We’ve discussed briefly high bar vs. low bar squats, so let’s take a deeper look at the biomechanics behind each type and who would be best suited to perform each variation.
High Bar Squat
You’ll probably see this variation more often in the gym – it’s when the bar is situated right on top of the traps and the back is mostly upright. This opens up the hip angle more and therefore decreases the angle at the knee. A smaller angle at the knee leads to the hamstrings staying contracted, so you won’t get much use out of them when you’re coming up out of the deep part of the squat. Therefore, the quads have the highest emphasis in this type of squat.
This can be explained with the help of a little physics and the image below:
Notice the moment arm, or lever arm, is longer at the knee and shorter at the hip. This means the high bar squat requires more force from the knees than from the hips, making it harder on the knees and easier on the hips. So as you can imagine, this makes a high bar squat not so ideal for someone with knee pain. High bar squats require more ankle flexibility, as well. Also, you’ll be moving less weight with this type of lift- so that’s something to take into consideration.
Low Bar Squat
This is a less common type of squat but more popular among power weight lifters who are looking to move a lot of weight. The bar is situated lower on the back, right around the rear deltoids. This is going to require increased shoulder mobility. The lifter will have a more horizontal, or bent over, torso – this results in a more acute hip angle, allowing the hamstrings to really contribute to this type of lift. This means the posterior chain has the highest emphasis in this type of squat.
Let’s take a look at how the two types compare in terms of moment arms:
In the low bar squat, the moment arm is much longer at the hips than at the knee. This means those powerful posterior muscles are providing the force for this lift – which results in the ability to move more weight. And that decreased knee moment arm means there will be less knee pain involved in this movement.
So, which should you use?
Here are some general reasons why you’d want to incorporate the high vs. low bar squat:
High Bar Squats:
- Want to focus on anterior chain (quads)
- Want to practice upright torso movement for other Olympic lifting movements (snatch, clean)
- You don’t have knee pain
- You have good ankle mobility
- Desire to focus on posterior chain (hamstrings)
- Very stable position
- if you have knee pain
- don’t have the best ankle mobility
- want to move a lot of weight (powerlifting)
Check out our video!
Are you dealing with body aches related to activity or exercise? We are here to help! At Symmetry, we will provide you with a comprehensive physical therapy assessment to get to the root cause of your problem. Check out our Youtube channel for more tips and easy to follow exercises videos. Making key changes to your footwear and movement strategies can help prevent a small problem from getting worse.