The Truth About Powerlifting Squats It's all about numbers and less about strength and style.

I’ve said it many times: low bar squatting is not really squatting. Those are cheated good mornings. Regardless of the obvious evidence, many people contact me, usually with hate mails, saying that I am a weakling and suggest that I die or something.

In this post I will present you the truth about low bar squats once more in a more detailed manner. I advise you to think less about me and more about the information that’s right in front of you.

What the fuck is a low bar squat?


The low bar is a  squat with a barbell positioned on your middle traps and secured by the contracted rear deltoids. The bar is lower on your back and that’s why low bar squatters appear to be at an angle even before they have attempted to squat.

Why the fuck would anybody do the low bar squat?

There are three main reasons to ever do a low bar squat.

1. To lift more weight

This was the initial reason for the creation of the low bar squat. Powerlifters gave birth to this monster. You see, powerlifting is a sport that back in the day originated from Olympic weightlifting. Weightlifters who were old and/or slow started messing around with the so called odd lifts. At first people were squatting high bar but soon figured out that when they put the bar low on the back it’s easier to squat more weight because the exercise becomes glute dominant, and the range of motion is greatly reduced.

Powerlifters also squat low bar in order to take the most out of their squat suits which facilitate hip extension. With a squat suit on, it’s easier to have an even more hip dominant squat.

2. To build a big ass

If you want your ass to explode into something that barely fits through the door, the best way is to do low bar squats.

3. To make sure you are DTFP (doing the fucking program) of Mark Rippetoe.

rippetoe-squat

Over the years I have attempted to communicate many times with Rippetoe, but he is a very stubborn person and always finds a way to justify his ways even when they are wrong. He believes he is teaching some sort of a hybrid squat when in fact he is simply teaching people how to do cheated good mornings. High bar squats are much better for the noobs that go to StartingStrength.com. I have at least 3 accounts on SS.com and every time I was banned when stating the obvious.

Why the low bar squat is really pathetic? 

The low bar squat is pathetic because it shows how people always sacrifice quality for quantity. They want to lift more on the bar instead of lifting with style. People only care about numbers and that’s it. That’s why powerlifting is becoming as ugly as it gets.

What is a real squat then?

A real squat is a high bar Olympic style squat. That’s the true squat and the natural way to do things. Tell a child to squat and the kid will do a high bar right way. The child will just drop down and that’s it. None of that stick your ass out bullshit. The true natural squat is quad/glute dominant exercise.

The quadriceps and glutes should be the primary movers during a squat. those are the two biggest muscles of the lower body and by doing the low bar you are reducing the knee involvement and shifting most of the work to your ass. Many powerlifters need hip surgeries because the sport is so butt dominant. Both the deadlift and the low bar squat are hip dominant exercises.

Of course, the hamstring are also involved in the squat, but much less than the quads and the glutes.

In an ideal powerlifting squat, the shins remain as vertical as possible to the ground and most of the force originates at the hip. Thus, the squat becomes essentially a good morning. A good example would be Layne Norton. Look at how much he bends over and how his hips shoot back. Also, notice how little his knees actually travel forward. His squat is mostly glutes, lower back and hamstrings.

Another problematic factor with low bar squats is depth. Most powerlifters don’t even reach parallel, but since they are strong not many people have the balls to say that the emperor has no clothes.

In the video below you see Steve Goggins squat heavy weight. He does not even break parallel because his set-up is quite bad. His stance is too wide and his knees move at the bottom in order for him to go deeper. Quite honestly, that’s a bad squat, but because he is so strong and has been doing it for years he gets away with it.

I will never be as strong as Goggins, but that does not stop me from saying the obvious. Being strong does not equal proper form. If Goggins was to use the high bar style, he would reach depth and bend over much less.

Note: I am not trying to teach Goggins how to squat. I am explaining things for the average people reading this post. I am simply using his squat as illustration.

In the video below you can see a real natural squat with a barbell.

This is the best way to squat with a barbell when it comes to back squats. If you can squat this way, you are building your entire leg evenly while developing mobility. This is the real “athletic squat” and none of the Rippetoe look down bullshit. This is how people were meant to squat with a barbell on their backs.

Some may find that the high bar is greatly facilitated by weightlifting shoes. The shoes allow you to stay even more upright and can compensate for the lack of ankle, hamstring and spinal mobility.

