The grandaddy of all lifts, squats. If you are not squatting, you are totally missing out big time. The squat is one of the most important exercises you can do. Along with working your legs, squats engage the whole body. Learning to squat and specifically learning the low bar squat is essential if you want to the most efficient training program.
This guide will cover the basics of a low bar squat and how to begin doing them.
Differences Between Low Bar Squat and High Bar Squat
There are three variations to the actual squat itself. All very useful yet, different in their own rights. The three squats are the olympic squat (high bar), low bar back squat, and front squat.
Each of the three squats has different variables which affect how they are performed. The main difference between the high bar squat and the low bar squat would is the placement on the shoulders.
Low bar squat v high bar squat back angle
As in the diagram, the bar position of the squat determines the angle of the back and the overall geometry of the movement. The positioning of the hips and knees changes, but one thing that remains the same is that the bar travels in a straight up and down vertical path, balanced over the middle of the foot.
The variation of the squat we will focus on is the low back squat. The reason we focus on the low bar squat is because it allows the most weight to be used, thereby allowing you to get stronger faster.
The Benefits of the Low Bar Squat
Squats require the use of every muscle in the body. The back and arms hold the weight, your core stabilizes the body, and the legs drive the squat back up from the bottom position. Each time you load the bar and get underneath it you can expect to:
Gain Size and Strength
There is no doubt you will be getting stronger. You’re putting your body under a heavy load it is not used to and you’re calling for all the various muscle groups to work together. Stronger squats means the ability to gain more muscle and strength.
Because of all the large muscles worked at once and the heavier weights used, squats burn more fat than any other exercise out there. This leads to an increase in your metabolism for several hours after working out.
If you want to trim fat and get 6 pack abs, forget all the gizmos, gadgets and fads and start doing squats now!
In order to squat, you need to have some degree of flexibility and mobility in your joints and ligaments. Squats help to improve this over time, proving that lifting weights will not make you stiff and rigid.
Perfecting form will not only help with increasing your strength it will also help in your posture. Many of our daily functions are in a chair at a desk. With proper form, our muscles will become stronger and more stable; thus helping to reduce any posture infractions as well as carry over into a healthier life.
Common Squat Myths and Misconceptions
Many gym goers and lifters of old commonly reference the squat as being the culprit responsible for their now knees pain. Improper form in any exercise will lead to aches, pains, and serious injuries. The squat is not the culprit, the person doing the squat incorrectly is!
Your knee joint is strongest in a fully flexed/extended position, not in-between. Partial squats only strengthen your quads. A full range of motion squat will work your entire leg including your glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Always squat with proper form and always squat to proper depth. Partial squats and limited ranges of motion do have their place, but they are for more advanced lifters and are in place for specific reasonings. You should always aim to squat to parallel or below.
Squatting incorrectly and performing partial squats repeatedly will result in muscle imbalances and will cause injuries.
Children and babies sit in a squat position all the time without any problems. Just because we lose this ability over time does not mean deep squats are wrong, it just means we have work harder at regaining the flexibility we once had.
Weightlifters, powerlifters, and even some bodybuilders squat to much lower depths than parallel with much heavier weights. Compared to any other sport weightlifting has a lower rate of injury overall.
Avoiding injuries while squatting can be very simple. Use common sense. Practice proper form. Always use a power rack or squat stand. When you are just learning to squat this can be your saving grace. There is nothing like getting too tired to push back up and just dropping the weight on a safety bar as opposed to being stuck with a couple pounds on your back.
Low Bar Squat Form
Learning to squat can be intimidating to start with. It shouldn’t be, however.
There are actually very few people that do it correctly and therefore even fewer that will be able to show you how to do it properly. That’s what this article aims to fix!
I cannot advocate enough the importance of proper form. Learning to squat correctly without any weight will install the correct motor patterns in your body and will assist in your efforts.
Note: Smith machines are great inventions and have their purpose. However squatting on a smith machine puts the body in a fixed path and does not allow the stabilization muscles to engage. This can cause injuries so always squat with free weights.
Un-racking & Getting Ready To Squat
Approach the barbell in the power rack and dip underneath it. Position the bar low on your back just above the bump in your shoulder blades as shown in the ‘low bar squat’ image below.
Your feet should be directly under the bar and your knees and hips should be bent as if you are doing a kind of half squat.
Gripping The Bar
Low bar squat – high bar vs low bar position
Use a medium width grip with your hands out not too wide and not too narrow, similar to the image shown above. Keep your back in a neutral position.
