movement, acceleration, strength, and performance in the snatch and clean and jerk, you must go with the high-bar back squat. In order to develop the raw physical strength and technique to be successful in powerlifting you will want to train the low-bar squat. Take the positives and negatives of both lift, and determine which will be the most beneficial for your training regimen.             
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21 Responses to “Which Method of Squatting Should You Choose?”

  1. Adam February 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    The "powerlifting style" low bar squat as described in this article absolutely DOES NOT make the lifter carry the load in their knees. It's performed as almost a good morning with knee flexion, all of the weight is carried in the hips and hamstrings.Last time I checked no one strained their knees doing good mornings and RDLs.

  2. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

    Seriously??? You have to break parallel with low bar squats or its a red light. There are also hundreds of powerlifters that use Olympic lifting shoes and i just noticed on the worlds strongest man that a lot of them low bar. Why is it only ever high bar squatters that write these articles?

  3. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    I have read a few articles on this topic lately, and I feel like there is an important point not being mentioned. Lifters with different lever proportions can do better or worse with certain lifts. Some lifters may legitimately do much better with either a high- or low-bar squat (due to levers, not just flexibility). Just as some lifters will do better with a sumo vs a conventional deadlift. And by "better," I mean being able to perform the movement with safer, more efficient technique that hits the right muscle groups without straining the wrong ones, etc. So – even though a high-bar back squat may translate better to the olympic lifts, for raw strength development (not just lifting heavier for the sake of moving more weight, but for actually getting strong), it could be beneficial to do low-bar squats, or alternate low-bar and high-bar squats. The important point is that there needs to be some individualization to the prescription.

  4. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    The point about knee stress isn't there to say that the stress is not supported by other parts of the body. It is just stating that completely breaking parallel removes a majority of pressure from the knee.

  5. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Say whatever you want, I have friends that low-bar back squat ass-to-grass, but I have also seen tons of squats in powerlifting federations that are nowhere near parallel.

  6. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    The importance of individualized prescription was included in the article.

  7. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    That's true. But the textbook standard for low bar is break parallel. Real wide stances are a whole different story too.

  8. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I agree, that's why I put "parallel" in parenthesis. The textbook definition of parallel is 100% legit for the lift, it is just that many federations tend to be less strict. I was not trying to stab at the low-bar back squat, it is a very powerful lift, but it simply isn't right for certain athletes, especially if that is the only type of squat they do. No matter who writes the article there will be bias toward one side or the other. Personally I am a fan of all strength sports and I am glad that we have such a strong fan-base that actually cares about squats. I'm just glad we aren't debating proper curl technique.

  9. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Which is why you should break parallel with a LBBS, making the point redundant.

  10. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    You are right about the hinderance and benefit of different body proportion. There is a reason the top lifting countries measure the proportions of the perspective lifters. I also mentioned in the article that someone with the goals of developing raw strength would benefit from the low-bar back squat. Obviously the alternation of both lifts is a possibility for certain lifters with the right goals. However, you can develop raw strength in both lifts so it isn't necessary for everyone. I feel like I talked about the benefits of both and choosing which works best for you in the article, maybe I didn't cover it well enough for some.

  11. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    I believe the main take home point was to choose the style that benefits you and what you're trying to do the most. It was also prefaced that the individual who wrote this comes from an Olympic style background. If you're a powerlifter, low bar back squatter, or someone who's trained both, rather than pointing out what you perceive to be the fallacies of this article why not write an objective article of your own to submit?

  12. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    It would be a redundant point, if everyone broke parallel. I mean BROKE parallel, not just hit parallel.

  13. hedge February 13, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    I'd like to remind everyone that there's an even more upright position to take when squatting (points at the front squat).

  14. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Great write up, found it helpful. I get the message you were trying to get across.

  15. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    HAHA. I wanted to write about the use of front squats and stop squats as well, but didn't really fit the main point of the article.

  16. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Where does the bar sit on a high bar squat? From what I was told in the past, low bar is the way to go because it takes pressure off the spine.

  17. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    It sits on top of your traps. Your shoulders should be pulled back which bunches up your traps and keeps your upper back tight. I have never had issues (nor have I ever heard of issues) with pressure on my spine.

  18. Anonymous February 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    The inclusion of the posterior chain in low bar squats is exactly why CFers should do them..this article is bunk

  19. Anonymous February 14, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    the posterior chain is activated and strengthened with both lifts. Therefore negating that argument. A lifter can gain that benefit with either lift and less stress with the high bar squat. thank you for your opinion though.

  20. Anonymous February 14, 2013 at 8:54 am #

    True. But just because some powerlifters don't break parallel, doesn't mean you shouldn't. To me a proper LBBS just seems more universal (more muscles worked, balanced between posterior/anterior) and high bar more specialized (i.e. Olympic lifting). But I'm just as biased, because I first learned about squating properly via Starting Strength.

  21. Joel Hendershott February 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    Damn it, I just asked about this on LBEB facebook page. Should have looked here first.

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