Here’s how a perfect squat with Oly shoes looks like:

Notice that the Oly shoes actually reduce the depth a little bit. The higher the heel of the shoes, the less deep the squat looks. However, that squat is still full range. It’s also worth noting that those guys don’t have a whole army of men around them and a monolift. That’s because they lift “raw” and do real squats. None of those cheated good mornings.

Still, I advise people who have the mobility to squat without Oly shoes to stick to it. In the end, however, you can do whatever you want, and if squats in Oly shoes feel better overall, that’s what you should do.

In conclusion

Most powerlifters don’t squat. They do some form of a good morning and their numbers are greatly amplified. They use monolifts because they cannot walk out the weight. The monolift also allows the usage of ultra wide stance which otherwise would be impossible to assume without your knees giving in. Powerlifters also don’t go all the way down. Breaking parallel is extremely rare these days. Most squats are high even from the front view, and if a squat is high from the front view, it’s even higher from the side. Nobody cares.

If you take a powerlifter who squats 800 with a monolift, low bar, wide stance, knee wraps, squat suit, does not break parallel and make him do 405 lbs all the way down high bar style, he will get pinned. That’s how “strong” they are.

Powerlifting was a cool sport back in the day, but it got worse overtime. Like I said, people only care about numbers – they don’t care about style.

The best squatters in the world are Oly lifters and that’s a fact. Anybody telling you otherwise is a complete liar and moron. Oly lifters squat the deepest and in a much more natural way. Why? Because they don’t benefit from partial low bar squats. The point is to become strong at the bottom while staying as upright as possible so that you can recover from a heavy clean or snatch.

When it comes to the average weekend warriors, there are two reasons to squat – to develop strong legs and to become stronger overall. The high bar does that a million times better that the low bar. Also, the high bar is less stressful on your shoulder joint and the hips. Of course, it’s more stressful on the knees because you go deeper and there is more knee flexion and extension.

I know a lot of people will not love this post, but deep down inside even Rippetoe’s followers know it’s all true.

The high bar and the front squat are the real SQUATs. The low bar is nothing more than a cheated good morning making you look stronger than you actually are. Don’t waste your time with it.

11 comments

  1. Cameron

    What a load of shit, you do know that squatting in any way can build the quads .

    Some people are built to low bar, and it hits their quads just as hard.

    This is the most biased article I’ve ever read

  2. Mike D

    This post has a few right ideas, but makes a lot of misguided generalizations.

    First, take a look at some top-level raw squatters like Kevin Oak, Garrett Griffin, and Dennis Cornelius. They all use a low-bar position and consistently squat to just below parallel. Geared lifters do wide-stance good mornings, not squats. That’s because the equipment primarily assists in hip extension—and why lots of really strong geared lifters have peculiarly underdeveloped quads for guys who supposedly have massive squats. Notice that this is not the case in the above mentioned raw squatters. They have huge quads. I’ve had the pleasure of hosting Cornelius at my gym (he squatted 800 that day, a few months before setting the IPF record at 865) and can definitely verify the hugeness of his quads.

    Second, there’s an old adage that ‘the sport finds the lifter’, not the other way around. Notice that Olympic lifters tend to have relatively short femurs and long torsos. This facilitates a more upright posture during a squat. It speaks to the fact that top-level athletes are genetically curated for the sport.

    Whether the bar is in the ‘high’ or ‘low’ position doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the bar remains over the midfoot. When you see hideous pseudo-squats like Norton’s above, it’s because his quads weren’t strong enough to preserve his posture and he compensated by shifting back and driving his hips upward. Rippetoe would tell him to knock about 200lbs off the bar and try doing it correctly. Low-bar squats will necessitate a *slightly* more forward torso angle, but save for those genetically-curated long-torso-short-femur folks (think Lu Xiaojun), this will be a much more natural squat position.

    Rippetoe’s position is not that a high-bar squat is always wrong for all lifters. It’s that the low-bar squat is reliably better for most lifters, and much easier to teach beginners. I’ll part ways with Rippetoe and argue that moving the bar down one’s back roughly an inch does not magically turn the squat into a hip (glute) driven movement. It’s the same quad/glute distribution regardless, as long as the bar position is correct—over the midfoot.

