Low Bar Squats vs. High Bar Squats

Low Bar Squats vs. High Bar Squats

Before diving into the argument of the high vs. low bar squat to increase performance in weightlifting I want to cover some basic biomechanics for you.

Every joint that is involved in an exercise has a moment arm.  The longer the moment arm is the more load will be applied to the joint axis through leverage.  As an example, think of trying to get a nut and bolt apart.  You probably can’t do it by hand, partially because your fingers moment arm isn’t big enough. In order to move them you use a wrench, which provides you with a much larger moment arm and requires less force applied by you to result in more force applied to the nut.


low bar high bar

HIGH BAR BACK SQUAT-  In this bar position the moment arm around the hip is slightly longer than that around the knee.   This means the hip extensors (gluteal muscles) will be doing a little more work than the knee extensors (quadriceps) in terms of the force they’ll need to generate to overcome the load. This is a slightly more “quad dominant” position.

HIGH BAR- In this squat you can see the moment arm around the hip is at least TWICE as long as the moment arm around the knee.  This low bar position involves glute and hamstrings a lot more than the knee extensors (quadriceps). The hip extensors are able to produce more force than the knee extensors, especially in producing hip extension, or the concentric portion of a squat, which is why this squat variation [in theory] enables heavier loads to be lifted.

I use the word “theory” because this is simply a biomechanical explanation for the use of a low bar squat vs the high bar squat. The bony morphology variance from individual to individual may result in favoring of one technique or the other, completely disregarding the aforementioned theories.

Follow up this article with

 Part II: Low bar squats are NOT just for powerlifters

By: Stefanie Cohen