There are two barbell back squats variations depending on the position of the bar on your back – low bar and high bar.
The low bar squat requires the lifter to place the bar lower on the back – somewhere on the middle trapezoids muscles and on top of the posterior deltoids. This placement results in a pronounced forward lean during squats and a higher recruitment of the hips. As a consequence, people can squat more this way. This is why 90% of the competitive powerlifters rely on the low bar. After all, their goal is to squat the most weight possible.
Another option is the classic high bar Olympic squat. This version requires you to place the bar on your upper-mid traps. Since the bar position is higher on the back, your torso is more upright during the exercise. The benefits of the high bar version are less stress on the shoulder and hips. You will find out that supporting super heavy weights in the high bar position is much easier and comfortable.
Notes on the High Bar
I think that beginners should stick to high bar squats because this variation works the quadriceps more than low bar squats do while still providing plenty of stimulation for your posterior chain muscles. Besides, the high bar has a very good carryover to the low bar squat. The opposite is also true but only to a certain point. It’s not uncommon for experienced low bar squatters to lose 100 pounds when they switch to deep high bar style squats. This creates ego problems.
When you position the bar, tense your upper back muscles really hard to form a platform for the bar to sit on. It’s recommended to grab the bar with the narrowest grip that your flexibility and mobility allow. If your grip during squats is too narrow, you will experience shoulder, elbow and wrist pain. If your grip is too wide, you will lose back tightness – a crucial element for stability and transfer of force to the bar. Experiment and find the right width for your flexibility levels. Depending on how inflexible you are, you may need to perform some shoulder stretches.
When grabbing the bar, make sure that you are holding it evenly. Use the marks on the bar to achieve that. If you are not holding the bar evenly, you will be thrown out of balance. This could be a problem even when the weight is light. That’s why you should take as much time as you need to get ready for squatting. Ignore everybody in the weight room and try to concentrate.
To increase the stability, place some chalk on the bar and on your upper back. The added friction will secure the bar even more. Put more chalk on the smooth part of the bar between the rings to increase the friction.
Many people experience neck pain during squats. That’s because they place the bar too high on the “naked” vertebrae instead of the traps. Fix that!
Some neck discomfort is unavoidable, especially in the beginning when you don’t have as much back mass to act as a cushion, and you are not used to the movement.