    So, if your structure allows you to position the bar higher and maintain proper balance, do it. If on the other hand you are like most people, a slightly lower bar position will facilitate optimal power and range of motion. The chest still drives upward. The knees still remain forward out of the hole (as Max Aita teaches)—this is, ironically, also accomplished by driving the glutes forward out of the hole, as Rippetoe teaches. Different cues for the same damn thing.

    Personally, I do not have the structure for a high bar squat. Regardless of foot placement (and lifting shoes), the bar ends up over my forefoot. A lower bar position doesn’t change my technique or turn my squat into that of a geared lifter; in fact, I tend to bow *more* in a high bar position because the bar is over my forefoot. A low-bar position keeps the bar over my midfoot and allows me to keep my chest upright as I come out of the hole.

    TL;DR—don’t mistake the technique of the genetically curated, .0001% of athletes as a template that can be applied to all lifters regardless of their sport. Different body types require different foot positioning, stance width, and bar position to achieve an optimal squat. Check out Juggernaut’s recent video with ‘Meg Squats’ (who uses the low bar position). They have both low and high bar lifters at JTS, and they did not tell Meg to switch. But the basic rules—knees forward, chest up, etc.—still apply. Cheers.

  3. Derek

    The ability to keep good torso angle in the low bar is entirely a matter of individual anthropometry. Norton good mornings his low bar because he has long femurs relative to his spine. People built to squat (long spines and short femurs, like a lot of Asians) can get away with low bar and still stay fairly upright.

    Low bar always looks like a garbage good morning for short back / long femur.

    Even for people with good squat mechanics who can low bar without loss of back angle, I would still rather see the high bar squat. The author is right: low bar was a mutation allowed by the rules of PL, like sumo stance deadlifts. High bar is univerally better for quad development and nicer to look at. I wish the rules would change to forbid carrying the bar on the delts or letting the deadlift stance take the legs outside of the arms.

  4. Mike D

    “The ability to keep good torso angle in the low bar is entirely a matter of individual anthropometry.”

    The same is true for high bar, of course. The issue is that if you look at Oly lifters, they are almost always wearing lifting shoes for full high-bar squats. Most individuals lack the mobility to perform a full high-bar squat in flat shoes. A low bar squat, because it allows for a more forward torso angle, better approximates normal (unloaded, barefoot) squatting and doesn’t require specialized equipment (elevated heels). Sure, that depth can be improved with mobility work to a degree, but the problem is again an issue of individual anthropometry—lots of people won’t be able to achieve full depth with an upright torso regardless of mobility work (which is why even elite Oly lifters wear specialized shoes).

    “High bar is univerally better for quad development and nicer to look at.”

    EMG studies have shown negligible differences in quad activation between high and low bar squats:
    https://www.strongerbyscience.com/high-bar-and-low-bar-squatting-2-0/

    Having said all this, I don’t see high/low bar as binary options. Everyone’s shoulder structure is different. I set the bar in what is technically a high-bar position, but it’s low on my traps. There’s a spectrum of where the bar can lie, and ultimately, it’s not that important. The best position is always going to be the one that allows the lifter to break parallel with the bar over the midfoot and the spine neutral.

  5. ThreeMoves

    I used to “squat” 405+ low bar with a form that kept my spine neutral with the bar over midfoot. But I have much better quad development now with a 405+ high bar without a belt. I could use more weight low bar, but it doesn’t mean my legs will be stronger.

    I really think low bar is a waste of time for lifters with short spines and long femurs who use are looking for leg strength. Anything that helps end the Low Bar Era is probably a good thing.

  6. Mike D

    Short spine/long femur are precisely the people who are going to have the most difficulty with high-bar squats, because the high bar squat requires more forward knee travel.

    As for quad strength, it’s irrelevant. Research shows negligible differences in quad activation between the two. Quad activation will have more to do with maintaining the forward-knee position out of the hole rather than shifting the weight back and doing a quasi-good-morning like Layne Norton does in the video above.

    You’re right though that using more weight in low bar doesn’t equate to being stronger. The increase in weight is primarily due to mechanical advantage, along with a small increase in posterior chain activation. But the Rippetoe guys will never admit it.

