The popularity of the low bar squat has reached epic proportions. In many commercial gyms, Starting Strength zealots occupy the squat rack for 45 minutes in order to do weird bar bends with the back almost horizontal to the ground. I am very familiar with similar training because once upon a time, I was one of those guys.
The low bar squat was created for one reason only – to squat heavier barbells. It represents a cheated good morning and allows lifters to squat more weight by shortening the range of motion and shifting the stress to the posterior chain.
In the video below you see Ed Coan’s 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 needed a hip replacement.
Note: There is one more incentive to do low bar squats as a powerlifter – they allow you to take the most out the squat suits which are designed to facilitate hip extension.
The main reason why you will almost never see an Olympic weightlifter low bar squat is that the movement does not allow you to get low, and the chest is too horizontal.
Oly lifters perform deep squats in order to build bottom strength and facilitate the 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. At the bottom, he is in a super deep front squat position. Obviously, deeper squats have a better carryover to the clean and jerk than squats done to parallel.
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 carryover 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 team, Ivan Abadjiev, dropped everything except for the main lifts and the front squat. His idea was that the lifter only needs the basics. Thus, only injured lifters were allowed to back squat.
The recent popularity of the low bar back squat is artificial. The exercise is useful only if you are a powerlifter or looking for the fastest way to develop big glutes and puny quads. Most powerlifters have relatively weak quadriceps as a result of hip dominant squats.
Therefore, if you are an average person in the gym doing the squat to build the 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.