Obsessing over High and Low Bar Positions for Squats

Posted on 09 Jun 2015 18:53

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Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Fitness recently posted various things which powerlifters and strength trainees obsesses over and believe hold a great deal of significance when in truth they really don't matter. You can read the full article by Clicking HERE

CWS has listed these time consuming but baseless obsessions as the squat bar position, beards and shoes. I think the latter two are a bit of a waste of time to discuss at Lift Big Now, but the first point about high and low bar squats is very interesting.

You guys can go ahead and read what Chad has to say on the matter but the basic gist is (in his own words):

"Bar position isn’t a black and white issue. Just because the bar is in X location on my back doesn’t mean I must squat with Y technique."


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This is a good point to bring up. Your form on the squat will more or less "fall out" of where the bar lies. That is, many people have been taught that if you use a low-bar position, you must squat in a completely different way, when in reality the basic technique doesn't change.

Everybody is obsessed with analyzing other powerlifter's forms especially when guys like CWS and Eric Lilliebridge put up such insane numbers. But none of this really matters. Obsessing over high and low bar squats is a waste of time. It doesn't make an iota of difference to your training because there is no separate progression scheme for people doing high bar squats or low bar squats.

Instead of worrying about whether you use a high or low bar position on the squat, you should focus on becoming super efficient at it. That means being able to lift a lot and work within a weight range and mastering it.

Why High Bar Versus Low Bar?

Initially this whole high versus low bar debate came out of people observing how differently powerlifters and Olympic lifters squat. The powerlifters observed were using squat suits and they adopted a low bar position and a wide stance. Powerlifters using squat suits can get away with this because when you wear a squat suit you are essentially "pulling" yourself into the bottom position of the squat. For them, using a wide stance is an absolute must and the only way to place the bar in such a position that gives them leverage is a low position.

If you compare this to Olympic lifters you will find they use a relatively high bar position and their stance is narrower. For normal lifters the best position is going to be somewhere in the middle and depending on how wide you keep your feet. You can't go too wide because you are not wearing a suit to assist your hips and you cannot be too narrow because you will end up doing an old-school "sissy squat" and that will create havoc on your knees. So most trainees end up squatting somewhere in between these extremes. But what has lead to this useless and inane debate about high bar squats being better than low bar squats and vice versa is powerlifters who compete in both raw and gear using these terms as exercise variations to boast about personal records and then internet experts using these standards to critique beginners asking for advice on their form.

What Bar Position Should Beginners Use for Squatting?

For beginners this is especially difficult because they are placed in this scenario where experts tell them "go with what feels comfortable." Except, how will a beginner know what is comfortable? Initially something might feel painful then it will begin to feel like second nature. A lot of you will immediately identify with this if you have ever practiced the front squat. Initially, if you recall, the bar eats into your neck but over time (usually by 10 workouts you are golden) you end up adjusting and adapting to this and finding the sweet spot in which to place the bar.

The same will also hold true for high and low bar squats. So a beginner will have a really hard time figuring out what is "right." In truth, what happens very often is that a beginner will start out squatting one way then as the beginner becomes more experienced and a better lifter, he or she will adapt and start refining their technique and gradually over time their squat form and technique will completely change. So telling a beginner to go with “what feels comfortable” is at best limited advice. The beginner must experiment and test uncharted waters.

As for the rest of us who have been squatting for a while, it is all about comfort, efficiency and numbers. If we train the squat regularly we will see progress either in weight lifted or reps performed or sets covered or quality of reps so whatever helps us most is the best form to use. But to obsess over it and look at it like some strategic move in a completion is a royal waste of time.

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