  7. ThreeMoves

    Low bar becomes good morning at high weight for short spine/ long femurs. We aren’t “squatting” anymore with low bar; we’re good morning-ing. A high heel and a high bar position mean I don’t get bent over ever. I either have the quad strength and upper back strength to make the lift or I get pinned. No folding forward and fighting up into a good morning. With low bar, my quads are allowed to check out and my butt takes over .

    If people want to build quads/knee strength along with butt/hip strength, low bar is a vastly inferior tool no matter which EMG study may be quoted. And I wish the PL rules would change to force people to display actual leg strength in the squat. The low bar IS a deadlift motin, particularly for short spines on long femurs, so they are displaying the same strength twice. I thought squats were supposed to display leg strength (knee extension with hip extension) while deadlifts tested back strength (hip extension with erector stabilisation).

    I watch old videos of myself “squatting” 405 repeatedly at nearly 6′ tall and 170 lbs. I cringe at how I used to think I was so strong with my belt-assisted good mornings! Even after focusing on high bar for a couple years, I only got to 365 back then. Now I can do 405 high bar for a triple at 195 and without a belt. My quads look like I actually work them (leg press in heels helps too!) and my legs are actually strong.

    Over a decade of heavy lifting and competing have left me firmly in the high bar camp. I compete high bar even if it means I give up 50-75 lbs in the squat. Another funny thing: a belt would let me add 50 lbs to my liw bar squat. But a belt and wraps only give me a total of 30 lbs on my high bar! I don’t crank my wraps, though, so I’m not making the most out of them. But the benefit I get from the belt underscores just how bent over the low bar gets for me. I only get 10 lbs from the belt in high bar because I stay so much more upright..

    I also think it’s funny that a certain online tribe thinks my getting 20 lbs from wraps is cheating, but getting 50 lbs from a belt is fine! They also hate sumo as a “bastardized” deadlift…but think low bar is the real way to squat!

    I am still writing because Natty Or Not gets so much hate for being a hater, but he is making good points in the face of misguided popular opinion. I do happen to compete high bar because I love the squat and can’t bring myself to do a hideous version of it in public just to eke out another few pounds.

  8. Mike D

    I teach low bar to all my clients with longer femurs, and I don’t find excessive bowing to be a problem at all. Ironically, excessive bow in my experience tends to be more of a problem in high bar because dorsiflexion and hip mobility become much more limiting factors, and without those two the torso tips forward and the bar moves over the toes, forcing the trainee to good-morning it.

    High bar or low bar, doing a quasi good-morning is just shitty form. It’s a sign that the quads can’t produce enough torque at the knee to handle the weight, so the trainee attempts to use the posterior chain as a compensation. The solution need not be a totally different approach to squatting, just going lighter and focusing on keeping the knees forward out of the hole until strength with proper form can be developed.

    In powerlifting, it’s not a sport that’s measuring torque on the joints; it’s measuring how much weight can be lifted from point A to point B. If another competitor is producing more torque but lifts less weight because they’re doing high bar, they lose. This has produced some goofy technique, especially in equipped competition (they don’t really “squat” at all), but it’s the sport. Dennis Cornelius, who holds the IPF squat record for his class, occasionally drops by our gym to train and I’d challenge you to watch his low bar technique and find a “good morning” issue. Elite raw lifters in general have a very quad-dominant squat, regardless of bar position.

  9. Derek

    “Elite raw lifters in general have a very quad-dominant squat, regardless of bar position.”

    That is very true! Greg Nuckols addressed the fact that the best squatters in the world stay relatively upright no matter what form they use. But the best squatters in the world are precisely the kind of people who are built to remain upright even in the low bar! I find that I CAN’T get bent over with a high bar position and a good heel because these factors keep me at about a 45 degree back angle with the bar over mid foot. If I lower the heel height and the bar position, “balanced” mean bent over at the bottom. This is true no because of physics, not poor form or weaknesses. The bar has to stay over midfoot and a short back and long femurs means this is bent over at the bottom. There is no way around this. And this is why I think that short backs and long femurs really need a heel and a high bar to maximize leg development with the squat. If the weight is light, then it matters less, but I squat heavy and the heel and bar position matter more the heavier the barbell is.

    High bar and high heels means that my quads don’t get a chance to bail. If they fail, I lose the lift. No chance to good morning the bar into position. No chance to cheat my legs.