Full Grip (thumbs under bar) vs Thumbless Grip (thumbs over bar) – The full grip feels more secure as you can squeeze on to the bar giving you more control. The down side is that your wrists will bend more. If you find that your wrists or elbows start to hurt then try the thumbless grip.
Take care that you are not trying to support part of the weight on your hands! If you do this then your elbows and wrists will definitely start to hurt and you can cause yourself injuries, especially to the wrists.
Let your upper back take the weight. This is one advantage of using the thumbless grip as it trains you to support the weight with your back rather than your hands.
Low bar squat grip – full grip v thumbless grip
Squeeze your upper back muscles together and keep your back tight at all times.This will allow for a stable upper body and will help to hold the heavy loads as you progress. Never unrack without tightening your back muscles first as this will put too much pressure on your spine.
Keep your head in line with your back (ie don’t bend your neck up or down) and find an area on the floor or wall just in front of you. Focus on that. If possible avoid squatting in front of a mirror, rely on the feeling.
Plant your feet firmly underneath you, slightly wider than shoulder width. Both feet need to be under the bar not behind. Don’t use a lunge style stance with one foot behind you as this puts unnecessary stress on your back.
Keeping your heels flat on the floor press straight up using your legs, not your back and unrack the weight.
Low Bar Squat stance should be slightly wider than shoulder width
Take one step directly backwards with your foot and follow with the other foot. If you step back and your feet are not slightly wider than shoulder width you can make a slight correction with your second step by making one small step out, putting your feet in the optimal squatting position.
Standing firmly with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and your toes pointed no more than 30 degrees outwards, you are now set up and ready to squat.
Low bar squat foot position
Beginning to Squat – Down Movement
With the proper setup in place you are ready to squat. Remember to keep your back and core tight. You need a solid base while squatting and keeping your core tight will create that.
Take a deep breath and hold it, this will help to tighten your abdominal muscles.
Begin the movement by bending your knees and performing hip break at the same time (hip break is when you engage the hip muscles and push the glutes back).
Keeping tension in your muscles slowly bend at the knees pushing the hips backward at the same time. Make sure to keep the hamstrings tight. If you only bend your knees they will come too far forward. Alternatively, just bending at the hip means you will lean too far forward. You must do both together!
As you lower the weight, aim to keep your knees out and tracking in line with your foot. The bar should stay over the middle of your foot and move down in a straight line. If it moves forward or backwards you’ll lose balance. You can keep the bar in the correct position by bending the knees and hips together in one movement.
Low bar squat – keep bar over middle of feet
The outside of your quad should line up with the outside of your foot. A good way to always ensure this happens is to envision spreading the floor apart with your feet you want to get the pressure to the outside of your foot where you are most stable.
Go parallel or just below and then stop. Your hip joints should be slightly lower than your knee. Over time you will be able to judge the proper depth. It will help if you can get a training partner to tell you when you are at parallel or try videoing yourself with your phone if you train alone.
Low bar squat – keep head in line with back and elbows back
At the bottom of the squat, you will be in what’s called the hole. With your breath still held and your muscles tight, squeeze your glutes and get ready to drive back up from the hips.
Moving Back To The Top
Squat back up by pushing your hips straight to the ceiling. Keep your chest up, your upper-back tight and the bar over your mid-foot. Don’t lift your hips faster than your chest. You’ll end up leaning forward in a dangerous position. Push your hips and chest up at the same time. Keep the same back angle you had at the bottom of the move. As with the move down, the bar must move up in a straight line over your mid-foot.
Power comes from the ground up and your hip is your delivery point. Your shoulders and upper body should follow-suit naturally once you have practiced the movement enough times. To help, try imagining someone pressing their hand into your lower back, you want to imagine pushing back and up against this. This will help to teach the proper pattern your body should follow as you return to the top.
Slowly release the air until you reach midway, then exhale to force the rest of the air out as you reach the top.
Lock out the movement with a deep squeeze of the glutes.
Low bar squat – moving back to the top
Take a big breath and repeat.
For a great video demonstration of the above check out the following video
There you have it. You just learned how to do your first low bar squat. And you’re well on your way to building some serious size and strength.
It took me many attempts to learn how to low bar squat correctly. There is a lot of misleading information out there, so I had to do a lot of research and trial and error to figure it out. Hopefully this article will shortcut the process for you. Once you get the proper form, squatting is extremely rewarding and fun.
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