DISPELLING the MYTH of HIGH v LOW BAR SQUATTING
It’s not the Movement, it’s the Moment…
Bar placement in THE SQUAT (barbell back squat) is often mooted as one of the keys to targeting strength, muscle isolation and minimising orthopaedic stress.
Quite often when people discuss this, their dialogue promotes Low Bar Squats for better leverage and therefore increased weight lifted; versus High Bar for targeting the quadriceps due to a more upright position and the potential for better knee flexion (depth).
This is a simple, but incomplete analysis of why bar placement and more importantly bar path is critical to Squatting Big Weights.
I hate to break some people’s bubble, but from a purely ‘lifting more weight perspective’; ALL lifts, Squats included, have more to do with genetics (ideal limb ratios) and technical prowess and then maximizing these via optimal bar placement, whereby Moment Arms are minimised! Yes Moment Arms, and in the Squat, that’s the horizontal distance between Bar and Hip, the horizontal distance between Bar and Knee and at the Elite level, the length of the femur relative to the torso!
Shorten all of these, have sound technique and your Squat will improve. Most of the best Squatters in the world are born this way and then fine tune their technique enabling them to move what seems like incredibly heavy weights!
Let’s talk about shortening your legs. Move them further apart! This literally “doesn’t shorten them”, but angling them out, shortens the horizontal distance between hip and knee.
Shortening the Moment Arm between Bar and Knee is best achieved with the mindset of a “vertical shin” and “vertical torso”…and push your knees out towards your second toe - Hard! Doing this in conjunction with a wider stance optimizes this! Understand there is a compromise between foot stance width and strength/stability out of the “hole”! It needs to be optimal for You!
The big issue to understand is the Moment Arm between Bar and Hip (tailbone), is IMO critical for Squatting big weights. By default when Squatting a barbell, the bar will “find” a way to be “plum-lined” over the middle of your foot. The Overhead Squat requires a very vertical position and the Low Bar Squat requires a more angled forward torso position. Both lifts are Not ideal for moving big weights. The Overhead is a no brainer!
The Low Bar Squat increases Moment Arm distance between Bar and Hip, due to an angled forward torso, because the bar “will find” its plumb-line over your mid-foot As a consequence the Hips are placed in a somewhat precarious position well behind the Bar. And if you’ve adopted the two strategies above then deliberately increasing the Moment Arm between Bar and Hip almost voids the other two. Also given that the first movement when Squatting out of the hole, should be “traps into bar” slightly veering backwards, then “pushing your knees out” to provide room for up and forward hip drive; it makes more sense to have the Bar placement biased towards High than Low!
Granted there are exceptions to this, but the majority of World Class Squatters have large upper backs (horizontal thickness), shortish legs to torso ratios, a widish stance And Carry The Barbell in a Highish Position on Their Traps! These physical traits accommodate ideal Moment Arm levers. If these lifters were to shorten their foot stance distance and carry the bar low they would lift less!
It’s the Moment not the movement…