    Powerlifting and weightlifting both put proscriptions on their lifts. It’s about Point A to Point B, but there are guidelines:

    Bench has to be paused on the chest.

    The but must be on the bench throughout the press.

    A deadlift cannot be hitched.

    Same thing with weightlifting:

    The bar must be jerked into position with no “pressing out”

    Weightlifting even changed the rules to allow the “thigh brush” that made the Olympic-style strength a leg sport instead of a back and arms sport.

    Before 1964, the bar was not allowed to come in contact with the legs (the Clean really meant to bring the bar to shoulders “cleanly” without touching the body). Then till 1968, only a “brush” was allowed. After that a full on push with the thighs was allowed so that the legs became the major factor in accelerating the bar higher. This changed the sport.

    Though that changed the sport in a way that allowed more weight to be used! Quite the opposite of what I would like to see.

    But as you point out, the best squatters stay upright no matter where they put the bar, so this is self-regulating and good morning squats tend to disappear on their own.

    It took a few years, but now my Olympic totally raw squat and my beltless conventional deadlift have surpassed my best ever low bar squat with a belt and sumo deadlift with a belt. I do think that avoiding the low bar is paying off. I can now squat more weight than ever while getting no more bent over than 45 degrees. This is what will ultimately get me my strongest legs an my strongest squat.

    Still, who knows? Maybe if I see that 500+ is possible to for me in a meet while I’m a skinny 198, I’ll give in and train the low bar for the meet!

  10. IttA

    Some lifters let their ideas go beyond just an opinion let them become indoctrinated dogmas in which there’s suddenly no other way of thinking. And it always goes both ways, there’s always the anti circlejerk too. Some buy get indoctrinated into one dogma and when they realize that it’s not the only way to think they abandon it and immediately as a knee-jerk reaction adopt the exact opposite dogma, having not become any wiser.

    Congratulations, you have put “The Truth” in the title of an article in which you have quite carefully avoided presenting any truths and have instead filled it with what I hope are misunderstandings and not flat-out lies.

    >Regardless of the obvious evidence, many people contact me, usually with hate mails, saying that I am a weakling and suggest that I die or something.

    >I advise you to think less about me and more about the information that’s right in front of you.

    I’m sorry that they do, but that’s how people often respond to bullshit. Let’s see evidence and information that you present against squatting low bar.

    >At first people were squatting high bar but soon figured out that when they put the bar low on the back it’s easier to s
    squat more weight because the exercise becomes glute dominant.

    Hold on. This is a common misunderstanding that comes from the words “more glute/hip dominant”, which a lot of people say but should avoid. Glute/hip activation is increased but this doesn’t mean the dominant muscle changes in the low bar. Low bar remains quad dominant and you should provide actual evidence for your counterclaim.

    >2. To build a big ass
    >If you want your ass to explode into something that barely fits through the door, the best way is to do low bar squats.

    Not really, as said the exercise doesn’t become glute dominant and glutes are rarely the limiting factor. It’s a good workout for the glutes but deadlifts and barbell hip thrusts come ahead in glute activation.

    And what’s wrong with more muscle activation. Do you call any bench press that isn’t as narrow grip as possible pathetic because they’re only taking a wider grip to activate more chest, to “cheat” more weight?

    >The low bar squat is pathetic because it shows how people always sacrifice quality for quantity. They want to lift more on the bar instead of lifting with style. People only care about numbers and that’s it. That’s why powerlifting is becoming as ugly as it gets.

    For your “evidence” you link a video of Layne “Femur” Norton and an equipped powerlifter. That’s pathetic. If we’re talking what happens in the gym and how non-competing people train, then equipper powerlifting gear and lifts are irrelevant.

    Norton is basically famous for his long femurs and attaining impressive squats despite the disadvantage. The more people criticize Norton, the less they usually know about squatting and body proportions. Could it be that body proportions have a big impact on how your squat looks, be it low bar, high bar OR front squat? Do you think being so horizontal is making it easier for him? Are you aware that short-femured lifters who get to stay more upright are the ones that excel at squats, no matter the style they use?

    >What is a real squat then?
    >A real squat is a high bar Olympic style squat.

    I’m stoked to see the evidence you promised in the start.

    >That’s the true squat and the natural way to do things. Tell a child to squat and the kid will do a high bar right way.

