The low bar squat has become very popular over the last 10 years. In commercial gyms one can often see beginners occupy the squat rack for 45 minutes in order to do some weird looking bending with their back almost horizontal to the ground. I am quite familiar with similar training, and once upon a time I invested a lot in low bar back squat. Looking back, it was not the best choice and close to pointless.
The low bar squat was created for one reason only – to squat heavier barbells. It represents a cheated good morning and allows the lifter to use more weight for two reasons – the range of motion is shorter compared to a full squat and there is higher hip involvement. Thus, in my eyes the low bar squat is not really a squat.
To this day Olympic weightlifters stay away from low bar squats unless they are injured. For example, low bar squats are less stressful on the knees since the range of motion is shorter and there is less forward travel of the joint at the bottom. This makes the low bar a good choice if your knees are still recovering.
In addition, low bar squats allow you to use extreme hip drive. In the video below you see Ed Coan squat. Notice how little his knees move forward. The whole movement is one large hip extension. The majority of the power comes from the hamstrings and the glutes. It’s not a coincidence that Ed Coan injured a hip and needed joint replacement.
Notice how his shins stay almost vertical to the floor.
Note: The majority of powerlifters also rely on low bar squats because the movement allows them to take the most out of their squat suits, which facilitate hip extension.
The main reason you will almost never see an Olympic weightlifter low bar squat is that the low bar squat does not allow you to get low, and your chest is too horizontal (look how bend over all low bar squatters are).
Oly lifters do the back squat really deep in order to build bottom strength and facilitate recovery after a heavy clean and/or snatch. In the video below you can see Ilya Ilyin perform a world record clean and jerk in slow motion. Notice how at the bottom he is in a super deep front squat position. Obviously, deeper squats have better carryover to the clean and jerk than some squat/good morning to “just below parallel”. However, one could say that the front squat will take care of this deep bottom strength just as well. Well, this may be the case for the clean and jerk, but there are more arguments in defense of the classic full squat.
In the next video you can witness some of the old world records in the snatch. The bottom (receiving position) is also very deep. The lifters are essentially performing full overhead squats to recover.
Guess what? The high bar full barbell squat has a very good carry over to the overhead squat and helps the snatch. In addition, the deep high bar back squat will also build your front squat much faster than a low bar. Consequently, there is no place for the low bar squat in the routine of a weightlifter unless there is an injury.
Note: Back in the day the coach of the Bulgarian tean, Ivan Abadjiev, dropped everything except for the main lifts and the front squat. His idea was that the lifter only needs the basics. Thus, the only people who were back squatting at all were injured lifters. At least that’s how the rumor goes.
The recent popularity of the low bar back squat is artificial. The exercise is only useful, if you are a powerlifter or you are looking for the fastest way to develop big glutes and puny quads. Most powerlifters have weak quadriceps, relatively speaking, and this is precisely caused by too hip dominant squats. Therefore, if you are an average person in the gym doing the squat to build some meat on your legs, it makes sense to just high bar back squat. Somewhat ironically, the high bar back squat also builds big glutes, but at least the quadriceps get more attention compared to a wide stance good morning hybrid.
With that said, the low bar squat has a decent carryover to the high bar. In my case my high bar was only about 50 lbs. / 25 kg lower than my low bar squat. There was a period of my life when I was working really hard on my powerlifting squats. Believe it or not, I wanted to be a powerlifter and participated in one meet. However, at one point my hip suffered a tremendous overuse injury and began shaking at the bottom and during the lockout of the squat. I couldn’t control it. Thus, I switched to high bar back squats done with dress shoes (too poor to buy real Oly shoes), and I was lifting about 50 lbs. lower than my low bar back squat at the time. I was able to back squat 130 kg / 285 lbs. (1.7 BW) low bar style for a set of 5. My high bar was about 110 kg / 240 lbs. Ironically, I was able to surpass my low bar squat high bar style after a few months. However, I am not built to squat. I have very strong hips, but my legs are too long and my back is way too horizontal. I can still squat, obviously, but during heavy squats it’s extremely difficult not to perform a good morning on the way up, even when I am doing high bar squats.
I am well aware that the numbers above are not impressive at all, but I don’t really care. No need to tell me!
I also know there are girls who warm-up with my max, but on the good side at least I don’t have to shave as often as they do.
Anyway, as a victim of the low bar squat I advise people to just lower the weight and perform deep high squats for better overall benefits.