The Squat is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your strength and overall health. But should you High Bar Squat or Low Bar Squat?
There are three main areas you should consider when determining whether to Squat High Bar or Low Bar:
- Anatomy and Leverages – Your Torso, Femur, and Tibia length all play a part. If you have a short torso, for example, a High Bar Squat may be the best option.
- Mobility – If you have mobility restrictions in your ankles or hips, you may not be able to produce enough dorsiflexion for the High Bar Squat, therefore Squatting Low Bar may help you.
- Squat Goals – If you are a Weightlifter, a High Bar Squat will be more suitable for you. If you are a Powerlifter however, the Low Bar Squat is likely best.
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Difference Between High Bar & Low Bar Squats
Firstly, let’s quickly go over what the difference is between the High Bar and Low Bar Squats, so we are all on the same page.
Fundamentally, the only real difference is the placement of the barbell. In the High Bar Squat, the barbell is placed on the traps. In the Low Bar Squat, the barbell is placed 1-2 inches down the back over the scapula.
In placing the bar further down our back, we shorten the effective length of our torso, meaning we have to lean further forward to keep the bar above our midfoot. This shifts the emphasis of the lift away from our Quads and allows us to recruit more of the muscles in our posterior chain.
In the above photo, I perform a High Bar Squat on the left, and a Low Bar Squat on the right. Hopefully, the difference in torso angle is clear to see.
For the eagle-eyed among you, you will also notice I am wearing two different pairs of shoes on each lift. I prefer to wear Weightlifting Shoes when I Squat High Bar and flats when I Squat Low Bar. You can check out my article on shoe choice for the Squat, where I go over how to determine the best shoe for your Squat Style.
Anatomy & Leverages
We’ve established that the Low Bar Squat shortens the effective length of our torso, but does our overall anatomy and leverages influence what Squat Style is best?
Our torso, femur, and tibia all influence how our Squat stance will look. Those with a longer torso will largely be able to choose between High Bar and Low Bar Squats as they will still be able to maintain a reasonably vertical torso either way.
Those with a short torso, however, may not suit Low Bar Squatting as this may put their lower back at an overly compromised angle, or if they are particularly unlucky, they may not even be physically able to reach depth as they run out of flexion in their hips.
Similarly, those with long femurs may find that their Squat is naturally more hip dominant already, and moving to a Low Bar position will place further emphasis here.
A lifter with a short torso, long femurs, and a short tibia is the least likely to benefit from a Low Bar Squat as their High Bar Squat is already likely to be hip dominant.
Lifters with a long torso, short femurs, and a long tibia, however, are more likely to be able to choose whatever Squat Stance they like.
For many of us, ankle or hip mobility can be a restricting factor when it comes to our Squat technique.
Achieving the right depth requires some level of ankle dorsiflexion. If our ankles can’t bend enough, it can often prevent us from achieving the necessary depth, this will often lead to imbalance issues as we can’t keep the bar above our center of gravity.
In the same vein, if our hip mobility is subpar, we’ll find ourselves falling backward or rounding our back when we Squat as we run out of available flexion.
In the first instance, I would recommend exercises to improve the flexibility and mobility of these joints. I have written an article on ankle mobility exercises.
If you’ve done everything you can to improve the mobility of these joints and still aren’t able to Squat to depth, the next fix is to open up your stance width.
By doing this, we lower the moment arm, or the distance our knees and hips have to extend away from our center of gravity, and no longer have to rely on our ankles or hips as much to achieve depth.
This can, however, lead to a lot more of our bodyweight sitting behind the bar and ultimately cause us to fall back, so to correct this we can move to a Low Bar position to compensate by bringing more of our bodyweight back in front of the bar.
Summarizing the above, a wide stance, Low Bar Squat can be particularly beneficial if hip and ankle mobility is preventing you from achieving depth.
The last consideration we must look at is why we are Squatting in the first place. Depending on our goals, it may be more beneficial to favor one stance over the other.
For most people, they will be able to lift more weight in the Low Bar Squat versus the High Bar Squat. This is due to being able to recruit more of the bigger posterior chain muscles such as the glutes and back to complete the lift.
This will, of course, be much more beneficial to someone who is looking to compete in Powerlifting, where the goal is to move as much weight as possible.
Conversely, Olympic Weightlifters will want to stick with a High Bar Squat as this will translate much more effectively into improving their performance in the Clean & Jerk and the Snatch.
For everyone else, it is likely to come down to personal preference. If you’re Squatting for general health it probably won’t matter which stance you take.
So in summary, there are three questions to consider to help you decide whether a High Bar or Low Bar Squat is right for you:
- What sort of anatomy and leverages do I have?
- Do I have sufficient mobility?
- What am I trying to achieve when I Squat?
Once you have an answer to each of these three questions, it should be clear which Squat Stance is right for you.
As a final point, it’s important to remember that the differences between both lifts are, in reality, very small and for the majority of people, it won’t make a whole lot of difference which stance you take.
Sure, a High Bar Squat will put more emphasis onto your Quads, whereas a Low Bar Squat will shift the emphasis to your Posterior Chain, however, this doesn’t mean that you’ll go from 100% Quads to 0%, more likely you’ll see a change from 60% to 40% for example.
No matter which stance you take, don’t get bogged down in the details, just get out and Squat consistently and you’ll see progress!
Finally, if you are bored of the standard barbell back squat, whether it be high bar or low bar , check out these 11 squat alternatives to add some variation to your leg workouts!