    “It’s natural and that’s how a child would squat.” Seriously? That’s your argument? Applying force to the outside world with your muscles in any way is natural.

    Do you study children to find out how you should press things overhead? Do said children have close to maximal weights on their back as they squat? Are you aware that body proportions change when you grow up? Have you not seen a child squat with a more horizontal back (i.e. akin to low bar) when they interact with stuff on the ground? Children also round their back without care as they squat, do you do that too under load?

    >The quadriceps and glutes should be the primary movers during a squat.

    This doesn’t change in the low bar squat.

    >by doing the low bar you are reducing the knee involvement and shifting most of the work to your ass.

    If you’re only looking at the knee and basing all your conclusions on it’s angle, you’re quite lost on how torque production works.

    >Many powerlifters need hip surgeries because the sport is so butt dominant.

    Citation needed. Do they need more hip surgeries than other strength sports? If so, is this because of the low bar squat or the deadlift? Because this point is irrelevant if deadlift is the bigger player.

    >Another problematic factor with low bar squats is depth. Most powerlifters don’t even reach parallel

    Is this your first actual point? Finally. The low bar, for most people, does limit the depth more than high bar.

    Powerlifters only squat to parallel regardless of their squat style so we can drop that context. We get it, you hate powerlifting because you’ve bought into the weightlifting dogma.

    For casual trainees, it can matter if you want to squat ATG. Because you get to make generalizations, I will too say that most high bar squatters in gyms don’t squat beyond parallel.

    For the low bar, reaching parallel or slightly below still has your quads produce maximal torque, so what’s the problem? You might have 10% less moment arm on the knee in low bar but because the weight is 10% higher, the torque that your quads have to produce ends up being about equal. Depth isn’t the be-all and end-all of squatting either. Some studies have shown that half squats could actually have more transfer to vertical jumping than parallel or ATG squats. Similarly, why don’t athletes pull deadlifts from the highest deficit they are able to, for the maximum ROM?

    >I will never be as strong as Goggins, but that does not stop me from saying the obvious. Being strong does not equal proper form.

    I can show you a massive bunch of high bar squats or olympic lifts with shitty form and conclude the same. What’s the point relevant to this discussion?

    >In the video below you can see a real natural squat with a barbell.

    So, to build your stance, for the low bar you show someone with shitty proportions for squatting and an equipped powerlifter not hitting depth (not because of low bar) both lifting 90-100% of their max, and for the high bar you show someone with alright proportions repping an easy 5 and chinese weightlifters with great proportions also lifting easy weights. Yeah, doesn’t make it seem like you have any agenda or dogma at all.

    I’m surrounded by terrible squats every day, no matter the style being used. High bar squatters good morning too. Do you actually go to the gym?

    >Most powerlifters don’t squat. They do some form of a good morning and their numbers are greatly amplified.

    You keep saying good mornings but I’m sure if you’re aware which one is actually harder for your back muscles, low bar or high bar. You can use front squat as a hint.

    Here’s Chad Westley Smith with an easy low bar 2×765 without anything resembling good mornings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BjrH6M17eY

    Max Aita has squatted some low bar too, max attempts without anything resembling good mornings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIv2miT9NJc

    Could it be, just could it be that your body proportions and the % of your max being used affect how your squat looks?

    >They use monolifts because they cannot walk out the weight.

    Yes, they can. People walk out low bar squats every day in the gym. Or are we trying to extrapolate equipped powerlifting to non-competitive unequipped lifting again?

    >Most squats are high even from the front view, and if a squat is high from the front view, it’s even higher from the side. Nobody cares.

    Squats have shorter ROM the shorter your femurs are. Nobody cares.

    >Powerlifters also don’t go all the way down. Breaking parallel is extremely rare these days.

    Was this article supposed to be about powerlifting and the judges, not about low bar squatting?

    Why is it pathetic to find the squat style that works best for you, for your body proportions and mobility? Is it even more pathetic if you’re not powerlifting? Why should someone who just can’t find a way to high bar without knee pain smash their head against a wall if they could low bar and make great progress in muscle and strenght? What about making the choice based on simply which way is more fun for you? That’s an extremely important variable for casuals.

    How hard is it to believe that things that work for you might not work for others? Why spew such vitriol?

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